In a divorce, often, an important question is how the matrimonial assets are divided between the parties.
How exactly does the court go about deciding how to divide the matrimonial assets?
Broad brush approach
The court will adopt a broad brush approach. This means that the court will not spend a lot of time trying to find out exactly how much was spent by each of the parties over the years of their marriage.
Instead, the court will adopt the structured approach.
Under this approach, the judge will:
- identify all the matrimonial assets (not only properties and bank accounts in joint names) and deduct all liabilities to get the net value.
- identify each party's direct financial contributions towards the acquisition or improvement of the matrimonial assets. (Examples of direct financial contributions include paying for the housing loan using cash and/or CPF funds.)
- determine the ratio of direct contributions between the parties.
- identify each party's indirect contributions (both financial and non-financial indirect contributions) towards the acquisition or improvement of the matrimonial assets. (Examples of indirect financial contributions include paying for the household expenses, etc. Examples of indirect non-financial contributions include taking care of the children, washing the toilet bowl, mopping the floor, sending the children to and from school, reading them to bed, etc.)
- determine the ratio of indirect contributions between the parties.
- take the average (or some other weightage, depending on the circumstances) of the two ratios to arrive at a final ratio.
The judge may give more or less weight to each type of contribution depending on the circumstances of the case. He (or she) may also adjust the final ratio to achieve a just and equitable outcome.
For example, even if the husband came up with 100% of direct financial contributions and the wife came up with 0%, if the husband and the wife were then found to have put in equal indirect contributions: 50% : 50%, then the average of these 2 ratios would yield a result of 75% of the net value to the husband and 25% to the wife.
Length of marriage
It should also be note that:
- for short marriages (3 years and less), the courts have given almost all the weight to the parties' ratio of direct contributions and given little or no weight to the parties' ratio of indirect contributions.
- for long marriages (30 years and above), the courts have given significantly less weight to the parties' direct contributions and much more weight to the parties' ratio of indirect contributions.