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Sunday January 14th 2018

Will jobless ex senior civil servant who earned $10,000/month before goes to jail for maintenance arrears tomorrow?

Editor’s Note: I am glad to report that Shanmuga was able to raise $400 to pay off his maintenance arrears today when I visted him at the family court. He will need to pay off another $1100 in maintenance arrears on 29 March failing which he will need to go to jail for a week. Singapore probably is the only developed country in the world that jails its’  citizens for not paying maintenance money to their family members  after a divorce.

When jobless ex senior civil servant Shanmuga filed into the seat at Novena Hans cafe, I couldn’t help but wondered  if he has got any problem.

Always smiling during the 2-hour interview held in  a rain-soaked afternoon and ever so positive despite the huge maintenance arrears he has chalked up since he was jobless from October last year,  Shanmuga may  face a jail sentence when he appears in Family Court no. one tomorrow at 4.45pm.

He told me that he took up a part-time courier job just to get by recently  and his $1500/month income is erratic as it depends on the number of courier trips he made between Singapore and KL.

This was a far cry from his hay days of earning close to $10,000 a month as a senior civil servant in a stat board. Back then, he could still pay the $1800 monthly maintenance and sometimes even gave more as he was  financially healthy.

The maintenance nightmare spiralled downhill when he was made jobless late last year and on top of the adjusted-down $1500/month maintenance from $1800, he has to pay a further $550 a month to make  up for the shortfall during that horrendous period.

In total, he has to cough up $2050 every month – and he could only ekk out close to $1500 currently from his part time courier work.

“Its a non-stop nightmare,” Shanmuga confided in me during a rare moment of disdain.

“The court system is not merciful and has no heart,” he further reiterated. He told me that he wants to give money to his daughters – age 24 and 20 years old but he just couldn’t.

He was issued with a warrant of arrest on 9 March for failing to pay $1100 of maintenance arrears (two months of $550 arrear instalment non-payment) and has to appear in court on 13 March to show payment of at least $400 failing which he will likely go to jail.

He told me that he flirted with jail once three weeks ago when he couldn’t pay the arrears of $3300 – a 3-month counter proposal instalment payment plan he promised  to the court when he owed his ex-wife close to $10, 000 during a horrendous unemployment period.

The court police handcuffed him then and hauled him to the court jail for an hour – right in front of his ex-wife and two daughters when they filed for non-payment motion  against him. He  escaped jail only when he counter-proposed to pay $550 a month for the $3300 maintenance default payment.

The 25-year-old marriage broke up four years ago and 53-year-old Shanmuga was earning well then as a senior civil servant.

The $1800 maintenance payment was just a small percentage of his $10,000/month  senior civil servant’s  pay cheque.

He lost his fat salary job when his contract ended late last year and life basically went downhill since then.

“I have being to the court at least 20 times, Gilbert,” he retorted.

“The judge and the court police must have known me by then!” he chuckled when he bite into his sandwich.

Preferring to file his own downward variation by himself from $1500 to $800 as he could no longer afford an attorney to act on his behalf and  also could not qualify for free  legal aid, Shanmuga fought a losing one-man show in our women-bias family court. The hearing for the maintenance lowering will be heard on 27 March.

“The woman just have to call or email to trigger a case against you and she don’t  have to appear in court whereas you have to fight it by either getting a lawyer  to represent you or appear in court personally.”

Personally, I have been to the family court many times when one of our Malay reader Ibrahim  faced the same issue as Shanmuga – he was many months in maintenance arrears as he too was jobless immediately after a bitter divorce.

If not for his brother who bailed him out several times, Ibrahim will be in jail as he couldn’t pay maintenance  for several months when he was jobless.

Now gainfully employed, Ibrahim could foot the maintenance payment for his three children regularly.

However, like Shanmuga, his relationship with his three children remained estranged even though he has weekly access rights to his children.

According to his ex-wfe, the children didn’t want to see him for personal reasons.  He is especially close to his youngest 11-year-old son and missed him immensely.

Shanmuga also has strained relationship with the daughters when the maintenance issue became acronimious. If not, he saw his daughters regularly when he could pay up promptly.

“I just felt that no one has really  taken a close look at our system, Gilbert.”

“Its right that the Women’s Chapter fights for the rights of the women and children but do spare a thought for the men who sometimes could not pay maintenance not because we don’t want to but can’t due to certain circumstances.”

He asked me what will I do with the info and how best we can champion the cause of  men caught in maintenance issue so that they can have a voice.

I told Shanmuga that we will forward the story to MCYS and probably email a few MPs for their attention.

As Singapore grabbles with a worsening divorce  rate here and our men struggled with joblessness due to the huge foreign influx, it is timely that  MCYS sits down with all concerned stakeholders and have a proper dialogue to garner feedback from the ground.

The Family Court is out there to impose regulation passed down from the ministry and is seen as merciless when they ruthlessly execute orders to put our men in miantenance default in jail.

However, the system may have fail to seriously look into unique circumstances whereby our divorced men are caught out by unforeseen circumstances such as temporary unemployment.

Moreover, such maintenance payment cases often  fought out bitterly in court does not augur well for the  relationship between the fathers and their children.

I will be in Family Court One tomorrow at 4.45pm to see if Shanmuga will be handcaffed and place in jail – for the second time and whether he would escape prison again as he did three weeks ago.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

Number of View: 12346

Reader Feedback

36 Responses to “Will jobless ex senior civil servant who earned $10,000/month before goes to jail for maintenance arrears tomorrow?”

  1. jj says:

    Does our S’pore law system allow prenuptial agreement?

  2. GhostMan says:

    Singapore’s law is bias when it comes to Womens Charter but the next thing which is quite amusing is that why should he pay for the children when they are already adults and over 21years old?

  3. admin says:

    Hi GhostMan

    The maintenance is meant for the younger 20-year-old daughter.

    Maintenance for the older daughter, ages 24 years old, has ceased.

    Hope this clarifies your enquiry.

    Gilbert Goh

  4. J Y says:

    Even if the 20-year-old daughter is an undergrad, $1500 maintenance per month is a lot of money. When I was an undergrad, I got only $200 allowance per month for transport cost, food, stationery etc. and I even managed to save some money every month. I even asked my dad not to give me any money for the school holidays since he was the only breadwinner in the family.

    $1500 is equivalent to one month’s salary for the low income. If his daughter is in need of money, she can work part-time like what I did as a student. Does it mean that she will stop receiving money once she turns 21 years old or once she starts to work?

    I think the judge should excercise his/ her own discretion in exceptional cases, for e.g. when the wife earns more than the husband. It is no use putting the poor man in jail. It is just making things difficult for him since he cannot earn any money in jail. But the good thing is that he can get free food and shelter in jail which can save him some money.

    Maybe she can also ask her school for some financial assistance. MOE is getting more generous after the budget.

    • charmer says:

      JY How did you manage with 200 ?

      • J Y says:

        Hi Charmer,

        It is actually very easy as I am always very thrifty. When I was an undergrad, I spent $50 on a bus stamp per month as I only took a bus to and fro school. When I travelled by MRT, I used my ezlink card. I had lunch in the school canteen on schhol days, costing about $3 per day. I brought my own 1 litre water bottle from home and refilled it with the water coolers found in school. I usually had breakfast and dinner at home. Some of my clothes were hand-me-downs and I seldom need to buy clothes. My pair of shoes can last me for years and I have to buy a new pair only when it wore out.

        My only luxury was my pair of spectacles costing more than $200 which can last me for many years as I am highly short-sighted.

  5. Gilbert Goh says:

    Hi JY

    The maintenance for the 20-year-old daughter will be asked to be lowered to $800 from $1500 during the downward variation hearing on 27 March.

    Note that even if the child has reached 21 years old, the father still has to pay for her varsity educational cost till she has completed her education.

    Readers hopefully will take note that divorce is not only costly but emotional draining – so do your best to work at your marriage!

    Many people are worse off after a divorce. It could be the start of a potential nightmare – especially for the guys.

    Gilbert Goh

    • Tigris says:

      Hi Gilbert, My mum and I saw this article and even my mother a woman is quite surprised also see that our laws are too biased against men.

      Also I am quite unconvinced over the laws of this civil servant having to pay maintenance fee for a 20 years old.

      This seem to inculcate wrong values to our next generation. In the US or even europe, 18 years old is the time the adult children leave the house and if they need to stay in the house they are required to pay rent!

      Why are we assuming that 20 year olds need maintenance fees at $1500 a mth? When I was that age, my expentiture do not exceed $800 including school supplies and food.

  6. anon says:

    I guess that’s why more Sinkies will rather stay single.

    Now you know why in the olden days, from England to China, from India to Norway, marriage decisions were traditionally a family clan thing, involving mainly the elders. Coz marriage can make or break a person or a clan.

  7. Gilbert Goh says:

    Hi anon,

    In today’s modern era whereby our women can earn as much if not more than the man, the traditional idea of marriage does not hold water anymore.

    Everything has to be discussed and even negotiated and it is this tension of joint decision making that causes alot of problems at home.

    I have heard from men how their wives are very domineering and from women how their husbands are very MCP.

    If the couple is a direct oppositie fit, the marriage tends to be very acronimious as evertyhing has to be argued and debated upon.

    Opposite people tend to attract one another more during courtship but ensuing problems arise when they enter into marriage – without much similarity that will bind them together.

    Imagine marrying someone who does not like what you like and you go to movies alone as she does not like to watch things in the dark and you also holiday alone as she hates travelling but prefer shopping.

    As Singapore grabbles with a high divorce rate, let us be watchful who we date and marry – as it could be a life time of misery and financial trouble if the union ends in a nasty divorce.

    Gilbert Goh

  8. theonion says:


    All countries have the rules and penalties for non-compliance inclusive of garnishee orders or possibly jail in lieu of for those under common law coming from old ye england.
    The enforcement practice of course varies country to country.
    simple example, grafitti

  9. Shan says:

    “I resepct much about Singapore but one can certainly have no respect for such a stupid law that jails a man for inability to pay, thereby further incapacitating his ability to pay!”

    Friend of Singapore

  10. theonion says:


    By the way, I am surprised that the ex senior civil servant did not immediately try to get a variation order once his economic circumstances change.

  11. Shan says:

    The onion

    This is precisely where most unemployed men fail to realise the consequences. Usually the main priority is to find a job and expect the family members to understand the interim situation. If the daughtyer or ex wife does not lodge a complaint at the family court, there is no issue. The man can continue to focus his efforts in trying to seek employement.

  12. chillax says:

    i have just one question.. why was he let go of his cushy job at the stat board at his 50s, i thought the retirement age is 63 and govt cannot let go of its servants without a good reason?

  13. Shan says:

    Hi Chillax

    It was a two year contractual employment as Project Director that was extended till Dec 2010.

  14. jj says:

    Did the poor Shanmuga go to jail?

  15. Shan says:

    Nope as Gilbert mentioned 400 was paid afer converting left over Malaysia ringgit that managed to clear the outstanding arrears of 550. The non payment of outstanding 1.1 k for child maintenance had a one week default in jail but the judge had given a second deferement to end of March. Seems like the amount continues to snowball and bury the person when unemployed.

    The FT’s are laughing the Singaporean is crying in jail

  16. charmer says:

    Latest on this case is that the ex wife is seperately filing an application for an upward variation ( which means she wants the court to enforce the child maintenance) when the child turns 21 in a couple of months. All this when the man is struggling to make ends meet.

  17. tolim says:

    The problem with the system of maintenance was apparently brought upon by some who often; despite their ability to pay maintenance exploit the loopholes to fulfill their obligation. As a result, it adversely affected many who are genuinely unable to cope with the alimony payable as a result of changes in one’s earning power.
    Nonetheless, I believe the current system pertaining to maintenance policy badly and urgently needs CORRECTION/ rectification because such skewed system will only destroy more decent lives and become an accomplice to the greater animosity between families among Singaporeans.

  18. Marcos says:

    I find this unacceptable and shocking that the wife still has the cheek to file for child maintanence. A 20y is old enough to be more independent! If a 20y still has to be spoonfed and cocooned by his parents, goodness, what kind of people are we developing, especially in the face of growing competition from incoming foreigners and the world?

  19. charmer says:

    Today was my hearing for the downward variation from the current $1500 to $800. Since my ex wife had filed for an upward variation to $2,500 both were heard together. Basically the upward served to ‘jam’ my downward application or called an ambit. For which the judge has to consider all points raised.

    After reading our affadivit and hearing from both parties, the judge decides to dismiss both applications. I was uterly shocked that my three month wait to be heard is simply thrown out. My ex wife made numerous insinuations that I lead an extravagant lifestyle, while i earn a meagre $1,600 – 2,000 per month. The troubling comment from the district judge is that she found my switch from a full time employee to a consultant in August 2012 rather ‘suspicious’.

    So I will continue to pay the child maintenance of the previous amount ( when i was employed ) and clear the arrears of last year. This is Sillypore

  20. charmer says:

    Judge in family courts suggests I take a loan ( only option is Ah Long ) to pay for child maintenance. Is this what the Ministry of Law is advocating ?

  21. Def says:

    Suggest to the judge she can lend u the money first, but no guarantee u can pay back. Tell the judge u don’t mind being made bankrupt since u got no proper employment. If judge too scared to lend u money then suggest she get u permanent job in ministry of law. Like that sure u can pay kid maintenance.

  22. charmer says:

    The family court expects even prisoners to continue to pay for chid maintenance by borrowing from the members of their family.

  23. charmer says:

    THE SAGA CONTINUES FOR JOBLESS EX SENIOR CIVIL SERVANT NOW COURIER AGENT. A court order has been issued to clear the arrears with a large amount of $2,500 to be paid in the end of June. The current average income is 1.5k as a part time odd-job worker.

    The daughter who has just turned 21 has filed for an application ‘ that you have neglected to provide reasonable maintenance for the applicant for an order under Section 69 of the Women’s Charter, Chapter 353.

    (The daughter will continues to recieve payment from her father’s CPF for NUS university fees. Approx 6k a year till honors based on court order)

  24. Richard Lim says:

    My goodness … is the Family Court a blood sucking vampire or gate to hell !!!

    If I’m Shanmuga, I would rather go jail than feeding his rotten ex-wife and gone-case daughters …

    Can disowning his daughters free him from some of the maintenance ?

  25. Def says:

    Like I say, he shld tell judge to send him to jail n make him bankrupt. Better than to give even 1 cent to the rubbish ex-family. If want him to pay then judge can give him permanent exec job in supreme court or ministry of law. That guy is more than qualified to do executive n admin jobs.

  26. charmer says:

    Update :
    The 21 year old daughter’s application for maintenance was dismissed by a trial judge in the family court. The judge gave the NUS second year daughter a scolding for bringing her unemployed father to court and demand for monthly money despite his paying for the university fees using his CPF.

  27. Help says:

    So my bf is in a situation too. His Gold Digging ex wife wants money. A lot of money she wants what he earned when they were married. Despite her cheating twice and kidnapping their son from KL (these points are not to mentioned in court as they will ‘upset’ her) he has to pay her what he earned when he was married. He can’t. He had to declare bankruptcy as she also spent his credit cards, this means the O.A will not let him travel. She could have signed a Long Term Visa’s pass so he could work here but she refused. So without being able to work here or abroad and her thinking he has millions invested somewhere (which she has in fact spent) he is behind in child support payments. He may face jail now. How is this fair? What is most wrong of all is she will not allow him to see their son. Singapore needs to sort this out. It is molding Gold Diggas and depraving parents from seeing their children. We are scared and need help. He has spent 200k on a lawyer who could not help. His Mom’s life savings have paid the last few fees and now she is out of money too.

  28. Equality says:

    This is horrendous & unfair! I come from a religion that teaches me that women are equal so kindly pardon me if I offend anyone who thinks I am siding with any specific gender…

    As a woman I strongly feel this is unfair to expect a Father to fork out this much when he is not earning well. He could choose to be jobless like some but he is still trying.

    How much is the Mother contributing towards her child/children? Strangely if he was still married and unemployed, in most cases the Wife will not be so demanding and may even even expect the kids to work part-time to support themselves thru school since parents are not earning much.

    These days many teenage kids do give part-time tuitions etc to earn some extra income to help themselves and their families out.

    There are many cases whereby. divorced partners are plainly just vicious and want to “kill” their ex-partners as they cannot accept that the other party has moved on or is living peacefully.

    I know of one such single parent whose ex-Husband gave up his chance of having a 5-room BTO that they had been waiting for (whilst married) but unfortunately the divorce took place during that waiting period; just so that his Daughter would have a proper shelter over her head instead of staying at her maternal Granny’s place. He had no home to call his own! Yet this woman chose to put her child in a pte kindergarten and pay $700+ monthly when she could make do with PCF and pay $200. She receives $500-700 monthly for child maintenance while her ex-Husband is trying to make ends meet because of job issues!

    There is another who I know who is a working single Mother earning about $3.000 and claims that she’s getting $1,000 per kid, has 2 kids but yet says it’s not enough…

    Then we have the one who receives $$300 maintenance and yet is happily bringing her Daughter up by working hard , she even has a maid and tuition for her child. She earns $4,000.

    Really? A kid need $2000 a month to survive?
    If you were still married to your partner, would you be spending thousands on your child?

    Most of the time when you speak to ex-partners, all you hear is anger, revenge, jealousy…

    Most married couples do their best to make ends meet, no matter what happens and when they break up they just want to make life hell for the other Really?

    We need some changes here! We need an association for human rights not just women’s rights!

  29. Equality says:

    I must also add that my siblings and I studied in PAP kindergartens and we are all degree holders from NUS, SIM etc

  30. Bernard Tan says:

    Sadly, there’s no human (lucky if you can fine a few good ones) in our people managing Divorce cases,
    Robots can do the job.
    We don’t need all the Nice dressing & Articulattive legal professionals etc..
    Just key in the answers to all the objective divorce questions & the 10 years serial answers are there.
    This is how robotic our people are the system.
    They are not interested in hearing your issues, it’s called wasting the court time & money.
    The LAW (if any Real & Fair one exists) must address penalty for Judges, Lawwyers, Plaintiffs and/Defendants who failed to uphold the Law of True Justice.
    Today, it’s a FAR FAR FAR cry of True Justice being administered in the Little Red Dot.

  31. Bernard Tan says:

    Dear Gilbert,

    I would greatly appreciate a meeting with you to share my Lone fight for a TRUE Justice system in our MOTHERLAND, SINGAPORE

    I’m residing in JB & will avail myself 24/7 to meet you.

    Hope you can consider to give me your listening ears & some time.

    Thank you in advance.

    Bernard Tan

  32. Justice says:

    Never ever get married. Everyday the goverments ads on married life etc is for more babies to increase population. Marriage screwed all up especially the unfairness to man. One can never get a life again. As good as dead.

  33. mark says:

    This is not fair for men, please stop this woman charter law.
    Now a days womans are not like before, they dont just sit at home and cook. Court should stop sending prison they can allow them to find job.

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