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Tony, Michael and David Partners at ABKJ
ABKJ Lawyers

International Property and Family Law Proceedings in Australia

A recent case[1] between a husband (Mr Scarffe) and a wife (Ms Obannon) who had recently separated, shows how family law proceedings can play out across two different countries.

The Scarffe & Obannon case

The couple had been living together in Australia since 1997. They married in 2014 and in the same year relocated to Singapore with their three children. The couple then separated in 2016, and the husband moved back to Australia in 2018 while the rest of the family stayed in Singapore.

In 2019, the wife started legal proceedings in Singapore against her husband, where she filed for divorce, division of assets and child support. The husband applied to the Singaporean courts to stop these proceedings on the basis that it wasn’t appropriate for the matter to be heard there, but the courts rejected his application. As a result, the husband made an application in the Family Court of Australia seeking a number of orders, including:

  1. That the wife’s proceedings in Singapore be stopped;
  2. That the wife cannot start other similar proceedings in Singapore; and
  3. That the divorce proceedings can continue in Australia.

Singapore or Australia?

The Family Court of Australia considered the circumstances of the case. A majority of the property owned by the couple existed in Australia, and the wife had a 50% share in her late father’s estate which was also located in Australia. An order to split the couple’s superannuation could only be made in Australia. In addition, the husband, wife and all three children were Australian citizens, had close familial relations with people in Australia, and the children were on a waitlist for expensive private schools in Melbourne.

In comparison, the only property in Singapore that would be involved in the family law matter was the wife’s bank accounts and her own company. In considering all of this, the Family Court of Australia determined that it was not appropriate for the Singaporean court to determine this matter, mostly because a majority of the couple’s assets were in Australia. As a result, the Family Court of Australia ordered that the wife must stop the proceedings in Singapore and not start any other similar proceedings in Singapore. Importantly, they also ordered that the divorce proceedings continue to be heard in Australia.

Do you have any questions?

If you have property interests overseas and would like to discuss how those interests are considered in the event of the breakdown of your marriage or de facto relationship, contact Michelle Felderhof at ABKJ Lawyers on (7) 5532 3199.

For further help, read our articles on Family Law:


[1] Scarffe & Obannon [2020] FamCA 77 (18 February 2020)