What’s in this guide?
In the first two parts of our guide to the Women’s Charter, we discussed the rights and obligations of husband and wife, and divorce proceedings in Singapore. In this final chapter, we will discuss one of the major entitlements created by the Women’s Charter: maintenance.
What is Maintenance?
Maintenance means the financial support to be given by one spouse to the other dependent spouse, and by the parents to the children.
Maintenance may be ordered during the marriage (under s.69 of the Women’s Charter) or consequent to matrimonial proceedings (under s.112 of the Women’s Charter).
Maintenance may be ordered for a wife, an incapacitated husband or for children. An order for maintenance can usually be varied if there are significant changes in the circumstances giving rise to the current order.
Matters the Court considers when giving a maintenance order
In matrimonial proceedings for divorce, judicial separation or nullity, the Court may order maintenance for a spouse to be paid periodically or as a lump sum. There are merits to both approaches. Lump sum maintenance provides a clean break for the parties, but will not account for a change of circumstances in the future (for example, job loss or disability). On the other hand, periodic maintenance allows for future adjustments if there are changes in the circumstances.
Assessing maintenance is a very fact sensitive exercise. The Court generally considers the following factors when making an order for maintenance:
- the financial needs of the person receiving maintenance;
- the financial resources/ income of the family;
- any physical or mental disabilities;
- the age of each party and the duration of the marriage;
- the contributions made by each of the parties;
- the standard of living enjoyed; and
- the conduct of each of the parties to the marriage.
What do I need to prepare for a maintenance application?
The overarching principle of maintenance is to provide financial preservation for the dependent spouse or children. This has to be balanced against the paying party’s ability to provide maintenance. The party applying for maintenance should be able to provide pay slips and income statements (e.g. income tax returns), and a breakdown of expenses (e.g. with receipts, bills and bank card statements) to justify his/her claim for maintenance. These documents should generally span a period of time so that expenses that are less regular can be accounted for.
When a wife is applying for maintenance for herself, regard will also be given to the wife’s current earning capacity or ability to return to the workforce, her assets and all other financial resources.
When applying for maintenance for children, the applicant should bear in mind that both parents have the responsibility to maintain the children. As such, the applicant parent should also account for her own contribution to the child’s maintenance. Often, it can be difficult to fix a sum for a child’s maintenance, as a child’s needs will change as he grows. It is important for parties to reach an accord to avoid making multiple applications to court to vary a maintenance order.
Enforcing a maintenance order
Failing to comply with a maintenance order can have serious consequences. Under the s.71 of the Women’s Charter, the Court has the power to order the offender to pay the arrears, garnish his wages or sentence the offender to prison. The Court may also order the offender to financial counselling or community service.
A frequent problem is when the party paying maintenance is obligated to pay for the household or children’s expenses (for example conservancy fees, utility bills, school fees, etc.) because the invoices are issued to them directly, and he/she then discounts these payments from the maintenance he/ she has been ordered to pay. Consequentially, the party receiving maintenance does not receive the full amount as ordered by the Court and takes issue.
These payments (such as conservancy fees, utility bills, school fees etc) do count towards the paying party’s obligation for maintenance. It is helpful for parties to take note of such matters during proceedings to avoid acrimony later.
Frequently asked questions about maintenance
Question 1: My husband does not give me any financial support, but I do not want to be divorced. Can I apply for maintenance without applying for a divorce?
Yes, you may apply for maintenance under s.69 of the Women’s Charter, without first applying for divorce. You will have to show that you are dependent on your husband for financial support (i.e. you do not have the means to financially support yourself) and that your husband does not give you sufficient financial support.
Question 2: My spouse has children from a previous relationship, and their parents do not maintain them. Do I have to provide maintenance for my stepchildren?
You may have to provide maintenance for your stepchildren if you have accepted them as members of your family and your stepchildren’s biological parents have failed to provide maintenance for them (s.70 of the Women’s Charter). This is a very fact sensitive question, and the answer will vary depending on the circumstances of the parties.
Question 3: Do I need a lawyer to apply for maintenance?
No, you do not need a lawyer to apply for maintenance. You may apply for maintenance personally online on Integrated Family Application Management System (iFAMS) or at the Family Justice Courts. However, a lawyer will be able to facilitate the application process, advise you on your rights and strategise a solution for you.
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.
- Women’s Charter: A Practical Guide Part 1
- Women’s Charter: A Practical Guide Part 2
- Getting Started on a Divorce – A Step by Step Guide