Divorced woman must pay part of estranged sons' university fees

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Apex court reverses High Court decision on woman's maintenance of estranged sons

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a 62-year-old divorced woman has to contribute to the education expenses of her two adult sons, from whom she has been estranged since she left home when they were teens.

But her responsibility as a parent should not extend to an overseas university education, said the court.

The ruling on Monday was made in a divorce case involving matrimonial assets of about $5.8 million.

It reversed an earlier decision by the High Court that the woman did not have to contribute to the maintenance of her sons, aged 27 and 24, who are studying in a university in the US. They are studying for their first degree after completing their polytechnic education.

Last year, the High Court dismissed an application by the sons for maintenance from their mother. It cited two reasons: Their father, now 55, who owns an electronics component company, had previously agreed to pay for their university studies and he was in a financially stronger position.

However, a three-judge apex court disagreed and allowed the sons' appeal. On Monday, the Court of Appeal said: "In our judgment, these two reasons cannot excuse the wife's responsibility for the maintenance of her children. Even if their relationship is strained, it is her responsibility as a parent to facilitate the completion of the last leg of their education."

The court said that under the law, parents have a duty to maintain their children, including those above the age of 21 who are receiving an education.

It said the woman, who worked as a school teacher for years and had relied on the husband to provide for the family during the marriage, was likely to be financially capable of contributing to her children's studies.

However, her responsibility should not extend to an overseas university education, said the court, which comprised Judge of Appeal Steven Chong and Justices Belinda Ang and Quentin Loh.

It noted that it was only during divorce proceedings that she found out about their further studies. The court assessed her contribution to be $64,248, based on the cost of a local university education for a foreign student.

As for the former husband's appeal for a larger share of the matrimonial assets, it was dismissed by the court, which upheld the High Court's decision that the assets valued at $5.8 million should be equally split between them.