Friday, June 3, 2011

Family law, not Ms Singapore pageantry, pls.

The farm was fazzled this morning when it learnt that a court judge called into question the attractiveness of a divorcee in deciding the quantum and form of her maintenance. The case was brought to public attention as the claimant filed for a review of the judgement on grounds of biasness. I append the contentious portion of the article, with emboldening to my whimsy (read the full article after the cut):
Divorce and the attractive woman
Straits Times
K. C. Vijayan
3 June 2011, Friday

A JUDGE who asked during a divorce settlement hearing if the wife involved was attractive was not being biased, the High Court has ruled.

Dismissing a move by the woman for a judicial review of the case, Justice Choo Han Teck said that was not an irrelevant question for a judge to ask.

He said the court could take into account a woman's prospects of remarriage when deciding the financial support she should receive from her former husband, and whether it ought to be a lump sum rather than monthly payments.

Justice Choo's judgment, released yesterday, explained why he rejected the woman's application for a judicial review to set aside the court orders to settle maintenance issues between her and her former husband.

Lawyers contacted yesterday said that in deciding on maintenance for a divorced woman, the court could consider her attractiveness.

That did not mean only her looks but also other attributes, such as her character, that might affect her prospects of marrying again, said family lawyer Koh Tien Hua.


'The possibility of remarriage is one of the factors the court considers in deciding on the quantum of maintenance payments the woman should get,' he said.

Monthly maintenance payouts lapse when a woman remarries.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said a woman's remarriage prospects were not a factor in the maintenance assessment, pointing to the Women's Charter and his own experience in dealing with family cases.

The Charter lists the woman's age, financial needs and status among factors to be considered when deciding on maintenance.


But the courts have the discretion to consider attractiveness as well when deciding on alimony.
Before I continue, I'd like to remind readers that we on the farm have many issues with the current outdated conception of the Women's Charter and call for a more comprehensive review/amendment. But let's focus today's discussion squarely on the problems of including a woman's attractiveness and the possibility of her remarrying in determining the quantum and/or form of her maintenance (monthly pay-outs or lump-sum).

Alimony is based on the idea that a man entering a marriage becomes legally obliged to provide for his wife throughout and past that marriage. ("Till death do us party; in sickness and in health, etc" ya?) The obligation however terminates when the receiving party enters into a new marriage/contract, as said woman now has a new partner who's taking on these obligations.

Upon dissolution of the marriage, the former husband is automatically obliged to provide for his ex-wife. The maintenance sum is usually dependent on the wealth and financial needs of both parties, although admittedly this is sometimes hard to pin down accurately. There are also many good reasons that people may choose to file for a lump-sum pay out (eg. ailing ex-husbands, cutting ties and moving on, etc) and we respect people's and the court's decision on this. However, we think that, by default, maintenance should be made monthly. This will, after all, be quite befitting of the term "maintenance".

By tying alimony to the *perceived* marriageability of a woman, the court not only assumes but basically frames marriage as a goal for divorcing women. While remarriage is a proposition we're perfectly all right with, should divorcees find someone new (or old) with whom they wish to reenter the institution all over again, there needs to be an understanding that a failed marriage - for many reasons - may very well mean the end of the pursuit of marriage (but not love) for many - this can have little to absolutely no relation to one's looks at all.

As learned as our judiciary may be, I doubt it's vested with the premonitory powers to accurately assess the marriageability of people. Does the courts' assessment, which apart from looks also includes "other attributes, such as her character" (OOoooOohhh, how holistic!), necessarily lead to the divorcees' getting married? What happens when changes (physical and otherwise) occur after the ruling, and these women suddenly drop in ratings (by the courts' standards, not ours) to get remarried? We can haz maintenance review, puhlease? This doesn't even begin to touch on the fact that someone being attractive (by whoever's standards and terms) doesn't mean that they can/will get re/married.

Let's consider the scenario between two women: Ms A who's deemed more likely to get remarried and Ms B who's deemed less likely. Say both women remarry say some 40 years down the road, when they're all of 75 years old: does the court then suggest that Ms A deserves to receive less money than Ms B in the interim 30 years because... What? She didn't do her best to get herself hitched to the chap much earlier, in which case her maintenance term would have terminated itself? If you sense a disconnect here, it's likely because there really isn't any relevance in how much maintenance a woman deserves based on her marriageability.

When did our jurisprudence enter the remit of beauty pageantry to be able to (legally) determine the physical attractiveness (to the ends of marriageability) of any person? Wait, of course ANY ONE, much less a judge, can determine this! This is because there're no absolute definitions of beauty, so any assessment of it necessarily relies on fancies of the beholder/s. An assessment of a woman's attractiveness, therefore, can really neither be conclusively right nor wrong. It is precisely because of this bloody arbitrariness that one's looks cannot and should not be relevant in the decision-making process of maintenance allocation.

What would possess anyone to even begin to consider a woman's chances of remarrying and her looks to be a legitimate factor of the sum and method of maintenance!?!? I understand certain paternalistic reasons for framing a woman's goals and worth as a wife/mother, and also the over-reliance on the institution of marriage and the extended family network for all sorts of social support (e.g. healthcare, public housing, etc). But these are grossly outdated models of human relations, with entailing problematic policies, that all need revision, instead of being further propped up and encouraged by anyone.


Title: Divorce and the attractive woman
Source: Straits Times
Author: K. C. Vijayan

Legal News Archive
http://www.singaporelawwatch.sg/remweb/legal/ln2/rss/legalnews/72097.html?utm_source=web%20subscription&utm_medium=web&title=Divorce%20and%20the%20attractive%20woman


A JUDGE who asked during a divorce settlement hearing if the wife involved was attractive was not being biased, the High Court has ruled.

Dismissing a move by the woman for a judicial review of the case, Justice Choo Han Teck said that was not an irrelevant question for a judge to ask.

He said the court could take into account a woman's prospects of remarriage when deciding the financial support she should receive from her former husband, and whether it ought to be a lump sum rather than monthly payments.

Justice Choo's judgment, released yesterday, explained why he rejected the woman's application for a judicial review to set aside the court orders to settle maintenance issues between her and her former husband.

Lawyers contacted yesterday said that in deciding on maintenance for a divorced woman, the court could consider her attractiveness.

That did not mean only her looks but also other attributes, such as her character, that might affect her prospects of marrying again, said family lawyer Koh Tien Hua.

'The possibility of remarriage is one of the factors the court considers in deciding on the quantum of maintenance payments the woman should get,' he said.

Monthly maintenance payouts lapse when a woman remarries.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said a woman's remarriage prospects were not a factor in the maintenance assessment, pointing to the Women's Charter and his own experience in dealing with family cases.

The Charter lists the woman's age, financial needs and status among factors to be considered when deciding on maintenance.

But the courts have the discretion to consider attractiveness as well when deciding on alimony.

In the case before Justice Choo, the woman was a 37-year-old Vietnamese Singaporean and economics graduate whose marriage to a Singapore businessman aged 53 ended after 13 years. They have a 12-year-old son.

Last year, she appeared before Justice Lai Siu Chiu in relation to a maintenance hearing and was dissatisfied among other things that the monthly maintenance for her son had been reduced from $12,000 to $600.

She was also unhappy with Justice Lai's orders in relation to the disposal of the matrimonial assets.

She claimed that Justice Lai had said that she knew her former husband from his previous divorce and that she knew a man who was her former husband's business partner.

But Justice Choo rejected the woman's claim saying he was 'unable to read any bias or prejudice into a remark by a judge that merely says that she had known a particular person from previous proceedings'.

He said that often a judge may make such comments to the parties before him or her, especially when there was no material connection to the case.

This was so that should they find out later, they would not think that the judge kept the information from them.

'Such comments are often made so that the parties can be advised whether to object to the judge hearing their case,' Justice Choo said.

He noted that there had been no objections during the hearing before Justice Lai or when the case went before the Court of Appeal.

He said the woman's allegations had not been proven and dismissed her application for judicial review with costs.

The woman was represented by lawyer M. Ravi, while lawyer Kang Kim Yang represented her former husband.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

13 comments:

  1. The back story is that it was implied she was some kind of gold digger and presented her "attributes" as "evidence" of this status.

    It will be interesting to see if this reveals a pattern of judgement against certain "types" of women - ie women of particular nationalities or socio-economic background who have married "above their social status". It would not be altogether surprising to find the courts (consciously or unconsciously) enforcing class divisions this way.

    Lets hope M Ravi has it in him to dig into this.

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  2. No gold digger wld wait 13 years. It was sexist, bias n discrimination against attractive women. Child maintenance ws reduced significantly because the mother is attractive? 600 is way too insufficient to maintain a 12 year old child in Singapore. Is being attractive a crime nowadays? This is the worst divorce case I hv come to know.

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  3. Why cant they make a clause that the father has to bear the expense until the event that she remarries. I dont know but if the lady earns more than the guy and in which case the lady has to pay the alimony .will the guy be questioned about his attractiveness and assessed if he can remarry before the amount is decided?? I know this is the case for alimony in some countries whoever earns better pays.not sure about singapore. And if the child is going to grow up with the mother I think the lady's character assessment should be from the child's welfare point of view not the alimony point of view. just because the lady has potential to get remarried one cannot deny the responsibility this father holds towards his son.No matter how many times she or he marries the biological father is still this guy so doesnt he have some responsibility?

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  4. It seems that the Court had assessed her character and therefore had decided that the child is to be living with his mother. It means she has passed the test. The Court should support the helpless woman and child instead of making things difficult for them financially. The judge should consider the amount of time and effort she has to put in raising her child alone. She might not be able to get a job if she has not been working for a long time and with her responsibility as the only parent and sole care giver to the child her chance of getting back to work is obviously 0%. They knew that, that was the reason they suggest her to remarry soon. What kind of court and judge do you have in Singapore? This will never happen in where i come from. Women and children must be protected. Singapore is definitely not a first world country. This is definitely not a progressive society. Can anyone here do anything to help them?

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  5. To Anon @ June 4, 2011 3:22 PM,

    Wow, "discrimination against attractive women"? "Is being attractive a crime nowadays?"? Waaaaay to miss the point.

    Point: Any time we put the physical appearance of a person up for scrutiny and judgment, we discriminate against that person. This tends to happen more to women. Any time we allow ourselves to use a woman's physical appearance to pass judgment on her, favourable or otherwise, we discriminate against women, and this harms ALL women - surprisingly, even with judgments that usually favour conventionally attractive women. See how that works?

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  6. It is obvious that the previous judge who granted the child 12,000 maintenance must have done so based on certain reasons i.e he might have medical condition or they were having a certain life style or both and that and thus the previous judge granted the child this sum. By reducing the child maintenance from 12,000 to 600 it is just obviously wrong unless the court is saying that the previous judge was wrong in his/her judgment. I believe judge lai siu chiu had prejudiced this woman because of her background (being a vietnamese). If a judge has this kind of mentality then she is definitely not fit to be a judge. it is a waste of time and money to go to court then as it is more like a wet market. Remember that Singaporeans came from China in the first place and Singapore started out as a filthy fishing boat. Singapore and it's people have come a long way and it is alright to feel proud of what you have achieved but to be arrogant and to discriminate others... It is just plain ugly.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Two letters to the Straits Times Forum have been published;

    Jun 8, 2011
    ALIMONY AND ATTRACTIVENESS
    Don't weigh beauty on scales of justice


    I WAS appalled to learn that courts can take into account a woman's prospects of remarriage when deciding on alimony ('Divorce and the attractive woman'; last Friday). As the title of the article suggests, the case in question centred on, among other things, the woman's attractiveness.

    That a woman's prospects of remarrying and/or her attractiveness, however defined, should be a factor in deciding the amount of alimony awarded by the courts sorely offends the dignity of any woman who may have taken the already extremely painful decision to divorce.

    I hope that I am right in saying that the decision to divorce is not one that is usually taken lightly.

    Which woman would be happy to be paid more at the expense of being judged unattractive? Yet again, being judged attractive by a court is neither a prediction nor guarantee of remarriage.

    In fact, remarriage is often not an easy or straightforward matter. If and when it happens, alimony will cease anyway.

    Furthermore, what if a woman does not want to remarry, for example, for religious, emotional or psychological reasons? I know many women who have been so emotionally devastated by divorce that the last thing they want to do is marry again.

    Last but not least, if she has been ditched by her husband for a younger, indeed more attractive woman, can you imagine the pain of being judged by a court and found either less attractive and awarded more alimony or more attractive and awarded less alimony?

    I trust that judges do look at the broader picture and weigh all the factors in each case. However, I believe laws that can be applied objectively are simpler and easier to administer.

    Carol Wong (Ms)

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  8. Letter 2:

    Jun 8, 2011
    Disturbed by judgment, says Aware


    WE REFER to last Friday's report ('Divorce and the attractive woman') and the judgment rendered by the High Court in this case.

    The High Court took the view that it was relevant for a judge to take into account the attractiveness of a wife in determining her chances of remarriage when exercising its discretion on whether to grant lump sum or monthly maintenance. The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) is surprised and disturbed by this judgment.

    While it may be valid to take into account a person's imminent prospects of marriage - for example, where there is evidence that a party intends to marry another party - it surely is not right for a court to go down a speculative line of reasoning as to whether a person, based on her looks, personality, ethnicity, nationality or relationship history, is likely to remarry.

    It is, moreover, problematic to assume that an attractive woman is more likely to marry. What are the criteria for deciding who is attractive? Whose criteria are applied?

    And on what basis are we to establish a connection between this alleged attractiveness and remarriage?

    We hope that this judgment, which dealt with the issue of the bias of the judge in deciding the issue of maintenance, will not be used as a precedent to support such a line of inquiry in future cases relating to maintenance.

    This would result in women being penalised and discriminated against if they do not fit normative - and indeed subjective - notions of beauty.

    Teo You Yenn (Ms)
    Board Member
    Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

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  9. Fact: You are just trying to put the blame and burden on the husband to support you for life as if the divorce is solely his fault. If a marriage is a two party thing, why should the husband be responsible to pay you a salary after the divorce?

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  10. WTF should women even deserves alimony in the first place...All tis gold diggers out there using the woman charter to dig money from men is absurb...Women dun deserves a single dime until the men charter exists side by side with the women charter...imagine if the women committed adultery...she gets away scotts-free....

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  11. Woman charter should definitely be abolished...u dun see no man charter around....and to think that women are always screaming about inequality...

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  12. Divorce can be an emotional process, and the parties involved often have different expectations when it comes to issues that arise during the proceedings – maintenance, child custody and visitation. Some parties seeking divorce may not have an understanding that the law doesn’t always meet their expectations, while others may feel their lawyer is not doing his or her best. Here are some common client questions and the law’s responses:
    Client: Can I deny my wife custody of our children because she committed adultery during our marriage, behaviour that should render her an unfit mother?
    The Law: Her conduct towards the husband does not make her a bad mother and will not make her lose custody of the child.
    Client: Must I pay any maintenance to my wife at all if she is working?
    The Law: Even a working wife is entitled to some maintenance.
    Client: Can I deny my wife a share of the matrimonial home or my assets if she wasn’t a good wife nor a good mother?
    The Law: Again, this is not a good reason for the wife to be denied her share of the assets. The wife will be entitled to claim for her contributions as a wife and mother during the marriage, regardless of her conduct during the marriage.
    Client: Can I prohibit my husband from seeing my children if he does not pay maintenance for them or for me?
    The Law: The issues of maintenance and access to the children are separate and distinct. Even if the husband does not pay maintenance, he is entitled to see his children.
    Client: My husband has a girlfriend whom he is living with. Can I forbid him from seeing my children as a result?
    The Law: This is not a good reason to deny the husband visits, but the Court can make orders to exclude the girlfriend’s presence during visits.
    When a party going through a divorce proceeding feels as though their lawyer cannot meet their expectations, they can become frustrated and complain about the law or, worse, allege their lawyers are supporting their spouse’s positions. To avoid such a situation, one needs to be fully aware of and appreciate the state of the law in relation to the specific issues that can arise during a divorce.
    Let us walk with you through your journey today. We have helped many of our clients, both Singaporeans and others, navigate through the legal proceedings and to move forward positively with their lives.
    Contact us today to speak to a lawyer. Call us now at 6533 6451 or email rajan@rajanchettiar.com or visit us at www.rajanchettiar.com

    ReplyDelete
  13. http://www.rajanchettiar.com/area_of_practice.html#familylaw

    ReplyDelete

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