Wife fails to overturn divorce obtained by husband in China

The Family Court has rejected a wife’s application to overturn a divorce obtained by her husband in China.

It held that the husband had taken reasonable steps to notify her of the proceedings and she had had reasonable opportunity to take part but had declined to do so.

The wife was 34 and of Polish origin. The husband was 45 and Chinese. They married in 2017 and the wife joined the husband's company in a senior role.

The couple based themselves in England but spent time in China for business purposes. The husband's business was very successful, he was considerably wealthy, and the couple's lifestyle was opulent.

However, they separated in early 2019 and the wife was dismissed from the business. The husband supported her financially for a few months but then closed their joint account and provided nothing.

The wife began divorce proceedings in England in May 2019, which became delayed. In the meantime, the husband had returned to live in China and began divorce proceedings there in October 2019.

It was common ground that, the wife was likely to receive no financial relief under a Chinese divorce.

The Chinese court set a hearing for 22 April 2020. The husband did not attempt to notify the wife of the Chinese proceedings until 10 April, when his lawyers emailed her.

He had no postal address for her as she kept it private, having asserted that he was violent against her.

The Chinese court adjourned the case until November. The husband continued to send correspondence to the wife's email address, but she took no part in the proceedings. Following the November hearing, the Chinese court issued a ruling in December permitting the divorce.

The ruling allowed for the wife to appeal but she did not do so.

The wife contended that, under the Family Law Act 1986, the divorce should not be recognised because she was not properly notified of the proceedings or given the chance to participate. She also made allegations against the Chinese legal system. 

The court refused the application for several reasons including:

  • Although she was not made aware of the divorce proceedings when the husband issued them in October 2019, she knew about them by April 2020. She knew which court was involved and the identity of the judge.
  • The court did not underestimate the difficulties for a foreign national in attempting to participate in proceedings in China. However, the mere fact of such problems was not enough to prevent the husband from relying on a properly obtained divorce.
  • The husband should have attempted to notify the wife of the Chinese proceedings well before April 2020, but the April hearing was adjourned until November 2020 and little or no prejudice appeared to have been caused to her. From April she had had the opportunity to participate. She could have attended in person, with a friend or interpreter. She could have instructed a lawyer or executed a power of attorney to authorise someone to attend on her behalf.
  • The wife was well aware of the Chinese decree of divorce and the appeal route available to her, but she chose not to appeal. It was not the fault of the Chinese court or the husband if the wife did not take steps available to her.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article of any aspect of family law.