Hong Kong has been described as a 'graveyard for marriages'. While most of us would like to believe otherwise, perhaps this description is justified given the divorce rate in Hong Kong has been on the rise for more than a decade.
Exactly 14,063 applications for divorce were filed in 2000, which ballooned to 20,849 in 2010.
Some people blame the city's pressure-cooker atmosphere for the break-up of marriages, others say it is the aspirational and materialistic nature of Hong Kong's society that puts undue strain and pressure on the institution of marriage, others still point the blame at Wan Chai, or all-too-frequent business trips and the domicile tedium that results.
Whatever the reason, many a matrimonial union in the SAR goes down in flames.
A couple years ago, when my husband and I were due to move into an apartment in one of the many expat favored apartment blocks in Mid-levels, I was warned by a friend to rethink my decision.
Her fears were based on the fact that her friends, an expat couple who'd been residents in said complex, had battled through a hugely acrimonious divorce (we speculate this was triggered by the wife's outrageous spending habits).
My concerned friend, the ever-superstitious local Hong Konger, now believes that said Mid-levels apartment block is 'cursed' (I'm happy to report [knock on wood] that my marriage remains intact in spite of a stint in that so-called 'cursed' apartment block).
This practice of associating our city's divorce trends with physical property is quite widespread. Recently my neighborhood real-estate agent warned me against moving to Redhill Peninsula, declaring it 'unlucky for marriage'. Her first-hand opinion was based on a spate of divorces among her clients who relocated there.
Parkview is another expat haunt with a haunting reputation for marital dissatisfaction.
If you're happily married we don't mean to scare you. The HK marriage 'curse' need not hold true for all marriages here. But, should you ever find yourself considering divorce, it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with the necessary procedures. The process of divorce in Hong Kong officially commences when a petition is filed with the Family Court Registry in Wan Chai.
M2, Wanchai Law Courts,
12 Harbour Road, Hong Kong
If you are initiating the divorce, you will file on your own, but if you have made a joint decision to divorce with your spouse, then you must jointly file the petition. Further, if you have children who are under the age of 16, it is also necessary to fill out a statement of the arrangement of children.
Unless otherwise permitted by the court (such permission is usually granted in cases of extreme hardship or depravity of one of the parties), you can initiate a petition for divorce only if you have been married at least a year. An original, certified copy of your marriage certificate is required to be supplied at the time of filing the divorce petition.
The Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (Cap.179) governs divorces in Hong Kong and a couple can consider divorcing in Hong Kong if:
1. Either of the parties are living in Hong Kong
2. Either of the parties has been resident in Hong Kong for three year immediately preceding the date of the divorce application.
3. Either of the parties concerned had a substantial connection with Hong Kong on the date of the divorce application.
Grounds for Divorce
When considering divorce in Hong Kong, you must be able to prove that you have reasons for which you seek the termination of your marriage. The courts in Hong Kong will accept that the marriage has 'irretrievably broken down' for the following causes:
1. Adultery-one of the parties has been adulterous (the other party must be able to prove this)
2. Desertion- one of the spouses has deserted the other for one year or more, against the wishes of the abandoned spouse.
3. Consented Separation- The parties involved have consented to the divorce and have been separated for at least a year. They should be able to prove this to the court.
4. Separation Without Consent- Parties have been separated for two years and now of one of the concerned parties wants a divorce. The spouse's consent is not required in this case.
5. Unreasonable Behavior- Your spouse has behaved in such an unreasonable manner that is not possible for you to live together any longer.
The popular common notion that a couple has to be separated for a year to file for divorce is incorrect. Check out this page for step by step details of the divorce procedure in Hong Kong.
Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in HK
How much does a divorce in Hong Kong cost?
The legal costs of divorce in Hong Kong vary from case to case. However, it is generally believed that if the divorce is a straightforward matter between two consenting parties, a divorce can be obtained for approximately $15,000 HKD to $20,000 HKD.
How long does the divorce procedure in Hong Kong take?
Courts in Hong Kong usually have a huge back log of cases. However, if both parties have consented to the divorce and there are no further complications, a Decree Nisi (a tentative order for divorce) can be obtained within three to four months with the final order being granted within another one or two months.
Do I need a lawyer? Can I afford a lawyer?
If your spouse is not agreeable to the divorce, or if you cannot agree on financial and custodial arrangements, then you would need to contact a lawyer. Services of lawyers in Hong Kong, like elsewhere do not come cheap and if you cannot afford your legal costs, then you can approach the Hong Kong government's Legal Aid department for help.
However in order to claim free legal aid you are required to pass a merits and means test, details of which are available on the department's website.
How do I find a lawyer?
The Law Society of Hong Kong also has its own website which offers a listing of solicitors and law firms. Firms listed on the website also offer a 45 minute, free, initial consultation for various matters including family law.
What language is used in the divorce proceedings?
Either Chinese or English is used in the divorce proceedings though interpreters are also available for various other languages.
A divorce can cause a serious dent in the finances of a couple. Courts in Hong Kong have wide ranging powers and can even call for the disbursement of assets held overseas in the course of divorce proceedings. The courts in Hong Kong issue various orders during the proceedings while taking into account several factors:
1. The income, earning capacity and financial resources of the couple involved.
2. The needs, obligations and responsibilities of the couple.
3. The standard of living enjoyed by the couple before the divorce.
4. The age of the parties involved and the duration of the marriage.
5. The individual contributions made by the parties to the welfare of the family.
6. Any physical or mental disability of any of the parties involved.
7. Any loss of benefit for any of the parties due to the divorce.
These above mentioned factors influence the court's decision for the issuing of various orders like:
1. maintenance payments
2. Lump sum payments
3. Periodic secured or unsecured payments
4. Transfer / sale/settlement of property orders.
The Hong Kong courts tend to operate on the principal of fairness and in recent times they have been known to preside over several high-profile divorce cases which have involved huge, billion dollar settlements. Pre-nuptial agreements are not a norm in Hong Kong but they are gaining popularity and acceptance by the legal system in Hong Kong.
If your spouse is concealing assets
Twenty-eight days before you first appear in court, you and your spouse are expected to file and exchange a financial statement that discloses all financial and other relevant information involved in the case. Failure to do so may result in criminal sanctions and fines.
However, if for some reason you suspect your spouse is trying to deny your financial claims by concealing his/ her assets, and your suspicion is backed by hard evidence, you can make an application under the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Ordinance (Cap. 192) to prevent your spouse from making any disposition or transfer of property.
The Family Dispute Resolution was introduced by the Family Court in December 2003, in an effort to introduce mediation in divorce proceedings. The voluntary mediation services provided by the Family court aim to help divorcing parties resolve conflicts on financial and custodial matters. These mediation services are provided by an impartial third party in complete confidence. The availing of family mediation services can add an extra 10,000 HKD to the cost of obtaining a divorce.
Custody of Children
With regard to the custody of children, the courts tend to rule in favor of the natural parents (either the father or the mother in this era of househusbands). The court's order regarding custody of children under the age of 18 is dependent on various factors:
1. The wishes of the child
2. The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
3. The involvement of each parent into the day to day care of the child
In case the divorcing parties cannot agree on the terms of custody, the court will call for a report from the Director of Social Welfare with recommendations about custody. This report is prepared after a court appointed social worker, liaises with the divorcing couple to iron out the various modalities.
Removal of a child from Hong Kong without the consent of a spouse
A custody or access order stipulates that the child/children cannot be removed from the jurisdiction of Hong Kong courts, unless prior consent from the other spouse has been obtained.
Hong Kong is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which provides an international system to protect children from being wrongfully taken. The convention seeks to establish civil procedures which ensure that the child is swiftly returned to the place of its habitual residence. In Hong Kong, this convention is applicable to a child who is and is under the age of 16 and is habitually resident in the territory and is the national of a contracting state.
Dependent visa after a divorce in Hong Kong
If your residency in Hong Kong is dependent on your spouse's visa, then a divorce will terminate this residency right. You will have to return to your home country after the issue of the court's final order, unless you can independently secure a visa to remain in Hong Kong.
If, however, you have permanent residency, then you can continue to reside in Hong Kong. Similarly one-way permit holders from the mainland can also continue to live on in Hong Kong after divorce.
Do you have experience with divorce in HK? Do you know of any buildings that are particularly inauspicious for married couples? Share your wisdom with the rest of us on this thread.