Lawyers should assist in divorce asset appraisal
Counsel should assist in determining fair outcome in divorce cases: Appeals court
Lawyers representing parties in divorce cases, especially complicated ones with myriad issues relating to the valuation of assets, play a crucial role in apprising the court of their clients' positions and the supporting evidence on all key issues, said the Court of Appeal.
The three-judge court said this in a judgment in which it ruled that the value of matrimonial assets of a business consultant and a housewife should be $26.2 million, instead of $15.6 million as determined earlier by the High Court.
The bulk of the difference related to $10.3 million in fund transfers and missing proceeds from the sale of assets that the husband could not account for.
In the 64-page judgment released yesterday, the apex court also noted that the High Court judge had made several calculation errors in arriving at the original valuation.
"It is unfortunate that the judge did not receive adequate assistance from counsel, and that despite the judge's directions, counsel did not clearly set out their positions on several issues which arose in the course of the proceedings," said the apex court, which comprised Judge of Appeal Steven Chong, and Justices Belinda Ang and Quentin Loh.
The case involved a man, 53, and a woman, 42, who married in 2001 and have two sons. The wife started divorce proceedings in 2012 after four years of separation from the husband, who has lived in China since relocating there for work in 2008.
Last November, the High Court determined the total pool of assets was $15.6 million, to be shared equally by the couple.
The judge also ordered the husband to pay maintenance of $7,000 a month for the sons but ordered no maintenance for the wife. Both sides filed appeals.
When they came before the Court of Appeal, both sides agreed the High Court judge had made three calculation errors - a double counting of the outstanding liabilities in respect of two properties and a typographical error regarding the value of the wife's investment account. But the apex court said he was "not entirely at fault". Despite his instructions to leave out liabilities attached to specific assets, the lawyers submitted tabulation that included such information.
In the days following the High Court judge's decision, neither side pointed out the errors.
The apex court said the husband should get 65 per cent of the assets and the wife 35 per cent because she became solely responsible for caring for the family, including the husband's aged parents and daughters from a previous marriage, after he left for China.