According to National Registration Department records, 49,965 divorces were reported in Malaysia in 2017, which means at least 5 marriages break down every hour. Between 2013 and May 31st this year, 17,359 troubled marriages were due to financial issues, followed by 6,574 cases of third-party interference, and 4,884 cases of emotional and physical abuse.
No matter the cause, legally separating from one's spouse is always an emotionally draining and stressful time – especially in the absence of a sound financial plan or agreement prior to the divorce. Unfortunately, it's a topic we often avoid, as no one wishes to entertain thoughts about the end of a relationship, especially in the 'honeymoon' period. Talking about the possibility of divorce is also culturally regarded as inauspicious, or perceived as a sign of distrust in one's partner.
In Part 1 of this Special Report, find out from Dato' Fion Wong, a partner of Shang & Co who is actively involved in matrimonial and family law, how a legally-binding family financial plan can help to provide you with peace of mind. And how it, in fact, may help to protect your marriage.
A: So you would recommend that couples plan out the possibility of a divorce, before entering into marriage?
DF: Exactly, it’s not a taboo (to do so). Like I always say, even that promise to take care of you for the rest of your life, it means nothing unless he is able to promise you that if this happened, this is what I’m going to give you; or, this is what you’re going to get, and this is what I’m going to get. So, it’s fair game to place both parties at a very fair footing right from the beginning.
A: Speaking of fair footing, how should a housewife bring up the topic of finances? Such as how much she should get from her husband each month?
DF: She, in fact, should. Because if she’s a housewife, then I’m of the assumption that she wants to take care of the welfare of the family: the children, parents of the husband, and her own parents. She should bring this up before even entering the marriage, whether she has given up her job or not, as to “What will happen if one day we get a divorce?” I’ve seen in many cases, no matter how rich they are, when it comes to divorce and one party is a stay-at-home spouse, they’re usually left with no money, because they were not in control at all. Hence, the house is put on auction, the children are left with no education fees, and they’re being pressured to come to a settlement. To overcome this, the lawyers would then need to file extra applications to get the financial probation for them, which we will say is ‘wife maintenance’ or ‘child maintenance’, with the whole process from start to end taking six to nine months. The spouse would need funds to survive on during that period, and then to pay the legal fees.
Legal fees vary according to the expertise of the lawyers, case complexity, and the number of claims and applications made to court. A contested divorce, conducted by lawyers who specialise or have vast experience in handling such cases, usually cost upwards of RM30,000. Filing fees usually add up to RM800 and onwards for the entire divorce proceedings.
Couples plan for their honeymoon and wedding, so why not family finances? In the event that something were to happen, there would be protection and security. If nothing were to happen, say 20 years down the road, then the funds can be used on the family, such as travelling around the world. I think people would respond well to that.