Couple That is Divorcing Fought Over $1 Million Hongbao Given During Wedding

If there’s something that all Singaporeans love, it’s probably hongbaos.

Or any form of cash gift, really. But you get what I mean.

And you might also know that apart from Lunar New Year and birthdays, it’s also custom for family and loved ones to give newlyweds hongbaos in celebration of their marriage.

With the hongbaos ranging from around $100 to thousands of dollars in special cases, it’s pretty obvious that the money might go to some shared expenses or get split evenly between the couple.

However, it seems like it wasn’t the case for this couple currently going through a divorce.

The reason? One of the hongbaos contained $1 million.

Yes, you read that right.

Couple Getting Divorced After Less Than Three Years

The couple, both in their 30s, is seeking a divorce after less than three years.

The husband holds the role of chief executive of a company in the oil and gas sector while the wife works as a dentist at a private clinic.

The duo also have a seven-year-old son.

$1 Million Hongbao Came From Groom’s Father

When carrying out the traditional tea ceremony on the morning of the wedding day, the groom’s father gave his son and daughter-in-law a hongbao, which is pretty common for any sort of tea ceremony.

However, the newlyweds found out that instead of crisp notes, the hongbao had a $1 million cheque slipped into it.

Unfortunately, the hongbao ended up being a major point of attention during the couple’s divorce proceedings in court due to its value.

Apart from the hongbao, another asset that the couple has been fighting over is the husband’s Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) golf membership.

When the trial began last year, it was worth $225,000. However, there are SICC members who are apparently selling their membership passes for around $300,000 now.

With the high value of multiple assets in this divorce case, it has also been announced that this case will act as a reference for similar cases in the future.

Three judges of the Appellate Division of the High Court will be responsible for determining how valuable assets would be shared in a family.

Ownership of Hongbao and Groom’s Father’s Intentions

Of course, the first question that everyone asked was: So who exactly does the hongbao belong to?

Other than the obvious answer, which was that the hongbao was meant for the couple to share, the possibility of the hongbao being solely for the groom was also brought up.

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a father giving his son money… Right?

Wife Received Other Gifts During and Before Wedding

It was also noted in court that the bride received jewellery worth $20,000 at the same tea ceremony.

Hence, the High Court ruled at first that the groom’s father had intended to give the $1 million cheque to his son only.

In addition to that, the groom’s father also bought a BMW car that cost $270,000 for his daughter-in-law before the couple got married.

The husband also gifted his wife with jewellery worth $100,000 prior to the wedding.

Apart from that, the judge also highlighted that the husband deposited the $1 million into his own bank account instead of a joint one after the wedding.

Appeals Court’s Disagreement

However, this ruling was soon overturned by the appeals court, which disagreed and said that the couple was meant to share the hongbao.

This was particularly due to the time and way in which the hongbao was presented to the couple at the tea ceremony.

Judge of the Appellate Division Woo Bih Li explained that the groom’s father could have chosen to pass his son the hongbao before or after the wedding if he had meant for the hongbao to be a gift solely for his son.

“However, he chose to do so at the tea ceremony for the marriage. This is a significant occasion where the parties pay their respects to senior members of the family.

“The overt act of presenting a gift during such a ceremony would be viewed objectively as a gift to the couple in the absence of evidence to the contrary,” he added.

Evidence Presented by Wife Further Supports Appeals Court’s Viewpoint

Apart from that, the wife also brought out a particular piece of evidence that further swayed the argument to the Appeals Court’s benefit.

The evidence presented was a voice recording of the couple’s discussion regarding the gift. The wife had secretly recorded the conversation without her husband’s knowledge.

Although the voice recording was recorded around two years after the couple’s wedding when they were already on less-than-ideal terms, the recording still served as an indicator of how both husband and wife treated the gift.

“We are mindful that the wife had recorded the conversation without the husband’s knowledge and thus she had that advantage over him. Nevertheless, the substance of the conversation showed that the wife had explicitly asserted to the husband more than once that the $1 million gift was for both of them,” Justice Woo commented.

Even though the husband did make various remarks throughout the conversation, he did not explicitly state that his father had meant for the hongbao to only be for him.

However, he still said in the end, “It is for us, yes. But it is also for me to be the one that makes the decision. That’s a reason why he gave me the money.”

After reviewing the voice recording, the court ruled that the $1 million hongbao was not only meant for the husband and that he was not allowed to keep it for himself.

The hongbao was then included in the couple’s matrimonial assets that were up for division between the duo.

How the SICC Membership Became Part of the Matrimonial Assets

For the #singlepringle gang, assets that are owned by individuals before marriage are usually not included in the matrimonial assets, and whoever owns it has sole ownership over it.

However, if the other spouse has “made substantial contribution or improvements to it”, it may be included in the matrimonial assets as well.

Since the husband obtained his SICC membership as a gift from his father before getting married, he mentioned that it should not be included in the matrimonial assets.

He also noted that even if his wife had benefitted from the membership, she did not pay for any part of it. The payment came solely from the groom’s father.

However, the wife pointed out that there is no evidence proving that the membership had been given to her husband by his father before the marriage.

The husband did not ask the club for any information regarding when his father bought the membership for him either.

Justice Woo also noted that none of these points were revealed during the trial.

“While it could well be that the membership was acquired before the marriage and paid for by the father, it was for the husband to prove this, which he failed to do,” he noted.

Hence, the club membership ended up being included as part of the matrimonial assets.

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Total Assets and Aftermath

And if you’re already losing tract of how much the matrimonial assets are worth, here’s a quick rundown.

With the $1 million hongbao, hongbao, the SICC membership, the husband’s Maserati and the wife’s BMW cars, the couple has a total pool of around $2.4 million in their shared assets.

As for property, the couple lived in a bungalow belonging to the husband’s parents and did not own their own property.

Eventually, it was ruled that the wife would get one-third of the entire asset pool, which is roughly around $820,000.

This was largely due to how the husband made most of the monetary contributions, as well as the fact that the couple were married for a short period of time.

However, it was also noted that the wife played a part in taking care of their son, hence making it an “indirect contribution”.

Well, if there’s anything any of us can learn from this, it’s probably that we all should keep receipts of our financial transactions, whether it’s a $1.50 drink you bought at NTUC or a *cough* $1 million hongbao.

You never know when these receipts will come in handy, right?

And of course, if you only want one person to own your gift, then don’t give it in front of everyone else lah.

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