Lifelong Spousal Maintenance

A man has to pay spousal maintenance (alimony) to his ex-wife depending on her future earning capacity, the standard of living enjoyed prior to the breakdown of the marriage and the contributions made by the ex-wife to the welfare of the family. This seems fair. A woman who sacrificed her future earning capacity by tending to domestic matters has made great indirect contributions to the marriage and should be able to continue enjoying a certain standard of living in the months to years following the breakdown of the marriage. However, lifelong spousal maintenance seems to be excessive considering the government's policies and stance on various issues. I believe a fairer cap would be a maximum of 8 years of alimony with a gradual decrease in amounts in the last 3 years.

No increase in earning capacity in the foreseeable future

The government is actively pushing for reskiling/upskilling through initiatives like SkillsFuture. Minister Tharman introduced the idea of a trampoline at the St Gallen's Symposium in 2015, explaining that Singaporeans are expected to take personal responsibility to improve their situation, to take up a job and work at it instead of relying on handouts from the government. Therefore, it seems puzzling that a certain segment of society, specifically ex-housewives, are exempt from taking any personal responsibility for the rest of their life and can comfortably rely on handouts from the ex-husbands.

Ex-housewives should undergo reskilling/upskilling. It may take them 5 years to complete a diploma/degree due to their age and then start at an entry level job. 8 years of alimony should be sufficient to tide them over during this transitory period before they start making their own keep.

I believe lawmakers are aware of this paradox. In 2016, an amendment was passed to the Women's charter to allow a mentally or physically incapacitated ex-husband who is unable to maintain himself to claim spousal maintenance from their ex-wives. I can understand how an incapacitated man can have no increase in earning capacity in the foreseeable future but fail to see how an able-bodied and able-minded woman can claim likewise.

Lifelong sustenance of prior standard of living

President Halimah once said in parliament that if chicken is too expensive, we can encourage Singaporeans to turn to alternatives like fish. Considering that man and wife is now man and woman, each party should live within their own means. A transitory period of 8 years should be sufficient even if she used to live like Crazy Rich Asians. First 2 years renting a place in the same neighbourhood, enjoying frequent high teas and jetting to faraway destinations like she used to. Next 2 years renting a condo in a cheaper location and making more lower SES friends. If she is able to reskill/upskill or rely on her own connections to stand on her own 2 feet, she can remain at or even increase her standard of living. Otherwise, next 2 years moving down to HDB in the heartlands and final 2 years moving into a rental flat if she is a total klutz. 8 years allows for a gradual transition from the highest echelons of society towards a new normal for her.

No lifelong indirect contribution to welfare of ex-husband

Although direct contribution to the marriage is a lifelong commitment. Indirect contribution ceases at the point of breakdown of the marriage. If lawmakers believe that ex-housewives can no longer earn her keep after 10 years in the kitchen, then likewise men who have not stepped into the kitchen for the past 10 years should be unable to learn to cook, do his own laundry, clean the house and so on. Why is an ex-wife not required to continue performing household chores for the ex-husband in return for spousal maintenance? Perhaps it can be argued that domestic help is cheap, is the ex-husband then allowed to argue for a reduction in maintenance to pay for domestic help?

Gaming the system

Firstly, the woman would resign from her job citing work stress, or needing to take a sabbatical. Her husband, not knowing the game plan, will support her and tell her to take as much time as she needs. Next she would voluntarily take up all of the household chores since she is now not working. In the pockets of time available, she will frequently meet her friends for high tea, start increasing spending on material goods and start taking up expensive hobbies like golfing. Lastly, she will take regular vacations to faraway destinations to get relief from the alleged work stress. Such behaviour over the course of a few years will eventually cause the marriage to break down and secure the woman a hefty chunk in spousal maintenance by checking all the boxes.

Minister Mentor Lee once said that no one owes you a living. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that no one (except your ex-husband) owes you a living.