MY HUSBAND and I have been separated for a year. In the past, he has refused to pay for all household bills and refused to sell our HDB flat. He refused to do anything at all. What should I do if there is a buyer for the house and my husband refuses to sign the documents? What procedures can I take to make him sign?
Since I have been paying most of the household bills, can I fight for a bigger share of the sale proceeds from the house? As legal fees are very high, do you think it is worth doing that? Can I fight for alimony?
We have no children and I am earning slightly more than him. How much can I claim? If he does not pay for the alimony, what do I need to do? I am earning $2,500 monthly and have heavy financial commitments. Am I entitled to any government legal aid?
Answer from Lim Choi Meng, a lawyer from TM Hoon and Company
I ASSUME more than three years have passed since you got married, so you are now able to get a divorce.
I also assume that you are seeking a divorce and basing it either on grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
A year’s separation is not sufficient to get a divorce on those grounds, though. A minimum of three years (with his agreement) or four years of separation is required.
If the flat is sold pursuant to a court order made under the divorce, a time limit for selling it is usually stated.
In any event, the HDB will not allow a divorced couple to hold on to a flat jointly.
If a prospective sale fails because your husband unreasonably refuses to sign his agreement to the sale, it is possible for you to get an order in which the court is empowered to sign on your husband’s behalf.
On your question of your husband seeking a buyer, both of you have an equal right to sell the flat.
You can jointly appoint a housing agent, or else, if the court order specifies what price level the flat shall be sold at, the first spouse to get a successful buyer gets to sell the flat.
Your paying the house bills does not entitle you automatically to a greater share of the flat. This is an ‘indirect contribution’.
The first benchmark for arriving at the percentage of division is your respective direct contribution to the purchase price of the flat.
In deciding how much each party’s indirect contributions are, the court will look at factors such as who has been paying the household bills, and caring for the family and home.
Whether it is worth fighting the case in court depends on how much the profit on the flat is.
If there is a net profit of, say, only $10,000 which is to be shared between both of you, it makes no sense to go to trial to fight for an additional $1,000 or $2,000, as the money will easily be used up for your legal fees.
On alimony, the law provides an avenue for a wife to claim maintenance from her husband.
The amount depends on many factors such as the length of the marriage, the financial circumstances of the parties, their lifestyle, and whether there are children.
If you have been married less than five years with no children, chances are the maintenance that you will get will not be significant.
The court is likely to give you a lump sum (represented by a larger share of the net profit of the flat) rather than continuing maintenance.
If there is a court order for maintenance and he does not pay, you can enforce the court order yourself at the Family Court (Maintenance Section) in person – that is, without hiring a lawyer.
On your last question, your income is above the ceiling to qualify for legal aid.