While life for expats in Singapore can have plenty of plusses, like everywhere in the world there are those in unhappy relationships, facing marital issues that can culminate in legal proceedings. Fiona Hoad, a family law specialist, offers advice to Australian expats who find themselves in that position.
Have you seen a rise in break-ups among Australian expats?
We haven’t noticed an increase. However, from my matters involving expats I understand that the pressures of living in a foreign country and the need to adapt to a new culture (and, at times, a new language and way of life) without the support system and infrastructure that existed in Australia can put a strain on the relationship or exacerbate existing problems or tensions within a marriage.
Quite often, when a relationship breaks down, one person from the couple returns to Australia and it is appropriate that Australian family law be applied – or, indeed, more advantageous to one party if that occurs. I can assist them with a property settlement of all their assets in and outside of Australia, and their marriage and financial relationship can be finalised pursuant to Australian family law.
Do expats tend to have more complicated financial affairs?
When they own assets located outside of Australia, the mechanics of liquidating or transferring the assets to satisfy a property settlement can be more complicated – a pension fund in the UK or Singapore, for example, or real estate outside of Australia. The court doesn’t have jurisdiction over assets outside of Australia but can make orders against Australian citizens or residents to cause them to undertake personal acts with respect to overseas assets.
Where expats have assets in Australia and overseas, it’s important for them to get legal advice regarding the most appropriate jurisdiction to deal with these assets in a family law property settlement. It may be more advantageous to have their financial relationship determined under Australian law as opposed to the family law of another country where other relationship assets may be located.
When separation happens, what is the general procedure?
In Australia, we have a “no fault” system that makes obtaining a divorce relatively quick and easy. Obtaining a divorce doesn’t mean that parties automatically get a property settlement. After a divorce order takes effect, parties have 12 months to bring an application before the court regarding a property division. Any property settlement must be “just and equitable” or “fair” given the circumstances of each particular marriage. The determination of what is “fair” is based on an assessment of how the parties have contributed to the property of the marriage and to the welfare of the family. It’s always recommended that parties get legal advice as to what is the likely range of a just and equitable outcome so that settlement discussions are based on realistic expectations.
Must a couple file divorce papers in Australia as well as in Singapore or whatever country they reside in?
If you were married in Australia but temporarily reside outside of the country, you can apply to end your marriage by way of an application for divorce in Australia. Separated expat married or de facto couples who temporarily reside outside of Australia but have assets there can seek a property settlement in Australia. All assets are included in the relationship or matrimonial asset pool, regardless of where they are located.
Fiona is a Director at Somerville Legal, based in Sydney, Australia, and is available for face-to-face initial meetings in Singapore. Call +61 9923 2321 or visit somervillelegal.com.au for more information.