Source: Channel News Asia, 27 July 2009
SINGAPORE: The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) is proposing that a new body be set up to enforce the payment of monthly maintenance sums from an ex-spouse to his or her family.
Statistics show that even with a court-issued maintenance order, 1,700 people – mainly women – had to apply for the orders to be enforced last year.
Nearly half of the 1,700 had to apply at least twice – a process that could take months if ex-spouses keep on defaulting on payments.
An SCWO taskforce proposed that a new body – called the Maintenance Services Authority – be set up.
The new authority would help to ease the recovery process in several ways. One is through powers the courts currently lack. For instance, the courts now leave it up to the claimant to locate the ex-spouse to receive payments, failing which, there is little other substantial remedy.
It is proposed that the new authority be given access to the databases of the Housing and Development Board, Central Provident Fund Board and income tax departments in order to trace the whereabouts of the paying party.
The authority should also be able to search for all assets related to the paying party. It could also reduce the acrimony between both parties and the time taken for payments to be made, benefiting the claimants.
Ms Malathi Das, a member of the taskforce and the vice-president of the Law Society of Singapore, said: “Whenever you deal with a court system, because it’s an adversarial system, you’ll have the claimant’s side of the story and you’ll also have the other party wanting to contest and the judge has then to come back and make a decision. So it can end up being a very long-drawn process still.
“Whereas, if you have the authority being the person in the middle, collecting and getting that information, not necessarily revealing the information to the other side, then you’ve a very comfortable intermediary that still achieves the purposes of getting that information, but balances that against the interests of the paying party with his needs for confidentiality and privacy.”
The proposals draw from focus group discussions with counsellors, wives and ex-husbands among others, as well as the experiences of other jurisdictions like in Australia and Britain.