Hong Kong: When Love Breaks Down

Last Updated: 18 February 2016
Article by Philippa Hewitt

Although we all hope it will never happen to us it's a sad fact that many marriages end in divorce. Here is some advice on how to handle things.

It is hard to imagine a more stressful time than one where you are suddenly experiencing marital difficulties particularly if you are far from home. Without the comfort of close family members, it can be extremely lonely when difficult decisions – such as whether to go as far as divorce – have to be made.

The good news is that Hong Kong has a number of professionals who can help, from marriage counsellors to specialist family lawyers and mediators. If the marriage can be saved, try to persuade your other half to attend sessions with a professional counsellor to try to patch things up.

Starting the process

If the marriage can't be saved, mediation is a good place to start, as it tends to focus the minds of divorcing couples towards what they can agree on, rather than what they want to fight over. Mediation builds common ground, such as thinking about the best interests of the children, as opposed to thinking from polar opposites, such as 'I want the kids with me'. There are a number of good mediators in town, many of them specialist family solicitors and barristers, retired judges and others from a social welfare background, and you can find one through the Law Society website.

You will also need a good lawyer, one who specialises in family law. Going to a lawyer who does not specialise can actually make the process more expensive and drawn out. Acting on your own is also not advisable, although many people do. It can be more difficult than you think to weave your way around the family court procedure and it is extremely stressful, especially without the professional support. Depending on your financial situation, you may even be eligible for legal aid.

If you want to divorce, there are a number of facts on which you can rely, both fault and non-fault based. The least acrimonious way to divorce (which can also be made by joint application so neither party is divorcing the other) is 'one year separation with consent'. Here you have to live separately for a year, although in certain circumstances, the parties can still live under the same roof if finding alternative accommodation is difficult. You must arrange your lives separately so it is best if you can record this in a 'deed of separation', which can also regulate other aspects such as caring for the children and interim financial arrangements.

The other non-fault divorce is 'two years' separation without consent'. This can be more controversial but the courts recognise that, once one party is sure that the marriage is at an end, there is not much to be gained by trying to stop the process.

Fault-based divorces are based on the facts of adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion. The advantage with these facts is that there is no need to wait for any separation period before proceedings can start. They do, however, make the matter more acrimonious from the start, which can be counterproductive in the long run.

Financial issues

As for finances, in Hong Kong the overriding principle is that of fairness to both sides. The starting point is equal division of assets, with no bias in favour of the breadwinner against the homemaker: both roles within a family are deemed to be as valuable as the other. In practice, however, the result will not always be a 50/50 split. Other factors come into play and a short marriage will rarely result in an equal split. The court will look at a number of factors, such as the contribution both parties made to the marriage including whether there was property owned by one party before or during the marriage, how it was paid for and whether there were gifts and inheritances. Courts will also look at the family's standard of living, the parties' age, earning capacity and any disabilities and obligations which should be taken into account. Account will also be taken if one party has made sacrifices in order to care for the children or moved countries for the other party's career, to the detriment of their own earning capacity.

You should know yourself what the marriage assets are before you commence proceedings. Many parties do not know what assets are owned in the marriage or what the other party is earning. Finding out what is available during the process is time-consuming and expensive. Many people try to hide their assets from the family court, but the courts have little tolerance for it. Recent cases have shown that dishonesty about assets can result in the overturning of a final result, even one reached by consent, and the process has to start all over again. It really is not worth it.

Caring for children

When dealing with children, Hong Kong still uses the old terminology of custody, care and control and access – language which suggests a winner and a loser parent. Hopefully this will change soon, but in the meantime the court always has the welfare of the child as its paramount consideration. This means that normally there will be a reasonable time for each parent to spend with their children after separation: not necessarily 'equal time', but a timetable which suits the children, their schooling, extra-curricular activities and ample time with each parent, including down time – not just homework time, but the fun time at the weekend as well. Generally holidays are split equally or alternately. Even if there is an order for sole custody to one parent, the other parent still has a say in the important things in the child's life, such as where the children are educated, and religious and health matters. Every parent of a child will have the right to be heard, whether or not they have custody.


Divorce and separation can be much more difficult where one party wants to leave Hong Kong with the children. 'Removal applications' are some of the hardest in family law, but they are common in Hong Kong where there are so many expatriates. If you are a trailing spouse, who only moved here for your spouse's work, you might want to go home if the marriage breaks down. It is possible to move away, but you should try to do so with the consent of the other parent. It is a bad idea to just leave – under international law, you and the children could be forced back to Hong Kong. If you cannot get the other parent's consent, you must make an application to the court and make your case as to why it is in the children's best interest to go.

If you are in Hong Kong on a dependent's visa, you might have the added problem that after divorce, your visa will expire. You could avoid this if you have applied for – and been granted – permanent residency (PR), (if you have lived in Hong Kong continuously for more than seven years) or if you can independently remain, for example by obtaining a work visa. If you are close to the seven years, it may be worth deferring your decision to divorce until you have obtained PR to have more options available to you.

Divorcing your partner may be the hardest thing you ever have to do. Do not underestimate the emotional rollercoaster which is inevitable, even in the least acrimonious divorces. Remember to think about what is best for you and your children – and your other half – in the long run. Hopefully, life is long and there may be many family get-togethers in future which will necessitate contact with your ex. If you need emotional support it is best to seek help from a psychologist: divorce is a legal process and requires a clear head and professional advice. It would be wise to get the right advice at the right time.

This article was originally published in Playtimes (http://www.playtimes.com.hk/) in February 2016.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions