Divorce Saloon: Mr. Chung, welcome.
Henry Chung: Thanks for interviewing me.
Divorce Saloon: Sir, would you mind telling us a bit about your background? Are you originally from Hong Kong for example? Are you admitted only to the Hong Kong bar? How long have you been practicing law in Hong Kong?
Henry Chung: I’m from Hong Kong originally and I went to law school at Georgetown Law School in the USA. I am also admitted in Maryland and New Jersey Bar. In Hong Kong, I’m a Solicitor so I was admitted to the Hong Kong Law Society. I’m not a Barrister so I am not admitted to the Hong Kong Bar. I have been practicing Hong Kong for 5 years including 2 years of traineeship.
Divorce Saloon: Wow. That is an interesting and impressive resume. Is Divorce and Matrimonial Law your specialty or is your firm more of a boutique? What areas do you practice in and what percentage of that work is in the area of Divorce and Matrimonial Law?
Henry Chung: I have done more than 70 cases in matrimonial law. I would say Divorce Law is definitely a strong area at our firm. Our firm is mid-size and has about 28 lawyers and more than 100 staff members. I also practice in Civil Litigation, Personal Injuries, Employees’ Compensation, Criminal Litigation, Property Law, Wills, Probate, and other areas as well.
Divorce Saloon: I see. So how might a Hong Kong divorce look and feel different from a divorce in one of your neighboring Asian countries? What are the similarities and differences in say how divorce is handled in Hong Kong vs. Mainland China or Korea or Japan, do you know?
Henry Chung: I can’t comment on other countries because I am not familiar with Divorce law in those countries you mentioned. But one thing I can say is, because Hong Kong is a common law territory (vs. China, Japan, Korea are civil law-based), our divorce law has a long standing tradition from the British law. Therefore, getting a divorce in Hong Kong is considered much easier and faster than those countries you mentioned.
Divorce Saloon: Ah. Interesting…. So let me ask you this: What frustrates you most as a Divorce and Matrimonial practitioner in Hong Kong at this time?
Henry Chung: Nothing is frustrating. It’s only a process. My clients have always been reasonable and sensible. I’m just here to solve their problems.
Divorce Saloon: Nothing frustrating??? That is almost unfathomable. So what do you find most rewarding about your work at this time?
Henry Chung: Being able to help others and find solutions for them.
Divorce Saloon: Ok. That’s fair enough. That is why lawyers get paid the big bucks, after all. It’ to solve problems and if they can’t do that, what the heck is the point? Mr. Chung, speak to us about the expat community in Hong Kong who find themselves in the divorce courts. First of all are there a large number of American expats in your experience and to your knowledge who file divorce in Hong Kong? How do foreigners fare in Hong Kong courts in a divorce scenario? Do they get a fair shake in your opinion?
Henry Chung: I think everybody gets a fair share. The Courts are still very just and fair. As long as they are reasonable, I think they shall get favourable results.
Divorce Saloon: And can non-Hong Kong citizens file divorce in Hong Kong courts and if so what are the precise circumstances?
Henry Chung: Yes, as long as they reside in Hong Kong habitually for 3 years.
Divorce Saloon: Can filers seek to apply their own local law in Hong Kong courts, for example?
Henry Chung: No.
Divorce Saloon: How are issues such as spousal support, maintenance and property distribution determined? Is there a formula, for example? Ditto for child support. Does the court use a formula? How does it work?
Henry Chung: There’s no formula. It’s hard to say. Usually the Courts will look at the financial situation of both the spouses and make a determination. However, these days since most divorces are uncontested, the spouses will need to agree on the amount of maintenance and child support at the time of filing the Petition. It’s all a matter of negotiation.
Divorce Saloon: And speaking of children what standard does the court use to determine custody, visitation and other issues involving children? For example, in the US the court uses the best interest of the child standard….
Henry Chung: In Hong Kong, it’s the same. “Best interest of the child.” The Judge will usually order an impartial social welfare worker to interview the spouses, the children, their maids and teachers to make a report to the Court. The Court will usually follow the recommendations of the social welfare worker and make a decision on custody and visitation rights.
Divorce Saloon: Is there a preference for maternal or paternal custody? What about foreigner vs local? Do foreigners stand a chance of getting custody of minor children? Is there a presumptive shared custody scheme or is sole custody the usual arrangement? Are parenting plans mandatory in Hong Kong?
Henry Chung: No, there’s no preference. Again, the standard is “Best interest of the child.” In my opinion, whoever spends more time with the child gets the advantage.
Divorce Saloon: What are the grounds for divorce in Hong Kong? Do you have a no fault scheme? Do parties have to prove fault? Can parties “block” a divorce? What percentage of divorces in your estimation allege issues of adultery and or domestic violence? What is the rate of divorce generally?
Henry Chung: The general grounds are adultery, unreasonable behavior, separation of 1 year (if the other spouse agrees), separation of 2 years (not need to have consent from the spouse), and desertion. In Hong Kong, there’s no need to prove fault. Parties can hardly block a divorce. I think the adultery and domestic violence only constitute a small percentage although I have not done the statistics analysis yet. I don’t know the rate of divorce but I think it’s increasing.
Divorce Saloon: Is there societal stigma in Hong Kong directed at divorced women? What about foreign women? How does Hong Kong society treat women who are divorced?
Henry Chung: I haven’t done social studies on this topic. But I think they are treated like everyone else. I think the society is sophisticated enough not to discriminate against them.
Divorce Saloon: Are the divorce judgments of other countries enforceable in Hong Kong courts? And vice versa I want to ask the same question: if a party receives a particularly unfavorable divorce judgment in Hong Kong can they seek to set it aside or modify it in their own local courts in UK or other countries in EU or other countries like the U.S.?
Henry Chung: Yes, as long as they are parties to the Hague Convention.
Divorce Saloon: Would you say there are a lot of “big money” divorce cases in Hong Kong? How are rich people’s divorces playing out in Hong Kong courts vis a vis “regular” folks?
Henry Chung: Yes, I think so. The rich folks normally just spend more money on legal expenses because there are more issues to argue.
Divorce Saloon: Are you seeing a lot of prenups being used to protect assets in Hong Kong? Are prenups presumptively enforceable in your jurisdiction or are spouses of wealthy litigants successfully getting around these agreements? What are the trends with regard to prenups?
Henry Chung: No, prenups are not generally enforceable in the Hong Kong Courts. More people have started to use prenups in Hong Kong but the law on prenups in Hong Kong is not very developed as of yet.
Divorce Saloon: Let’s change gears a bit. What would you say are the emerging trends in this area of practice in your neck of the woods? What has changed over the last decade or so? And have the changes been for the better? Importantly, how has the technological/digital revolution changed how divorces play out in Hong Kong courts, if at all?
Henry Chung: I haven’t worked for a decade so I don’t see any prominent changes. I do think the use of SMS and whatsapp has made us easier to contact our clients.
Divorce Saloon: Yes, technological changes are factoring into divorce and divorce law and practice a lot; and this is true globally, I find. What is the biggest challenge for a divorce lawyer in Hong Kong today in your opinion?
Henry Chung: To know what you’re doing which is also in the best interest of the client and at the same time not doing disservice to the Court. The juggling of the items above is a real challenge.
Divorce Saloon: I bet. So what is the future of divorce law and practice in Hong Kong in your opinion?
Henry Chung: I see silverlining.
Divorce Saloon: Slverlining? What does that mean exactly? And what do you wish you knew before you decided to become a divorce lawyer in Hong Kong? What if anything would you change about your career if you could?
Henry Chung: I use what I learned in school and I wouldn’t change a thing about my career.
Divorce Saloon: Thank you for speaking with us today. This was very insightful.
Henry Chung: Thank you and God bless you.
Henry Chung’s Bio:
- Partner of Yip, Tse & Tang
- Solicitor Hong Kong
- Member, Law Society of Hong Kong
- Member, Maryland State Bar Association
- Member, New Jersey State Bar Association
- Member, American Bar Association
- Certified Notary Public, Maryland
- Juris Doctor, Georgetown Law Center, Washington DC
- PCLL, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
- B.A. Government and Economics, Cornell University, Ithaca NY
- Arnold & Porter, Washington DC, Staff Attorney in 2006
- Food and Drug Administration, Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research, Rockville MD
Litigation/Trade Secrets Attorney in 2003-6