Maintenance is a way for a wife to have her financial needs met when a divorce happens. A court is often required to answer the crucial questions of how much maintenance a wife should get, and for how long she should receive it.
The court will need to consider whether an ex-wife in a divorce has an automatic entitlement to payments of maintenance. If she has given up her career in order to bring up her children, she is likely to need maintenance for the remainder of her life if she cannot resume that career.
However, maintenance is not always life-long, as its purpose is really to help the spouse as long as it takes for her to regain her self-sufficiency.
In recent case law (ATE v ATD), the courts have stated broad guidelines as to when nominal wife maintenance should be paid, and when it should not. The three main principles are:
- There should be no automatic award of nominal maintenance as a matter of course;
- Nominal wife maintenance will not be awarded simply because a wife claims her situation will change in the future;
- When deciding whether to award nominal maintenance, the court will consider the underlying rationale and purpose of the payments to a former wife.
The Women’s Charter, in section 114(2) states the overarching reason for maintenance as being financial preservation – the wife must be maintained at a standard of living that is equal to that she enjoyed whilst married. However, this section of the charter must be applied in a “common-sense holistic manner, that takes into account the new realities that flow from the breakdown of marriage”.
Moreover, there are different reasons behind the duty of a husband to maintain his wife during a marriage (section 69(1)) of the Charter, and the obligation to maintain a former wife (section 113). In Elements of Family Law in Singapore [(LexisNexis, 2007)] at p 476, the following guidance is given by Prof Leong Wai Kum:
“In the former situation, the objective is to provide modest maintenance, namely, to help her overcome her immediate financial need, which may well be the same objective when ordering maintenance for a dependent child. In the latter situation, maintenance ordered for a former wife, however, serves the far more ambitious objective of giving her a fair share of the surplus wealth that the spouses had acquired during the subsistence of the marriage.”
Courts often take into account each party’s portion of the marital assets when they calculate the right quantum of maintenance, since the power to order wife maintenance is in addition to the power to order division of matrimonial assets. See the case law of BG v BF [ 3 SLR(R) 233] at −, Rosaline Singh [ 1 SLR(R) 457] at ; Tan Bee Giok at  and AQS [ SGCA 3] at .
When maintenance is awarded to a former wife, it is done with the consideration that she must try to regain self-sufficiency, and that she should not expect to depend for her whole life on the maintenance paid by the former husband (see the Singapore High Court decision of Quek Lee Tiam v Ho Kim Swee (alias Ho Kian Guan)  SGHC 23).