Unhappy Endings: How to Get a Divorce in China

Unhappy Endings: How to Get a Divorce in China
Jan 26, 2010 By Jessica A. Larson-Wang, www , eChinacities.com

When we get married, whether we’re foreign or Chinese, marrying here or abroad, we all hope that our marriages will last forever. Unfortunately, increasingly “forever” is simply not a reality for many couples, as divorce, which has long been the outcome for a significant percentage of marriages in America, is on the rise in China as well. As intercultural marriages are notoriously difficult and contain a large number of challenges that ordinary marriages do not have to face, it should not be surprising that the divorce rate for marriages between people who come from different countries is higher than that of the population at large.

Divorce is, generally, a simple process in China if both parties agree to the divorce and there are no children involved. Two Chinese people can walk into the marriage registration office with their marriage books and their hukous and be divorced the same day. In Beijing, the procedure for foreigners to divorce their Chinese spouses is much the same as the procedure for marriage. According to the Beijing Government website, to get a divorce you should go to the Division of Foreign-Related Marriage Registration at the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau and file for divorce. If you’re not in Beijing you go to the local Civil Affairs Bureau. You bring your marriage certificates, a divorce agreement signed by both parties, your spouse’s hukou book and ID, and your passport. There may also be a nominal fee.

Of course, it sounds very easy on paper, but in China procedures are rarely as easy as they seem. Your best bet is that you first contact the office where you registered your marriage in the first place and ask directly. Because often procedures vary from province to province in China, it is best to always ask for clarification before making a trip downtown only to discover you’re missing this or that (or showing up at the wrong place altogether). Most local governments have their own websites so you may be able to find information relative to your city online. The Beijing city government has an English website and other cities have similar resources available. Unfortunately, these sites are not always as clear or as frequently updated as they could be so a phone call is still your best bet for getting the most accurate information.

The tricky part of divorcing in China comes when the divorce is against the will of either spouse. Chinese divorce law will require mediation in these cases, and only if the mediation fails will the divorce be granted. Divorce is also automatically granted in cases of abuse, drug use, gambling, and desertion. The last, desertion, is a criteria that a foreign spouse should take note of. A spouse must be absent for two years before the deserted spouse can be granted divorce in China, so don’t think that by just going back to your home country the spouse you leave behind will be able to go about the divorce on his or her own. Leaving without divorcing first could create problems for both of you down the line, so it is best to take care of it in China. Also, it has been suggested before that if you go back to your home country having married in China your home country will not know about it and so the marriage is not “real.” This is not the case. Even though it is true that your home country will have no record of marriages which take place in China, most countries recognize marriages which take place abroad as also being legal in your home country. If you attempt to get married again in your home country without properly divorcing your Chinese spouse you may get away with it, but if you are later found out you could land yourself in a load of trouble.

Keep in mind when divorcing in China that you are the foreigner here, and that puts you at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the splitting of assets. The law will rarely be on your side, so try and keep things civil with your soon-to-be-ex, and try to negotiate all terms beforehand and have a plan for how you will split your assets. Also, if children are involved, be very cautious. China is not a signatory country to the Hague Convention, the treaty which deals with international kidnapping and custody cases. This means that even if you have been awarded custody of your child by your home country’s legal system, China is not under any obligation to honor your custody agreement, or to return your child to you if the Chinese parent takes the child abroad without your consent. While none of us want to imagine the ones we once loved could do something so callous as to take our children from us forever, it is imperative that if you have children with a Chinese national you are very aware of your rights – or lack thereof – in the case of a split. Talk about this issue with your spouse ahead of time and try to make sure that you both reach an agreement about custody of the children in the event of divorce, even if you fully expect your relationship will indeed last forever.

Living in a foreign country and marrying someone from that country means that we have agreed to abide by certain rules, rules that often put us at a disadvantage when it comes to trickier issues like splitting assets or child custody. One should never go into an international marriage ignorant of these issues or under the assumption that what works back home will work in China or anywhere else. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves before it gets to that point. I hope that our Chinese-foreign marriages do indeed last forever, but just in case, it is best to be prepared and avoid situations where we might find ourselves at the mercy of a system that has no vested interest in helping us, and might indeed act against us when it can.

The full English language text of the Chinese marriage law can be found online here, at the website of the Chinese consulate in New York. More information on international custody disputes and international kidnapping, and legal counsel for both can be found here.


Related Links

How to Get Married in China
On the Rocks: Marriage Counseling in China
Dreading Your Wedding: Chinese Women and the Pressure to Marry

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I have been told by my ex wife it is easy to divorce in China, will be doing so soon. She has stated that all we need to do is go to marry office there and sign some papers and it is done. Can any body please confirm this for me. I am Australian she is Chinese, we been married for 6 years and separated the last 12 months. Any assistance would be a great help. Does anybody know of a divorce lawyer in Harbin who speaks english

Jan 22, 2014 22:42 Report Abuse



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Aug 10, 2012 19:33 Report Abuse



Good luck man!!, go back home and forget this money ,

Jun 27, 2012 17:27 Report Abuse


Yanfang Zhang

i think i can help you, I am a chinese.

Aug 10, 2012 19:31 Report Abuse



did you get any help

Jan 22, 2014 23:26 Report Abuse



Could you get Chinese citizenship first, and then devorce with him, u have the right to daughter, and how old the girl is? who she want to be with?

Aug 10, 2012 19:43 Report Abuse