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Frequently Asked Questions

(1) Who can marry in Hong Kong? How do I register to marry in Hong Kong and what are the requirements?

In Hong Kong, a marriage can take place at a marriage registry by a registrar or in a licensed place of public worship by a competent minister or at any other place in Hong Kong by a civil celebrant of marriages.

The minimum legal age for getting married is 16 and there are no residential requirements on the marrying parties. A written notice of intended marriage on the prescribed form should be handed in to the marriage registry in advance. The Registrar would then, at least 15 days after the filing of the notice, issue a Certificate of Registrar of Marriage to enable you to celebrate your marriage within 3 months from the date of the notice.


(2) Are there any rights for cohabitants in Hong Kong? What are the rights and obligations of unmarried parents towards their children in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, where a child is born out of marriage, the mother shall have all rights and authority to the child’s custody and upbringing. However, the natural father does not have automatic parental rights but only by a Court Order upon his application.

With regard to the financial provision for a child of unmarried parents, the Court may make an Order upon an application by the other parent to make payments or property adjustments towards the maintenance of the child under the Guardianship of Minors Ordinance (Cap. 13).


(3) What entitlements do cohabitants have for financial support for themselves or their children upon    the breakdown of a relationship in Hong Kong?

Despite the fact that cohabitation is a widespread phenomenon in our society, the law, does not recognize the concept of “common law marriage” or “unmarried partnership” and does not envisage extending to cohabitants the legal rights enjoyed by divorced couples upon the breakdown of their marriage 



4. If I am a foreigner living in Hong Kong can I divorce here/ If I married in Hong Kong but no longer   live there, can I divorce in Hong Kong?

Under the Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (Cap. 179), you may file divorce proceedings in Hong Kong under three categories:

i)     either of the parties are domiciled in Hong Kong;

ii)   either of the parties to the marriage was habitually resident in Hong Kong throughout the period         of 3 years immediately preceding the date of the divorce application;

iii)  either of the parties to the marriage had a substantial connection with Hong Kong at the date of           the divorce application.


5. How long do we have to be married if we wish to divorce?


Unless the court allows otherwise, you can start a petition for divorce only if you have been married for at least 1 year.


6. Do we need to be separated before either of us may issue divorce proceedings?


No, the court will also accept reasons for divorce based on the fact that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot be reasonably expected to live with him/her, or his/her adultery or desertion.


7. What are the grounds for divorce in Hong Kong?

The only ground is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

This may be proved by establishing one or more of the following facts:-

(1)    your spouse has committed adultery and that you (the Petitioner) find it intolerable to live with            him/her 

(2)    your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with                  him/ her

(3)   1 year’s separation with consent of the other party

(4)   2 years’ separation

(5)   1 year’s desertion


You and your spouse may also wish to divorce by way of a joint application, which is a joint and consensual process.  Both parties must then prove to the court that they have lived apart for 1 year.


8. Is there a better place than Hong Kong for my divorce?

Even if you fulfill one of the requirements of residence, domicile or substantial connection, another place may be a more appropriate forum for your divorce depending upon where the children reside, where one or both parties earn their incomes, or where the majority of the assets are located.

Of course, some jurisdictions may be more favorable than others, you are therefore strongly suggested to seek legal advice in this regard.


9. What can I do if I suspect my husband/wife is having another relationship?


Mere suspicion cannot suffice, you will need evidence to prove and support your belief.


10. What documents do I need to commence divorce proceedings?

Above all else you need the original or a certified true copy of your marriage certificate. To start a divorce in Hong Kong, you need to fill in a Petition or a joint application form (whichever applicable) and related documents which are all available in Chinese or English on the Hong Kong Judiciary website and at the Hong Kong Family Court Registry.

If there are children of the family who are under the age of 16 involved, it is necessary to fill in a Statement as to Arrangement for Children.


11. Can the proceedings be stopped if we reconcile, or move to another country?

Yes, reconciliation can take place at any stage.

With regards to commencing the proceedings in another country, there would need to be agreement to “stay” or stop the proceedings in Hong Kong.  Sometimes maintenance orders obtained in Hong Kong can be registered and enforced in other countries. Sometimes it is best to obtain a mirror order.


12. How long will the procedure take?

This depends on the complexity of the case and whether children and finances are the subject matter of dispute. The minimum period with agreement on all matters would be 3 to 4 months. The maximum period depends entirely on the matters in dispute.

13. What language is used in the divorce proceedings and if I do not speak English or Chinese will there be an interpreter available?

English or Chinese can be used and there are also Putonghua and dialect interpreters available upon request.


14. If I have no financial resources can I obtain legal assistance for my fees?


Petitioners seeking legal advice can contact The Duty Lawyer Service's free Legal Advice Scheme for preliminary legal advice on matrimonial matters. Application to the Legal Aid Department may also be made if the applicant fulfills certain criteria as to the financial eligibility (the means test) and the merit test.



15. What financial support or settlement am I entitled to or likely to have to pay?

The Court possesses wide powers in adjusting the financial positions of the parties to a marriage and each case turns heavily on its own facts.

Some orders that could be made by the Court are:-

- Periodical payments (usually called monthly maintenance)

- Secured periodical payments

- Lump sum order

- Transfer of property order

- Settlement of property

- Variation of settlement of property, and

- Sale of property order


The Court will take into consideration a whole range of statutory factors and all of the circumstances of the case, including but not limited to:

- Income and earning capacity of both parties

- Financial needs and obligations of both parties

- Standard of living enjoyed by the family during the marriage

- Duration of the marriage

- Physical or mental disability of either party

- Contribution from the parties

The overriding concern is fairness.


16. Does it make a difference if my marriage is long or short?

The duration of the marriage would be one of the many factors that the court will consider.

Generally speaking, in the case of a short marriage, a distinction may be drawn between matrimonial assets and non-matrimonial assets, with matrimonial assets meaning property acquired during the marriage otherwise than by inheritance or gift. The principle of fairness may well require that a party should not be entitled to a share of his or her spouse’s non-matrimonial property.

For longer marriages, after many years of marriage, the distinction between non-matrimonial property and matrimonial property is less important. It is more likely that fairness will result in a split of assets which is based on equality.


17. Does it make a difference if we have children?

Yes, the Court has power to order a party to the marriage to make payment for the benefit of a ‘child of the family’. The payment may be made for the purpose of meeting any liabilities or expenses reasonably incurred by or for the benefit of that child (e.g. his/her living and education expenses). The court may make further orders ‘from time to time’ such as maintenance, lump sum or transfer of property orders.


18. Is there a statutory calculation of child support?


With regard to financial provision to children, there are no statutory calculations. Cases are judged on their own merits. The aim of the court is to place the child, so far as it is practicable, in the financial position in which the child would have been had the marriage not broken down.


19. What can I do if I suspect my husband/wife has been hiding or removing assets?


Not less than 28 days before the parties are to first appear in Court, both parties are required to file and exchange a sworn or affirmed Form E Financial Statement. A full, frank and clear disclosure of all financial and other relevant circumstances must be made at this stage. Failure to give full and accurate disclosure may attract criminal sanctions and costs ordered against you.

If you suspect your spouse is removing assets with the intention of defeating your claim for financial provision, and your suspicion is supported by valid evidence, you may make a s.17 application under the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Ordinance (Cap. 192) to restrain the other party from making any disposition or transfer. There is a presumption that the movement of an asset is made with the intention to defeat the other person’s claim if it is made within the last 3 years.



20. Will I obtain custody of my children?

The court may make such order as it thinks fit for the custody of any child of the family under 18. If you cannot agree on custody, the court will need to hear from both of you what arrangements you consider are in the best interests of the child. Usually, the Court will order a Social Welfare Report to be made to provide some assistance on the determination of custody-related issues.

In resolving disputes over the custody of a child, the court treats the child’s welfare as the most important factor. The Court will also take into account:

- the wishes of the child

- the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child

- the report of the Director of Social Welfare


Once a sole custody order is granted by the court - most, if not all, parental rights and authority are transferred to the spouse with custody. The custodial parent then has a duty to ensure, protect and promote the best interests of the child. But in the majority of cases, the Court considers it is in the interests of children for both parents to be involved in their upbringing.


21. How can I ensure that the children live with me?

To have the child live with you, you need to have “care and control” of the child. The court may also order staying access, that is, the parent without care and control will have the child, living with him or her at specified times, often during weekends and holidays.

In determining “care and control”, the Court will look into factors such as:

- the wishes of the child

- the past involvement of each parent in the day to day care of a child

- the living arrangements of the child

- the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child

- the Social Welfare Report


22. If the children live with my wife/husband, how can I ensure that I have a generous level of access to my children?


Access is the right of your children and you to have contact with each other including staying with you, going on holidays with each other and communication through letters, emails, and telephone calls. The degree of access granted can differ depending on the circumstances of the case. In most cases, the order granted is one of ‘reasonable access’ and the parties agree that the parent without care and control can see the child whenever it is reasonable and agreeable by both parties. Where the parties cannot agree on access arrangements, an order detailing access arrangements can be made by the court.


Protection of the child’s welfare is the fundamental principle in determining access.


23. What happens if I or my wife/husband wishes the children to live in another country?

An application would have to be made for a permanent removal order and very full information will need to be provided to the Court about the arrangement for living, school, access etc.


24. What can I do if I suspect that my husband/wife is planning to remove the children from Hong  Kong without my consent?


Generally, a custody or access order provides that a child should not be removed from the jurisdiction unless the consent of the other parent has been obtained, or a written undertaking given to bring the child back to the territory.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides an international system to protect children from being wrongfully removed or retained and establishes civil procedures to ensure their prompt return to the place of their habitual residence. The Child Abduction and Custody Ordinance (Cap. 512) was enacted to implement the Hague Convention in the Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, the Convention applies to a child who was habitually resident in Hong Kong or a Contracting State as specified in the Schedule to the Child Abduction and Custody (Parties to Convention) Order (Cap. 512 sub. leg.). The Convention however, ceases to apply when the child reaches the age of 16.



25. Will I be able to continue to live in Hong Kong after divorce?

If you have a permanent resident visa, then a divorce will not affect your right to remain in Hong Kong. If however, you are present in Hong Kong on a dependant visa, then divorce will terminate your right to reside here.

For mainland one-way permit holders, a divorce will not have effect on your immigration status even if your sponsor is your former spouse. You may continue to stay in Hong Kong if you wish after your divorce.

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