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Relationships, Singapore

Judith Tan
Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014

Relationships, Singapore

Deadbeat dads who can pay but won't pay

The New Paper | Judith Tan | Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014

$2 million.

That is what the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations' Maintenance Support Central is trying to recover from deadbeat dads and husbands in maintenance payments for about 200 women since 2011.

Divorce lawyers tell The New Paper on Sunday that more often than not, men go to great lengths not to pay alimony or even child support.

Some become hard to contact, others give excuses that they are either out of a job or are not able to make ends meet - often leaving the ex-wives no choice but to go to court to seek redress.

Administrator Aleeya, 35, has to go to court every few months to get her former husband to cough up $600 per month for their two daughters, aged nine and seven.

"His tactic used to be paying up fully or partially a few days before the mediation session. Then the following month, he would stop paying again. Sometimes he would fail to show up," she says, adding that the chase has taken a toll on her work performance.

He still owes her $3,338 in arrears.

Then there is the deadbeat dad, who would rather be jailed than fork out maintenance for his four children.

"My case dragged on for 10 years and was heard by over 20 judges, including eight High Court judges. Still, he refused to pay the maintenance meted out in 2004," Mary, 53, tells TNPS.

He was "a bully throughout the marriage", she claims and the last straw was when he "blatantly took his mistress on overseas trips". Mary filed for divorce in 2004.

"I was naive enough to go by the book and follow the letter of the law. I took only what was mine from the safe-deposit box. He, on the other hand, closed our joint account and deposited the money into his lover's account, cancelled all Giro payments and cashed out on the insurance bought for our four children. I didn't find out until I called the banks," she recounts.

And from the get-go, he refused to comply with the family court and has not paid a cent towards the ex-wife's and children's maintenance - until he is taken to court.

"The court had awarded me custody of our children and he was ordered to pay $500 for my maintenance and $1,000 for each child, but he refused to pay. He called them his ex-children even after he was told off by one of the judges," says Mary, who had earlier given up her own career to raise the children.

"I had no income and after not working for almost 20 years, it would have been difficult for me to return to work. If it hadn't been for my siblings' financial and emotional support, we would have struggled."

Her four children are now aged between 21 and 26.

When he failed to pay her her share of the matrimonial assets, Mary had no choice but to petition to make him a bankrupt.

Each time he refuses to pay maintenance, she would drag him back to court. "It was a long and expensive process," she says.

For failing to pay maintenance since 2005, her ex-husband had already served five sentences ranging from a day to two weeks. In 2012, she had to go through yet another legal battle to recover the $136,000 in maintenance arrears that he defaulted on for close to three years.

The Government is trying to make it easier for women like Mary to get arrears owing to them.

In an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao this month, Law Minister K Shanmugam said that the current process for getting defaulters to pay up is "not so easy", and a faster, simpler and more effective system is being planned.

Last December, the DP SME Commercial Credit Bureau, which records unpaid matrimonial debt on an individual's credit report and does the collection, collected $1.28 million in unpaid matrimonial support payments on behalf of women, whose ex-husbands defaulted. The biggest payment received was for $180,000, while the smallest was $50.

Reviewing how maintenance orders are enforced is part of the "follow-through process" after the new Family Justice Act was passed early this month, said Mr Shanmugam.

The Act hopes to make divorce proceedings more streamlined and less expensive while putting the interests of children first.

Mr Shanmugam said it "could take a year" before any changes are seen.

Welcoming the news, Ella, who is in her 40s, is planning to take her ex-husband to court and get it all back.

"I have threatened to take him to court when I am back in June next year, when my son returns to serve his national service. I will stay in Singapore then and fight this once more," she says. Ella's ex-husband lives in a condominium in the west with his third wife and their daughter, and as an agent with a "reputable property agency", he is earning "a substantial amount".

"Yet, he still owes about $10,000 in child support - payments stopped since July 2013," she says, adding that she had called him repeatedly, "sometimes even to his mother, asking him to pay maintenance".

"But once he remarried in 2009, it got more difficult to call him. His current wife told me I should deal only with her and not him."

The couple had divorced in 1998 because he was "a hot-tempered man, especially when he was drunk". The children, Tom and Grace, were then four and two and he was ordered by the court to pay $1,000 for both children.

"He was working and could afford to pay. Soon after, he was sacked and the maintenance was lowered to $800 for both children," she says.

When Ella, a Malaysian, took the children and left for her hometown in Penang five years later, the child maintenance continued for a few months before it stopped.

"I made about seven trips back to Singapore and personally applied for enforcement. Each time I stated that I did not live in Singapore, yet I was made to come back as he either didn't show up or he didn't have the right documents. I spent almost $1,500 each trip, which I could barely afford," she says.

His excuses: No money, no job, sick.

Remarried and now living in Sweden, Ella says it is now even more difficult to get him to pay for child support.

"He once told me that the order was only applicable in Singapore and we are not in Singapore, so he will do his utmost not to pay.

"Now that I am in Stockholm, it is even more difficult. I am tired. I am fed up. I get no support because I am so far away," she says.

Her current husband, a Swede, is supporting her and her two children on top of his own two children.

"My husband recently had two heart bypasses and his work is now cut down to a quarter, so has our finances. We are struggling to make ends meet. Its not easy especially when everything is so expensive here," she says.

"I hope the law changes to make it easier to claim these arrears. I have done everything according to the law and have stayed loyal towards Singapore. I may not be Singaporean but my children are. I want to do right by them."

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