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Changes to Divorce Legislation

The Government has recently amended the Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (the divorce law) to bring it into line with the general expectations of the public. This leaflet summarises the main provisions of the amended Ordinance.

Ground for Divorce

The sole ground for divorce remains irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. Following the changes this has to be supported by one or more of the following five facts:

  • adultery;

  • unreasonable behaviour;

  • desertion by a party for one year (previously 2 years);

  • separation for one year where both parties consent to the divorce (previously 2 years) ; and

  • separation for two years where one party does not consent (previously 5 years).

In addition, a new procedure of joint application for divorce based on mutual consent has been introduced. Either of the following may be cited as the basis for such an application:

  • one year's prior notice (during which time the parties do not need to live apart); and

  • one year's prior separation.

Time Restriction on Divorce

Unless an exceptional case can be made out, no petition or application for divorce can be presented to the Court until a couple has been married for at least one year (previously 3 years).

An exceptional case is one of exceptional hardship suffered by or exceptional depravity on the part of a party to a marriage. Commencement

Amendments to the Ordinance have already come into operation.

Periods of separation or desertion which began prior to the Ordinance coming into effect are recognised by the new provisions as counting towards the new minimum period requirements.

Other Useful Information

Counselling and information on divorce-related matters such as child custody and financial settlement can be obtained from family services centres or counselling centres of the Social Welfare Department and non-governmental organizations. For further enquiry, please call the Social Welfare Department Hotline 2343 2255.

[This leaflet only provides general information on the Ordinance. The information is by no means exhaustive or definitive. You should refer to the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Ordinance, as amended by the Matrimonial Causes (Amendment) Ordinance (Ord. No. 29 of 1995), for an authoritative statement of the law.]


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