Or perhaps it SHOULD be the epitome of logic…
Tonight was the last class for the first of two modules of family law. To be honest, I did not enjoy the module at the onset. I felt that it was too theoretical, too conceptual and extremely academic. I am a person who takes to modules which have a great deal of structure better. Modules whereby the law is generally more settled. For example, to determine whether a contract is formed, we need to establish the relevant elements. Then I go about dealing with the legal issue. That is not to say that there are no changes in the law or that there will not be any. In contract law, the seminal cases can date back decades. However, family law cases are such that we have to trace the development of the law and we have to refer to academic commentary and parliamentary reports to decipher where the law is developing.
However, after twelve really intense and interesting family law seminars, I have come to a better appreciation why I need to study the development of the law and to understand its flaws. If you are in law school and have yet to study the law on division of matrimonial assets, then get ready to be mind blown by the level of confusing and somewhat inconsistent judgements that have plagued the Singapore courts. The understanding of what constitutes a marriage as a cooperative between two spouses is lost somewhere in all the judgements.
Tonight my ever jovial tutor Ms Ruth Yeo provided an analogy of a business partnership coming to an end and when that comes to an end, partnership assets have to be divided equally between the equal partners. I started my company with the same idea. I have other shareholders which hold an equal number of shares as me. Even though on paper we are a private company limited by shares, this is a quasi-partnership built on mutual trust and confidence (I hope me remembering this concept brings a warm buzz to my Law of Business Organisations tutor Mr Cheong). We all bring different skills to the table for the benefit of the company. I am better at presentations and dealing with clients. When there are big projects for the company to bid for, I would be the one to do the presentation to try to clinch the deal. However, I cannot possibly function without my other partners. They deal with the operations as well as follow up with the work that needs to be done. Because of this unison in how the partners discharge their roles, our company is doing well. Imagine if I were to make a claim that because I were the one to clinch the deal, I should take a larger proportion of the profits even though we all own the same number of shares. I have seen numerous businesses go downhill because of falling out between business partners. Legitimately viable businesses going under because partners cannot understand the logic behind what it takes for a partnership to be successful. This is why when a partner in the partnership dies, the partnership is deemed to be technically dissolved (Chiam Heng Hsien (on his own behalf and as partner of Mitre Hotel Proprietors) v Chiam Heng Chow (executor of the estate of Chiam Toh Say, deceased) and others  4 SLR 180) . The partnership was born out of different partners coming together, bringing different skillsets to the table for the betterment of the partnership (hopefully the second warm buzz occurs here).
So then why should this logic not be applicable when we talk about a marital relationship? Just like a legal partnership, a marriage is a union of two partners who bring different skills to the relationship. If this was truly a union of two equal partners, the court should not have any inclination to say that one partner should be allocated more “profit” from the relationship just because he is the main breadwinner. Being in a marital relationship myself it kind of makes sense. Without my wife I would not be able to deal with work and studies as well as I am currently. A current example would be that yesterday our air-conditioning unit in our master bedroom broke down. I could not sleep well last night because it was too warm. By the time I came home after family law class, she had already gotten our usual technician to fix the faulty unit. While this might seem trivial, it sets me up for a good night’s sleep to tackle my work the next day.
So why then is the law on division of matrimonial assets so perplexing? Perhaps in trying to settle on something, it would do us good to go back to logic and understand what a partnership truly entails. Tonight’s lesson with that example sort of put everything in place. Oh don’t get me started on section 46 of the Women’s Charter and the whole doctrine of deferred community of property (that should bring warm buzzes to Ms Yeo and probably Prof Leong).
Perhaps one day an SUSS School of Law student will advocate appropriately and settle the law on division of matrimonial assets. Ms Yeo says that if one of us does that she will attend court. I hope it’s one of us. Hey how bad can it be? If we get scolded by the judge maybe we’ll just tell the judge that our family law tutor is in the stand if you require clarification. Ok I’m just kidding. Or maybe I’m not…
To all my fellow 3Ls, all the best for the timed TMA this Saturday!
p.s. I grew to love family law as the seminars went on. To all my fellow juniors, you should enjoy family law as you gradually grasp the concepts. Peeling off the layers would reveal logic in dealing with matrimonial issues.