Enforcement of Foreign Maintenance Orders

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In Singapore, Expat Divorce judgments can either be enforced under common law or under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (REFJA) or the Reciprocal Enforcement of Commonwealth Judgments Act (RECJA). For the former, the court must have in personam jurisdiction over the defendant, making it easier to enforce a foreign judgment under REFJA or RECJA, as if the country where the judgment is made is gazetted, the foreign judgment need only be registered and can be enforced as if it were a judgment of the Singapore court.

One issue is whether an order for periodic maintenance made in a foreign court comes under the definition of “judgment” for the purposes of registering it under REFJA or RECJA. In Lee Pauline Bradnam v Lee Thien Terh George [2006] SGHC 84, the High Court held that foreign periodic maintenance orders are not final and conclusive and will not be registrable under the RECJA. Furthermore, the court held that it would not be just and convenient to register the order under the RECJA.

This is because the sums due in periodic maintenance orders are payable periodically, and are amenable to variation when there are changes in the circumstances of the parties. As a result, they are not final and conclusive judgments. This is as opposed to maintenance orders that are lump sum payments, which could be registrable under REFJA or RECJA.

Instead, the court held that such orders would be more appropriately registered under the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act (MO(RE)A). This Act provides for enforcement of a maintenance order under section 8, and also the variation and revocation of a maintenance order under s 9.

It also is worthy to note the court’s observation that making, enforcement and variation of a periodic maintenance order should be left to the court of the jurisdiction where the party’s income is derived, as it would be better placed to do so.

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