A divorce between a Chinese-Australian couple has exposed the complexities of property settlements in ending cross-border relationships.
The case, which first appeared in the Family Court last year followed, by an appeal last month, could have far-reaching implications for property settlements in divorce proceedings between Chinese nationals and Australian spouses
In what was deemed an “unusual” decision in the case known as Lan & Hao, Family Court judge Anne Rees ruled that divorce proceedings should go ahead simultaneously in China and Australia.
The wife, known as Ms Lan, is alleged to own property in China but wants the divorce heard in Australia. Her husband, Mr Hao, owns property in Australia but wants the matter dealt with by a Chinese court.
During the marriage, between 2004 and 2013, they lived apart — Ms Lan in China and Mr Hao in Australia — which is not an uncommon Chinese arrangement.
Ms Lan, a Chinese national, and Mr Hao, a Chinese-born Australian, both sought injunctions to prevent the case being heard in the other jurisdiction.
Angie Todd SC, a registered family lawyer in Hong Kong and Australia, said usually in cross-border divorce cases, a court would stop dual proceedings, by restraining one party from continuing in a separate jurisdiction.
An expert in the case said a Chinese court could only make decisions about Chinese property, without regard to the husband’s Australian property. The Family Court could acknowledge the wife’s property in China and make orders in respect of it, but the orders were not enforceable.
Ms Todd said divorce proceedings “could become epic, long-running battles, because each party has a financial advantage in differing jurisdictions”.
In family law cases, Australia reciprocates with other jurisdictions in Asia including Hong Kong and Macau, which are signatories to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, whereas China is not.
“This will be a complex consideration in most Chinese-Australian divorce cases given the need to identify the party’s mainland China and foreign-owned property and given the various nuances of the Chinese divorce law, such as, not recognising any foreign owned assets owned by the parties,” Ms Todd said.
The long-distance family arrangement, common among Chinese spouses with Australian business interests, will weigh more heavily on Family Court resources in future, she said.
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