updated 12 Aug 2013, 21:19
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Mon, Aug 05, 2013
The Straits Times
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Couple spent $1.7m, and counting, on divorce case
by K.C. Vijayan

SINGAPORE - A warning Singapore-based couple committed "financial suicide" by spending a staggering $1.7 million on legal costs - to decide where their divorce should be heard as well as litigation costs linked to their child.

A British judge expressed his dismay at the amount spent by a 42-year-old lawyer and his 39-year-old anaesthetist wife, who have a two-year-old son.

London High Court Justice James Holman said it was "tragic" that the couple had not concentrated on a "straightforward matter of how much to provide for the wife and son". Instead, "so much firepower" has been directed on the issue of where the divorce case should be heard.

His judgment grounds, released last week, ruled that the London court had the jurisdiction to hear their divorce suit.

The husband had objected to this, arguing the case should be heard in India, as he denied being domiciled in England at the time of the divorce petition.

The wife qualified as an anaesthetist in England in 2002 and the couple married there in 2009.

Their son was born a year later.

Neither of the couple can be named under the law to protect the child's identity.

Justice Holman described both parents as "highly intelligent, very well-educated, energetic, successful and ambitious professional people".

The wife, a British citizen, sought for the divorce to be heard in England, where she believed she could get more in financial provisions.

The husband, whose nationality is unclear, moved to Singapore in December 2009 as a top corporate lawyer for a heavyweight international law firm.

She followed in 2010.

Their relationship soured with occasional violence alleged to have flared between the pair.

Within two years, "divorce became inevitable", said the judge.

Though habitually resident in Singapore, the wife filed for divorce in London in August last year.

The following month, she took her son to live in England and "fought strenuously" to be allowed to remain there with him.

But a Singapore court order in December last year meant she had to return him here and she has been "effectively constrained" to live in the Republic ever since.

Justice Holman found, based on evidence, that the wife did not abandon England and her move to Singapore was a "breather". She had intended to develop her career in England, having studied and lived there since she was 25.

The judge dismissed the husband's challenge, noting that in his English tax returns, he did not mark "X" in a box to indicate that he was born in Britain and has never been domiciled there.

He ruled that both parties were domiciled in England at the date of the divorce petition and the English court therefore had jurisdiction to hear the case.

"This case is a story of human tragedy," said Justice Holman.

He noted that since the couple separated, they had spent more than £860,000 (S$1.65 million) on worldwide legal costs in England, Singapore and India, with a significant part of the costs relating to litigation about the son.

At a hearing in May, the judge had "begged these parties to resolve their differences", referring to the "financial suicide" involved.

He noted that they could not compromise and the "sustained forensic struggle throughout the hearing was painful to observe".

Justice Holman added: "That they have committed nearly one-quarter of their wealth to highly charged litigation and an atmosphere of intense emotion day after day in the courtroom, merely serves to underline the tragedy."

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