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USB v USA and another appeal [2020] SGCA 57

Outcome: Appeal allowed in part


1 The Wife owned 17 properties – nine were purchased before the marriage and their mortgage loans paid off during the marriage (“Disputed Properties”), and the other eight were purchased during the marriage and/or was used as the matrimonial home. The High Court Judge included part of the value of each of the Disputed Properties in the pool of matrimonial assets. Parties filed cross-appeals following the High Court Judge’s decision on the division of matrimonial assets.

Court’s Decision:

2 The courts’ powers of division are confined to assets relating to marriage (see s 112(10) of the Women’s Charter). The court should disregard assets acquired during pre-marital cohabitation or non-marital relationship, and the period parties lived together prior to marriage ought not to be included in determining the length of marriage: at [18].

3 Nonetheless, assets acquired before the marriage may still be divided if they are “transformed into matrimonial assets”: (a) by substantial improvement during the marriage by the other or both spouses, which has to involve investment of money or money’s worth, and arise from effort which has economic value; or (b) ordinarily used or enjoyed by both parties or their children while residing together, and use must be relatively extended rather than casual: at [19], [22] and [24].

4 The court’s starting point and focus in the division exercise is on identifying the material gains of the marital partnership. Increase in value of an asset from payments made by the owning party during the marriage, such as payments towards a mortgage loan for a house, are material gains of the marital partnership – the court may conclude that a portion of the house’s value was “acquired” during the marriage, although legal title for the house passed before marriage: at [27] to [29].

5 The party claiming that an asset is not a matrimonial asset or that only part of its value should be included in the pool, or the party asserting that assets which are prima facie not matrimonial assets are matrimonial assets, has the burden to prove this on a balance of probabilities: at [31] and [32].

6 The structured approach in ANJ v ANK [2015] SGCA 34 continues to apply to short marriages, and the court would not incline towards equality of division in short marriages: at [37].

7 Pre-marriage circumstances, such as parties’ indirect contributions made during cohabitation should not be taken into account in the division of matrimonial assets: at [51].

The full text of the decision can be found here.

This summary is provided to assist the public to have a better understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s judgment.

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