#HerWorldHerStory: The SG lawyer who helps women get out of painful marriages

by Hayley Tai & Cheong Wen Xuan  /   May 19, 2020

More women in their 40s and 50s are seeking divorce, but this family lawyer doesn’t always see it as the only solution

#HerWorldHerStory is a collection of 60 women sharing their successes, passions, challenges, inspirations, hopes and dreams. Together, they give a snapshot of what it is to be a woman today.

Every month from March till August, we present 10 women navigating their lives now – and in their own words. Here’s Jenny Lai’s story…

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It pains me to see women who’re helpless and in abusive relationships. One of the most frustrating cases I handled a few months ago was a pro bono case involving a mother of one who came to me for help. Her ex-husband cancelled their child’s monthly tuition fees after a quarrel, and skipped court on the day of settlement. When she spoke to me, I saw the worry in her eyes.

I used to think of divorce lawyers as professionals who make a living through other people’s misfortunes. But when I completed my law finals two decades ago at Keele University in Newcastle in the UK, I wanted to specialise in family law to help women get out of their painful marriages.

I run my own law firm, Jenny Lai & Co, and I’ve been practicing for 25 years, taking on 10 to 15 cases a month. I’m also a volunteer mediator for the Family Justice Courts.

Divorce rates have gone down by 3.1 per cent between 2018 and 2019, according to official figures. In recent years, I’m seeing more female clients…more in their 40s and 50s are seeking divorce compared to say five years back. Women are speaking out because of the availability of information on marital rights, thanks to organisations like Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Those in their 40s and 50s look for a way out of a stressful marriage that lasted for many years. Others in their 20s and 30s don’t see eye-to-eye with their spouse’s parenting methods or lifestyle.

I don’t encourage anyone to exploit the circumstances for personal gain. I once had a high-earning client who wanted to seek compensation from her ex-spouse. I told her it wasn’t worth it as she was earning a higher salary than he was.

The children would be the ones most affected seeing their parents fighting in court. I don’t always see divorce as the only solution. I’ve turned people away whom I feel can still work things out. I’d advise them to first go for counselling, unless they’ve thought it thoroughly and divorce is inevitable.

My job was never about taking on more cases to make more money.

This article was first published in Her World’s May issue. Grab a copy today!