updated 27 Sep 2012, 08:11
user id password
Tue, Apr 24, 2012
The New Paper
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
From exchanging rings to demanding toilet paper
by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

In a divorce, you would expect long disputes over money or assets like the family home.

But over toilet paper?

Some couples fight over the most trivial of things in a divorce, say some divorce lawyers.

"You'll be surprised at how 'kiddish' and 'petty' some couples can get upon a divorce," says Mr Lee Terk Yang, director of law firm Characterist LLC.

Mr Lee has seen a client whose estranged wife demanded a cuckoo clock, a black umbrella, a few rolls of toilet paper and the branded eye cream she had in the fridge before she moved out.

"Amazing, but true," says Mr Lee.

In the end, his client allowed his ex-wife into the house to retrieve her items.

In the UK, law firm Pannone reports that one in every five divorces involves petty tussles for ownership over the oddest items.

Couples fight for custody of frying pans, smoked salmon and even jars of mustard.

The resulting disputes are so bitter that they end up inflating legal bills far beyond what it would cost to buy replacements for the items, the report says.

Here in Singapore, lawyers say they have seen similar cases, although these are not as common as in the UK.

Mr Lee, who has been practising law for 10 years, says: "Five to 10 years ago, such incidents were very rare. Now, I do see some instances of such requests now and then, though I wouldn't describe it as a common trend."

One of his clients, he recalls, even demanded that her husband return her the frozen food she had left in their fridge.

He has also had clients who engage lawyers for lengthy negotiations over who gets to keep cheap household items like cushions.

"I have had a case that went down to trivial details like who is to take the dining chairs, the lights, the lampshades, the fan and even the radio-clock in the room," he recalls.

The matter was finally resolved without having to go to court.

Most of such cases in Singapore, says Mr Lee, do not end up in court as lawyers try to resolve the matter before it gets out of hand.

Moreover, judges are unlikely to take kindly to these requests.

"Honestly, it's a waste of the court's time and lawyer fees," says Ms Gloria James-Civetta, who manages law firm Gloria James-Civetta & Co.

Ms James-Civetta says she usually asks the parties to settle amicably.

"I also try to 'scare' them about escalated litigation costs and lawyers' hourly rates," she adds.

"However, some are just fighting as a matter of principle, and are willing to pay the legal costs.

"In such cases, I just follow the client's instructions."

She says she does recognise a trend towards petty disputes, especially among the 25- to 35-year-old age group and what she terms "yuppie types".

One couple, Ms James-Civetta recalls, got into an extended dispute over their coffee table, sofa set, bedframe, bed post and even the mattress.

Another couple she is seeing is still embroiled in a war over a crystal set and some bedsheets - when the wife said she wanted them, the husband immediately insisted he did too.

In one of Amolat & Partners' Amolat Singh's case, he had a woman client fight tooth and nail over 12 pairs of slippers, some kitchen utensils and a hi-fi set.

She claimed they had sentimental value.

"The husband claimed, on the other hand, that they were no longer in good working order. The woman then blamed him for having deliberately damaged them," says Mr Singh.

"Eventually, she settled for a money value for these items."

So why do couples get into protracted legal battles over the most inconsequential of items?

"It's just the nature of divorce that the parties' egos get in the way," says Ms James-Civetta.

"What is weird is that these trivial things can make the last two hours of intense negotiating on the main issues a waste as parties then hit a deadlock on the trivial matters."

Mr Singh agrees, saying: "My guess is that such couples are not done fighting with each other yet.

"Somehow, they want to remain engaged in their battles with each other, and after the major items have been agreed or settled, they seem to take some sort of convoluted joy or satisfaction in dragging out the small stuff."

On top of that, Mr Lee believes that increased financial power and the public's heightened awareness of their legal rights could bring about more of such disputes.

"There will always be divorcing couples disputing trivial things," he says.

"The fact that more see the light of day is likely to just mean that the current generation of divorcing couples have greater financial ability to pay."

Mr Lee adds: "I would advise couples to sit down and calmly handle the matter as adults would in a dispute.

"Do not be petty and personal, and you certainly shouldn't have an attitude of wanting to 'one up' the other party."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

Related story:
You are invited to my Divorce Party


readers' comments
Well, that's before kids and their pet dog or cat come long.
Posted by mystrawberry on Tue, 24 Apr 2012 at 21:05 PM

Copyright © 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.