Web Stories Thursday, February 22

SINGAPORE: A woman took her ex-husband to court to get him to pay three months’ worth of preschool fees for their son.

The man refused to pay the sum of about S$4,500 (US$3,300), saying the previous Sparkletots school was enough and there was no need for their child to enrol in a preschool as expensive as MindChamps.

He also said his ex-wife should not have enrolled their child into MindChamps without his consent, as he was granted joint custody of their children and has a “50 per cent stake in the decision-making process of the children”.

In a Family Court judgment made available on Thursday (Feb 15), District Judge Marcus Ho granted the woman’s application and ordered the man to pay the full sum.

THE CASE

The former couple got married in October 2011 and had three children, aged 10, eight and four. They sought divorce and were granted an interim judgment in 2019, with joint custody granted to both parties.

The mother received sole care and control of the children, while the father was ordered to pay S$1,000 for each child as monthly maintenance, for a total of S$3,000 a month.

He was also ordered to pay for various expenses including all education expenses.

At the time this consent order was granted, the youngest child was under a year old.

The woman then moved out of the matrimonial flat and into a rented apartment, where she enrolled her two youngest children into Sparkletots’ kindergarten and infant care.

By then, the oldest child was in primary school. 

In January 2022, the mother enrolled the youngest child into MindChamps Performing Arts International Preschool @ Changi Business Park.

The preschool fees were about S$1,600 a month. These fees were deducted from the boy’s Child Development Account (CDA).

However, the money in the CDA dwindled. When there was no longer enough to pay for the school fees, the woman took a loan from her parents to pay the outstanding fees of S$4,547.43 for the months between December 2022 and February 2023.

The woman said her ex-husband was obliged to pay her this sum under the consent order.

The man refused to pay for the fees, saying he had not consented to it. 

“To his mind, there was no need for (the youngest child) to be enrolled into a preschool as expensive as MindChamps,” said Judge Ho.

“The respondent did not feel that children of (that) age needed to attend ‘good schools’, and that money spent on a ‘good school’ was not worth it given (the child’s) young age.”

Instead, the father felt the child should have remained in Sparkletots. He proposed that the child be transferred back to Sparkletots and said he would pay for the fees there.

Alternatively, if his ex-wife wanted to continue with the child at MindChamps, the man said he would contribute S$750 a month.

He estimated that this would be the cost of his son’s fees for his age group at Sparkletots.

JUDGE’S FINDINGS

Judge Ho noted that joint custody does not mean that every decision must be made jointly.

“Parents routinely make a wide range of education-related decisions throughout their children’s lives. Some decisions will invariably be more significant and of greater consequence than others,” he said.

“Where an order for joint custody is granted, which is now the norm, it could be counter-productive to a child’s welfare if every education-related decision had to be made jointly.”

He said a decision of choosing a child’s preschool could be left to be made by the parent with care and control.

“The selection of preschool, to put bluntly, is a decision of limited long-term academic impact on a child, relative to every other institution the child may subsequently be enrolled into,” said Judge Ho.

He did not find the difference between Sparkletots and MindChamps to be “so significant and important to (the child’s) welfare” as to fetter the mother’s prerogative to decide where the child should be enrolled.

However, he said this should not be taken by the mother as a carte blanche to incur expenses in an uninhibited manner or with disregard to her ex-husband’s views.

The judge noted that the man never actually raised any objection to the child’s enrolment into MindChamps until he was asked by his ex-wife to make monetary top-ups into the CDA in September 2022.

By then, the boy had already been with MindChamps for about nine months, which his father knew about.

The judge said the man should have communicated any objections to the enrolment at the “earliest possible juncture”.

The man’s response was that “at no point did I give my agreement… which to me, means I disagree”.

The judge said the man’s bottom line seemed to be communicated in his text message to his ex-wife: “If (you) make decision (yourself), (you) have to deal with the consequences.”

“The respondent seemed most concerned about the limits of his liability, rather than with trying to do what he felt was truly best for (his son), telling the complainant “(you) always just spend my money like it’s free” and “since (you) made the decision (yourself), (you) have to pay for it.”

The judge said the cost of the boy’s fees at MindChamps were not “so exorbitant as to be unreasonable”.

At the time the consent order was granted, the boy was enrolled in infantcare at Sparkletots, which cost around S$2,000 per month. This is S$400 more than the MindChamps monthly fee, noted the judge.

He also noted that the boy’s preschool fees from January to October in 2022 had been paid for using money from the boy’s CDA, even though it should have been paid for by the father.

“The respondent had ostensibly benefitted from at least nine months’ worth of non-payment, which even at the monthly fee of S$750 he was willing to pay, would have amounted to S$6,750 in savings and exceeds the arrears claimed by the complainant,” said the judge.

He ordered the man to pay S$1,000 in costs to his ex-wife.

The man has appealed against the decision.

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