Judge reverses order for girl, 11, to live with dad as she is ‘clearly happier’ with mum
A High Court judge has sent an 11-year-old girl to live with her mother, reversing the care and control order that the father has to live with the child, post-divorce.
But this was not because of the mother’s allegations that the child’s father and his domestic helper had abused and neglected the girl.
Rather, Justice Choo Han Teck found the mother’s allegations to be “insufficiently proved”, but the child made it clear that she prefers to live with her mother.
In grounds of decision released on May 15, Justice Choo said at 11 years of age, the girl is “sufficiently mature” to decide which parent she wants to live with.
He said: “Where a child is young and unable to voice her preferences, the best interests of the child will depend on the ability and attitudes of the parents. But when a child is older, the child’s views can be significant.”
The parent who has care and control lives with the child, and makes decisions on the child’s daily needs.
Justice Choo, who interviewed the girl, said she articulated her opinions with “firmness and maturity” and seems clearly happier to be with her mother.
She also told him she is comfortable living with her mother’s current husband. And the girl did not appear to be coached or under the influence of either parent in expressing her wishes, he noted.
The girl’s father filed for divorce in 2016 after a four-year-long marriage. He is a 45-year-old who runs a business selling stationery, while the mother is a 41-year-old admin executive.
The father has care and control of the girl after the divorce, while the mother was given “liberal access” to the child.
Access orders are court orders that give the parent who does not live with the child, time to spend with the child after the divorce.
Mr Ivan Cheong, partner, family and divorce law at Withers KhattarWong, explained that liberal access is where the access terms are more generous in terms of time and frequency than normal access. He is not involved in the case.
In this case, the arrangement went on for five years until 2021, when the girl went to live with her mother as the mother alleged that the father and his domestic helper had emotionally abused the girl and neglected her.
The mother then applied to the Courts to get the care and control order, while the father applied to enforce the original order.
District Judge Wendy Yu heard these cross applications in January 2023. She dismissed the mother’s application and ordered the child to return to live with her father.
The mother appealed the decision.
Justice Choo said that District Judge Yu was justified in dismissing the mother’s application, based on the facts set before her.
He said the mother’s claims about the abuse and neglect by the father and his domestic helper seemed “insufficiently proved”.
Among other things, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the relevant authorities did not take further action against the father, and so there was no material change in circumstances to justify removing the girl from her father’s care and control.
Justice Choo noted the father also made numerous allegations against the mother.
For example, the man said his ex-wife maliciously reported him to the police for child abuse after her appeal was dismissed, to disrupt his care of their child and the allegations turned out to be baseless.
Justice Choo wrote: “To this end, the child’s best interests lie with where she is happiest – and that is with her mother.
“I thus reversed the care and control not because of the mother’s claims about abuse and neglect, as it seems to be insufficiently proved, but because I think it is in the best interest of the child for her to live with her mother.”
He added that sending the girl to live with her mother would also place her “in a comfortable environment where she can be in the right state of mind to focus on her studies, especially with the crucial Primary School Leaving Examination next year”.
Justice Choo gave the father liberal access to the girl.
Ms Dorothy Tan, senior associate director of family law and probate at PKWA Law Practice, said that a child’s wishes, when he is of an age to express an independent opinion, is one factor that the Court takes into account when evaluating a custody order that best serves the child’s welfare.
Ms Tan, who is not involved in the case, said: “This case is one where the Court has placed a significant weight on the child’s expressed wishes after evaluating the child’s clarity and maturity.
“It shows that an older child, if assessed to be mature and of articulate independent thought, may have a significant say in his or her living arrangements.”