If you do decide to go all in, it pays to have a strategy.
DIVORCE TO-DO LIST
– GET A LAWYER
– SAVE UP
– FIND SUPPORT
For Ling*, a 38-year-old marketing manager, it took half a decade to end her 10-year marriage to James*. Their divorce was finalised this January.
The idea first crept into her head five years into their marriage. James was a highfunctioning alcoholic who would get drunk about once every fortnight. Each intoxicated episode bore the same pattern. “There would be angry outbursts, outrageous antics such as going shirtless in posh restaurants and trying to jump out of a moving vehicle, unprovoked temper tantrums and verbal abuse,” says Ling.
It soon became clear to her that nothing was going to change, so she started planning for her divorce. The strategy was to save up, in case of an expensive acrimonious split, pay off the mortgage on her bachelor pad and collect crucial information to help her make her case for divorce.
Though she wasn’t holding a full-time job for most of her marriage, her rental income, freelance income and monthly housekeeping allowance added up to a five-figure sum monthly. She saved 80 per cent of it, cut down on unnecessary expenditure – such as shopping, her gym membership and frequent fine dining – and invested in stocks and shares.
Before consulting a lawyer, Ling read up on grounds for unreasonable behaviour, the definition of domestic abuse (of which verbal abuse falls under) and different court rulings depending on the length of a marriage and the number of children.
Her research helped her understand what kind of evidence she would need. These included bank statements, receipts for big-ticket items, iPhone recordings of James’ verbal abuse and e-mail threads with his therapists on his alcohol addiction.
She also kept a detailed record of their e-mail fights. “I would e-mail him regularly to talk about how his behaviour made me feel. Sometimes, he would get mad and fire off angry rants, which to me was an example of unreasonable behaviour,” says Ling. There was also a copy of a police warning about his drinking and disturbing the peace at home.
Last September, Ling was in bed when James came home drunk in the wee hours of the morning. “I was fast asleep when he came up to me and just started yelling for no reason. I warned him to behave over the next two weeks, or I would cancel my air ticket for our upcoming three-week vacation,” she says.
But the abuse continued, driving the final nail into the coffin. Ling cancelled her ticket, while James went ahead with their friends. “His being away meant that I had time to collate the most updated financial information, assemble my ‘divorce kit’, save it in several thumb drives and consult two different lawyers for advice,” says Ling. Towards the end of his trip, she e-mailed him asking for a divorce.
Knowing that she had done all her homework, James was cooperative. In his last-ditch effort to salvage the relationship, he asked her to postpone her decision for three months. Ling conceded on the condition that they move along with the division of their assets (“[It’ll make] the divorce process faster and smoother if I decide to file,” she explains.). She also made it clear that she had saved up enough money to engage the best lawyers in town, and had sufficient grounds to prove he had behaved unreasonably.
Thanks to her efforts, Ling secured the uncontested divorce she wanted in three months. According to her, it was hassle-free “except for when we fought over the exact percentage of assets split”, with zero contestation and with all ancillary matters settled.
She admits getting divorced was painful, but feels it would have been horrible if she had ended up homeless or broke in the process. The fact that they didn’t have any children also made their case less complicated. “It really pays to be prepared, especially when it comes to your finances,” she says. “Rather than going from one bad situation (bad marriage) to another (worrying about money), waiting until I had saved up enough meant I had bargaining power to fight for the outcome I wanted. I ended up not having to use the bulk of my savings on legal fees, so it’s now [part of ] my nest egg for the future.”
*Names have been changed.
New trends in family law
…that may affect you.
1. MANDATORY MEDIATION AND COUNSELLING FOR MARRIAGES WITH CHILDREN
The Women’s Charter was updated this year with a new clause to protect children, one of the key casualties when a marriage ends. Beginning December, it is compulsory for couples with children under 14 to attend a twohour parenting programme before they can file for divorce.
2. MEN CAN NOW CLAIM MAINTENANCE
Since July, changes to the Women’s Charter allow incapacitated husbands – men who cannot earn a livelihood due to illness, or a physical or mental disability – to take out maintenance applications against their former wives, says Michelle. Previously, only women could claim maintenance from men.
3. CAREER WOMEN ARE INCREASINGLY EXPECTED TO BE SELF-SUFFICIENT
“On Jan 15, 2016, the Court of Appeal delivered a seminal decision that, among other things, denied a working [female] divorcee nominal maintenance of $1 per month,” says Michelle. Previously, nominal maintenance was considerably automatic; now, women need to really demonstrate why it is necessary.
4. FATHERS MAY SOMETIMES BE AWARDED CARE AND CONTROL
When it comes to being awarded care and control of a child (ie dayto- day care in terms of meals and transportation), mothers retain an advantage. But this isn’t always a given; Michelle recalls cases where the father was granted care and control “because he had lived with the [child] since birth and there were no compelling reasons to disturb living arrangements”.
5. THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES TO LITIGATION
Litigation can get expensive and is time-consuming. To avoid this, mediation, collaborative divorce and negotiation are emerging as alternatives. These would require parties to compromise. “Something resolved through mediation can end within two to three months and cost around $2,500 to $5,000,” says Gloria.