The Voices of Wan and her wife, Elodie
Wan Cheng (“Wan”) and Elodie are a bi-national couple who had met through their love of sports. Elodie who’s French, worked in Indonesia for 3 years before a new work assignment brought her back to Paris.
Although it was already possible for same-sex couples to be “PAC-sed” (pacte civil de solidarité or civil solidarity pact) in France since 1999, the legalization of same-sex marriage in France in 2013 and the timing of Elodie’s new job assignment accelerated Wan’s decision to quit the teaching service and move away from Singapore to build her life together with Elodie in Paris where they both have been living now for the past 4 years.
A month ago when they were in our office, I had asked if Wan was keen to contribute to OTP’s blog to share why her wife and she had decided to get their Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”) done. Wan agreed to write the article without a moment’s hesitation. We are really happy to now share their story. – Susan Tay, OTP Law Corporation.
LPA and A Written Will
Knowing that it will be unlikely for same-sex marriages to be legalized in Singapore during my lifetime, I felt compelled to share my experience with other same-sex couples who are still undecided or unaware of the importance of the LPA and a written will. Upon reflecting what we had gone through ourselves, we had realized that the entire process itself was not as clear-cut as we had imagined. After numerous intense conversations on this issue, we had finally come to an agreement that we needed to proceed with the LPA application despite not living in Singapore so as to get some legal clarity and recognition of our relationship status.
On paper, I am a typical Singaporean who is currently married to a foreigner and living overseas at the present moment. And like many Singaporeans as well as the millions of foreign spouses currently living outside of their country of birth, we all face similar difficulties on migration issues as well as challenges in language, climate and cultural differences.
But unlike those typical bi-national marriages, my marriage is currently only recognized in 22 countries, in which Singapore is not one of them. So unlike the millions of married foreign spouses, my wife and I, as with many other married bi-national homosexual couples from countries that do not recognize same-sex marriages, have the extra challenge of having to straddle between different national laws as well as cross-country jurisdictions.
Therefore it is very obvious why my wife and I had opted to apply for the LPA and make our wills even though we are not currently living in Singapore. In terms of legal protection, we essentially have few rights as a couple concerning all our assets (in and outside of Singapore) and how legal and medical decisions are to be taken in the event of any unforeseen circumstances outside of France (my wife is French). But our decision regarding the LPA and written wills was not merely to acquire legal protection in both our countries of birth, it was also to make it known to our families on how we had wanted our estates to be managed should the unexpected occur.
Having already experienced a lot of difficulties getting my family to accept my wife, I did not want to take any chances on potential disputes that might arise should I no longer be around. But more importantly, I felt it was important for me to provide for my wife some level of legal protection in my birth country, which does not recognize our marital status.
Fortunately, once we had decided to go ahead with the application, it was just a matter of finding the right person to get the entire thing done. We had some lawyer friends recommend Susan to us who turned out to be such a godsend and was extremely helpful during our application process. I have to say, now that our wills are done and the LPA application currently in process, it just feels like a weight is finally been lifted off our shoulders.
The Society on LGBT
I had always thought that most people who cohabitate would be for the idea of creating some sort of legally binding or mutual agreement in the event that they split up. But through my research and conversations with various couples, I had realized that while many couples, both straight and same-sex do consider legal protection as an important component of their relationship, not many actually pursue legal solutions to protect themselves. In fact, most people whether they are single, attached or married, do not proactively seek to educate themselves about the rights and benefits of being in a relationship. Even straight couples sometimes make wrong assumptions about the kind of protection regarding their personal assets and parental rights before and after marriage.
The sad truth is that our behaviors are biased towards ingrained societal expectations on the different kinds of committed relationships.
Firstly, society perpetuates the idea that platonic relationships are of lesser importance than romantic relationships. Many Singaporean same-sex couples tend to fall into this category especially for those who are still not out to their families. Our society’s refusal to legally acknowledge same-sex marriage means gay people often subconsciously perceive their own relationships as less legitimate than their straight counterparts. Having been denied access to subsidized public housing and many other social benefits reserved exclusively to straight married Singaporeans, many cohabitating same-sex couples simply do not see the need to draw up legal agreements as they feel that they hardly have any rights to fight for.
Secondly, the idealized concept of romantic relationships often means that couples tend to overlook or opt not to consider the more pragmatic aspects of being in a relationship, i.e., planning for an exit strategy in the event the relationship falls apart or taking the necessary steps to plan their estate in the event of unforeseen circumstances. And to make matters worse, the negative perception of divorce in our society also means that separation issues are often not brought to light. Without actually knowing the difficulties that couples have to face when they split up, how are we able to anticipate and inform ourselves of the kind of protection we will need?
While we all desire for relationships that are healthy and equitable to both parties, we must also remember that the reality is different for various types of couples. And even within couples, power status is often not the same. Hence, it is even more vital for couples with significant imbalance of power to consider the different types of protection they will each require when the relationship breaks down. As such, it is crucial for all committed couples (straight, same-sex and those with vested interests) to seek for clarity and protection of their assets and personal interests.
At the end of the day, the one thing that really keeps a strong relationship going is trust. But to have trust, you must first be honest with one another. When my wife and I made the decision to apply for the LPA and make our wills, we had to be consciously honest with one another. We had to be honest about our thoughts on difficult issues like separation and death, about our personal wealth and re-examine our relationships with our families.
Looking back, the path to obtaining legal protection is only one part of the story. The truly important thing that we have taken away from this experience was the trust and commitment we further made towards one another.
Singapore may still be miles away from legally recognizing same-sex partnerships but there are ways in which you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Start talking about this issue with your friends and family members. More importantly, seek professional advice on the type of legal options that best suit you and your partner. Together, we can all move our community towards more legal protection and hopefully more legal recognition in the future.
Authored by Wan Cheng & Elodie