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I. An overview

The right to marry is a constitutional right provided by Article 37 of the Basic Law which states that "the freedom of marriage of Hong Kong residents and their right to raise a family freely shall be protected by law".

The minimum age for marriage in Hong Kong is 16. However, if either party is over 16, but still under 21, and is not a widow or widower, written consent to the marriage is required. Although the written consent is usually provided by a parent or guardian ( section 14 and Schedule 3 of the Marriage Ordinance (“MO”), Cap. 181 ), a judge may also give permission if there is no one more appropriate available ( section 18A of the MO ).

Parties are free to marry whoever they choose as long as they are both single at the time of the marriage and of the opposite sex. Therefore, someone may divorce his/her spouse, and then marry another single opposite sex party, or even at some time later remarry his or her original spouse.

II. Types of marriages in Hong Kong

Various types of marriages are recognized by Hong Kong law.

A. Registered marriage

Since 7th October 1971, a couple in Hong Kong can only validly marry in accordance with the Marriage Ordinance. This generally means that it must be a voluntary union for life of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others and that the marriage ceremony must be carried out at one of the Marriage Registries or licensed places of worship in Hong Kong. This is called a registered marriage.

In addition, section 21(3A) of the MO states that a marriage celebrated by a civil celebrant can take place at any place in Hong Kong apart from the office of the Registrar and a licensed place of worship.

B. Foreign marriage

A foreign marriage celebrated outside Hong Kong in accordance with the law in force at the time and in the place where the marriage was performed is generally recognized in Hong Kong as a valid marriage similar to a marriage registered in Hong Kong.

If the marriage was conducted and registered overseas, the marriage itself will not be governed by Hong Kong Law.  However if the parties to the marriage choose to have a divorce in Hong Kong, they may do so and the laws of Hong Kong in relation to the divorce proceedings will apply.

C. Chinese customary marriage and modern marriage

Apart from registered marriages and foreign marriages, the law also recognizes as valid two other types of marriage if they were conducted in Hong Kong before 7th October, 1971.

Chinese customary marriage

The first type is a Chinese customary marriage. It is a marriage celebrated in accordance with the traditional Chinese customs that were accepted at the time of the marriage, either in the part of Hong Kong where the marriage took place, or in the parties' family place of origin, usually their native place in China.

Modern marriage

The other type is called a modern marriage, which is where an unmarried man and woman, neither of whom is less than 16 years of age, went through an open ceremony in the presence of at least two witnesses in such manner that a reasonable person would think that a marriage has been celebrated.

It is important to note that the ceremony has to be ‘open’ in the sense it was known and could be seen by all those who were not particularly invited to participate in the ceremony itself. This requirement would be satisfied by, for example, leaving the door of the room in which the ceremony took place open. This type of marriage is also called validated marriage.

Parties to these two latter types of marriage (Chinese customary marriage and modern marriage) can have the marriage post-registered at the Marriage Registry (that is, the marriage can be registered at the marriage registry after the event has taken place).

Registering a customary or validated modern marriage “legalizes” the marriage and allows it to be legally valid, enforceable and binding.

Sections 7 and 8 of the Marriage Reform Ordinance (“MRO”), Cap. 178 provide for what constitutes customary and validated modern marriage. Section 9 of the MRO provides for the registration of customary and validated marriages.

Evidence needs to be produced indicating the customary or validated marriage was celebrated in Hong Kong before 7 October 1971. Two witnesses to the marriage are required to give statutory declarations to confirm that they were present during the wedding ceremony.  These documents need to be submitted to the Marriage Registration and Records office.

Once the application is approved by the Registry, the customary or validated marriage is registered.

If one party refuses to have the marriage registered after it has taken place the other party may apply to the District Court for a declaration that such a marriage exists and thereafter that party can post-register it unilaterally.

III. Offences under the Marriage Ordinance

Under sections 29 and 30 of the Marriage Ordinance , any person, minister or civil celebrant who, knowing that a written consent from the proper person has not been obtained, marries or assists or procures any other person to marry a person under the age of 21 years who is not a widow or widower commits an offence and shall be liable to a fine at level 5 (currently $50,000) and imprisonment for two years.

Under section 32 of the MO , any person who wilfully removes or alters any notice, certificate, licence or other document kept or filed by the Registrar pursuant to, or for the purposes of, the provisions of this Ordinance shall be liable to a fine at level 5 (currently $50,000) and to imprisonment for six months.

Under section 33 of the MO , any person who knowingly and wilfully celebrates or pretends to celebrate a marriage, not being legally competent to do so, shall be guilty of an offence triable either summarily or upon indictment, and shall be liable to a fine at level 5 (currently $50,000) and to imprisonment for two years.

IV. Nuptial agreements

As long as society continues to evolve, matrimonial law is ever changing. Agreements made between couples before or after marriage become more common. Premarital and post-marital agreements are known as nuptial agreements. Nuptial agreements are contracts, entered into by couples, which determine the rights and obligations of each of them in the event their marriage fails. Premarital agreements are drawn up and signed before marriage, while post-marital agreements are made during the marriage. Post-marital agreements can be made either while the couple is still together, or when they separate. Post-marital agreements entered into during separation are known as “separation agreements”.

The content of nuptial agreements normally include terms for:

  • division of property
  • maintenance for support of a spouse
  • other financial arrangements such as trusts, company share transfers etc.

More complex agreements may arise where specific terms for a financial award result in the breakdown of the marriage.

A. Legal status of nuptial agreements

Separation agreements are agreements entered between couples once they have separated or on the occasion of their separation.  These are common because they are valid contracts, according to section 14 of the Matrimonial Property and Proceedings Ordinance (“MPPO”), Cap. 192. Furthermore, as in the Hong Kong Court of appeal case of L v C, the courts have affirmed that such agreements should be upheld unless there is a compelling case of unforeseeable circumstances.

If an agreement is made during marriage but before separation, then this is known as pre-separation post marital agreement.  This is not a separation agreement under section 14 of the MPPO.  These agreements will be governed by similar considerations as pre-marital agreements in accordance with the Radmacher principles discussed below.

Nuptial agreements, other than separation agreements, however, are not as common. There is no specific legislation concerning such nuptial agreements, and Hong Kong courts do not recognize such agreements as legally binding.  However, such agreements could be taken into account by the court when deciding the outcome in divorce proceedings involving ancillary relief and division of financial assets under section 7(1) of the MPPO as “circumstances of the case” or “conduct”, and may be upheld in part or in whole.

When the court needs to determine whether or not to make an order in accordance with a nuptial agreement, the question of fairness is the key issue. In the UK, it is likely that the court will follow the terms of the nuptial agreement and hold the parties to their agreement if the parties:

  1. are shown to have understood the terms of the agreement;
  2. had independent legal advice;
  3. gave full and frank disclosure of their financial positions;
  4. were not under pressure when signing the agreement;
  5. did not exploit a dominant position;

and if the agreement is not unjust.

This list is not exhaustive but provides a general basic guideline. A nuptial agreement should be given effect (that is, enforced) if it was “freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing, it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement.” (See: UK case Radmacher v Grantino)

In Hong Kong, although nuptial agreements other than separation agreements are not contractually binding, they can nevertheless still be taken into account when considering a division of the matrimonial assets, and can be relevant to the proceedings in the context of financial provision under the factors of section 7 of the MPPO.  A judge may very well look into the nuptial agreement and take into consideration the parties’ intention at the time of making the agreement. The overarching principle of proceedings for ancillary relief and division of financial assets is fairness, as demonstrated by the leading Hong Kong case LKW v DD.

Therefore, although a nuptial agreement (not being a separation agreement) may not be legally binding in Hong Kong, the agreement can be one of the factors that the judge takes into account when making decisions as to financial claims in a divorce.

B. Pre-marital agreements and public policy

Historically, pre-marital agreements were regarded as being contrary to public policy on the grounds that provision for a divorced wife and children of the family is a matter of public concern. In UK case Bennett v Bennett, the court said that “it is in the public interest that the wife and children of a divorced husband should not be left dependent on public assistance or on charity when he has the means to support them”.

For example, if a party had not given full and frank disclosure before the signing of the pre-marital agreement and the wife is left destitute under the agreement, the agreement may be contrary to public policy.  Another example might be that since the marriage, the parties' financial situations may have drastically changed (for the better or worse), thus what was initially agreed under the pre-marital agreement might not be “fair” or reflective of the parties’ living standard during the marriage.

Later, the UK court in the Radmachner case stated that pre-marital agreements are not contrary to public policy. However, this view is just of persuasive value in Hong Kong. Furthermore, pre-marital agreements cannot restrict parties from applying to the court for orders for financial arrangements.

In 2011, the Hong Kong court briefly acknowledged the Radmacher case, and stated an observation of the modern trend of nuptial agreements being recognized. However, Radmacher is not binding in law in Hong Kong. Until the Courts in Hong Kong or the legislature fully accept the binding effect of nuptial agreements, nuptial agreements, other than separation agreements, will continue not to be binding in a court of law. Nevertheless, the UK decisions have provided Hong Kong courts with some guidance on the status of nuptial agreements when determining ancillary relief and asset division in matrimonial matters.

V. Marrying non-HK residents

Generally, spouses of Hong Kong permanent residents do not have the right of abode in Hong Kong unless they fall within Schedule 1 of the Immigration Ordinance , Cap. 115 .

A. Hong Kong residents with spouses from overseas (other than Mainland China)

For spouses from overseas (other than Mainland China), if they wish to enter Hong Kong to reside, they need to apply for a dependant visa. They must show that they are dependants of their spouses who are either Hong Kong permanent resident or a resident who is not subject to a limit of stay (i.e. a resident with the right to land or on unconditional stay).

The following conditions must be satisfied for a successful dependant visa application:

  • Reasonable proof of a genuine relationship between the applicant ("dependant") and the spouse residing in Hong Kong ("sponsor");
  • the applicant should be of clear criminal records and raise no security or criminal concerns for the HKSAR;
  • the sponsor can substantially support the dependant and provide suitable accommodation during his/her stay in Hong Kong.

For more details on the application for a dependant visa, please visit the website of the Immigration Department .

Upon successful application for a dependant visa, the spouse from overseas is not prohibited from taking up employment in the HKSAR.

B. Hong Kong residents with spouses from Mainland China

For details about applying for a marriage registration in Mainland China, you may refer to the website of the Beijing Office of the HKSAR Government .

According to Article 22 of the Basic Law , for entry into the HKSAR, people from Mainland China (including a Mainland spouse) must apply for approval. A Mainland resident who wishes to settle in Hong Kong must apply for an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao (also known as a "One-way Permit") from the office of the Exit-entry Administration of the Public Security Bureau where his/her household registration is kept in China. The process and issue of One-way Permits are administered by the Public Security Bureau in accordance with Mainland Chinese laws, policies and regulations.

Therefore, if a Mainland spouse  wishes to come to Hong Kong for family reunion, he/she needs to apply for a “One-way Permit” from the public security authority in the place of his/her household registration in China. The mainland spouse may also apply to bring along his/her minor children (i.e. under 18 years of age) from the Mainland to Hong Kong.

For more details, please refer to the website of the Immigration Department .

C. Foreigners or mainland residents working/studying in Hong Kong with spouses from overseas (including Mainland China)

For foreigners or mainland residents who are:

  • working in Hong Kong (as a professional, for investment to establish/join in business, or for training); or
  • studying in a full-time undergraduate or post-graduate local programme in a local degree-awarding institution; or
  • permitted to remain in the HKSAR as an entrant under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme or the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme,

their spouses and unmarried child (children) under the age of 18 may apply to join him/her for residence in Hong Kong.

The following conditions must be satisfied for a successful dependant visa application:

  • Reasonable proof of a genuine relationship between the applicant ("dependant") and the spouse residing in Hong Kong ("sponsor");
  • the applicant should be of clear criminal records and raise no security or criminal concerns for the HKSAR;
  • the sponsor can substantially support the dependant and provide suitable accommodation during his/her stay in Hong Kong.

For sponsors who have been admitted for employment (as professionals, for investment to establish/join in business or for training); and entrants under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme or the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, their spouses or children may take up employment in the HKSAR upon successful application for a dependant visa.

However, dependants of sponsors who have been admitted to study are not permitted to take up employment unless they have obtained prior permission from the Director of Immigration.

For more details, please visit the website of the Immigration Department:

Foreigners working/studying in Hong Kong

Mainland residents working/studying in Hong Kong

VI. Benefits and welfare enjoyed by married couples

A. Married person’s allowance

Regardless of whether the spouse is a Hong Kong resident, a married taxpayer in Hong Kong  can claim the married person’s allowance in any year of assessment if the taxpayer is married at any time during that year, and;

  • he/she is not living apart from his/her spouse; or
  • he/she is living apart from his/her spouse but is maintaining or supporting the spouse; AND the spouse does not have any income chargeable to salaries tax;

in which case it does not matter whether the taxpayer and his/her spouse have elected the joint tax assessment or the personal tax assessment.

“Marriage”, in the context of the Inland Revenue Ordinance (IRO), refers to a heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. “Spouse” is defined in section 2 of the IRO as a husband or a wife. A “husband” is a married man and a “wife” is a married woman.

B. Dependent Parent and Dependent Grandparent Allowance

A taxpayer in Hong Kong may claim allowance in respect of each dependent parent / grandparent maintained by him/her or his/her spouse, provided his/her spouse is not living apart from the taxpayer during the year. To qualify for the allowance, the dependent parent / grandparent must at any time during the year be:

  • ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
  • aged 55 or more, or eligible to claim an allowance under the Government's Disability Allowance Scheme; and
  • residing with the taxpayer or his/her spouse, without paying full cost, for a continuous period of not less than 6 months, or have received from the taxpayer or his/her spouse not less than $12,000 in money within the taxation year in question.

If the dependent parent / grandparent resides with the taxpayer  continuously throughout the whole year without paying the full cost, the taxpayer is also entitled to the Additional Dependent Parent and Grandparent Allowance.

In the context of considering a taxpayer’s eligibility for the dependent parent / grandparent allowance, the term “ordinarily resident in Hong Kong” means that the dependant must be habitually and normally resident in Hong Kong. To determine whether a dependant is ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, the Inland Revenue Department may consider objective factors including:

  1. the number of days he / she stayed in Hong Kong;
  2. whether he / she has a permanent dwelling in Hong Kong;
  3. whether he / she owns a property for residence outside Hong Kong;
  4. whether he / she works or carries out a business in Hong Kong ;
  5. whether his / her relatives are mainly residing in Hong Kong.

A “parent” means:

  • natural father or mother / step parent; or
  • natural father or mother / step parent of one's spouse; or
  • a parent by whom one or one's spouse was legally adopted; or
  • a parent of one's deceased spouse.

A “grandparent” means:

  • natural grandfather or grandmother / one's adoptive grandparent / one's step grandparent; or
  • natural grandfather or grandmother / adoptive grandparent / step grandparent of one's spouse; or
  • grandparent of one's deceased spouse.

Only one individual can be granted an allowance for the same dependant. If more than one individual is entitled to the allowance for the same dependant, they must agree amongst themselves on who shall claim the allowance.

If one has already been granted a deduction for elderly residential care expenses for a parent or grandparent, one will not be granted a dependent parent and dependent grandparent allowance for the same parent or grandparent for that same year of assessment.

For more details about tax allowances for married couples, please visit the GovHK website .

VII. Bigamy

Bigamy is the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another. It is a legal ground to nullify a marriage. A nullified marriage means the marriage is declared null and void, which means the marriage is treated as if it never existed.

According to section 20(1) of the Matrimonial Clause Ordinance (MCO), Cap. 179 , when at the time of marriage either party has already been lawfully married, the said marriage is void. For example, if a person marries a second time without first completing the formal steps of divorce for his/her first marriage, then his/her second marriage is nullified.

Section 18(1) of the MCO provides for the remarriage of divorced persons:

"Where a decree of divorce has been made absolute and either-

  1. there is no right of appeal against the decree absolute; or
  2. the time for appealing against the decree absolute has expired without an appeal having been brought; or
  3. an appeal against the decree absolute has been dismissed;

either party to the former marriage may marry again."

If someone got married in Mainland China or overseas and is undergoing a divorce process, as long as the divorce process is not completed and the status of that person is not “single”, then the said person cannot get married again in Hong Kong, as the marriage would be void under section 20(1)(c) of the MCO .

Vice versa, if the party originally got married in Hong Kong but is getting married again in the Mainland or overseas, albeit undergoing divorce proceedings at the time the party gets married (assuming the proceedings are not yet completed), the said party commits bigamy, under section 45 of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance ( Cap. 212 ).

According to section 45 of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance ( Cap. 212 ), any person who, being married, marries any other person during the life of the former husband or wife shall be guilty of an offence triable upon indictment, and shall be liable to imprisonment for seven years.

VIII. Adultery

Adultery is the term used for voluntary sexual relations between an individual who is married and someone who is not the individual's spouse. When a married person has sexual relations with someone who is not his or her spouse, he or she commits adultery.

The only ground for divorce in Hong Kong is that “the marriage has broken down irretrievably”. According to section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (MCO), adultery is one of the five “facts” a party can use to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, and the petitioner has to establish the fact of adultery.

Under section 11A(a) of the MCO , to establish the fact of adultery, the petitioner must show two things:

  1. the petitioner's spouse has committed adultery, and
  2. the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the spouse who has committed adultery.

Point (2) above is a test from the  subjective point of view of the adulterer's spouse as to whether or not he/she finds it intolerable to live with the adulterer. The feeling of intolerance does not have to be related to the adultery: it may be a result of the adultery, but it may also relate to some other behavior of the adulterer.

Time limit

If the parties continue to live together for more than six months following the act of adultery, the petitioner will not be entitled to rely on the fact of adultery because the petitioner will not be able to show that he/she finds it intolerable to live with his/her spouse who has committed adultery.

Proof

It is not a requirement that the person who committed adultery with the respondent is identified. The petition and confession statement could state that the respondent committed adultery with a person unknown to the petitioner, or the petitioner can choose to disclose the identity of the person if the petitioner knows who that person is.

The petitioner must have certain knowledge that adultery has occurred , not only a belief that there has been adultery. The standard of proof is? “a preponderance of probability” and there is also a presumption of innocence to overcome. Whoever raises the allegation of adultery has to prove it.

IX. Cohabitation

Unmarried cohabitant couples do not have the legal status of married couples and thus do not enjoy the benefits attached to married couples, which includes tax, pension, medical and public housing benefits. The most important fact is that, regardless of how long the cohabitants have been living together, cohabitant couples are not recognized as married couples under the law. Thus, cohabitant couples fall outside the scope of the rights enjoyed by married couples.

A. Estate provision

According to the Intestate Estate Ordinance (IEO), Cap. 73 , if a person has not married his/her cohabiting partner, and his/her cohabiting partner dies intestate (without a will), he/she cannot share in the estate of his/her cohabiting partner( section 4 ). According to section 2 of the IEO , “intestate” also includes a person who leaves a will but dies intestate as to some beneficial interest in his/her estate.

However, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Ordinance ( Cap. 481 ) provides a way for a cohabiting partner to apply for financial provision from his/her deceased partner, even if the deceased partner leaves no will and no legal status of husband or wife exists. According to section 3(1)(b)(ix) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Ordinance , any person who has been maintained wholly or substantially by the deceased immediately before the deceased’s death can apply for financial provision from the deceased person’s estate. Therefore, if a cohabiting partner can prove that he/she has been maintained by the deceased partner, then he/she can still receive maintenance from the deceased’s estate.

B. Protection from violence in cohabitation

Hong Kong laws seek to protect cohabitants from violence in their relationships. The Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance ( Cap. 189 ) allows victims of violence, whether in marriage or cohabitation relationships, to seek legal remedies and apply for court injunctions. For example, a person may apply for a restraining order to prevent the perpetrator or abusive partner from entering or remaining in their residence: under ( Section 3B of the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance ).

For more details about domestic violence, please read “ Domestic violence and assistance ”.

C. Parental Rights

Where unmarried cohabitants have children, the mother has all the rights and authority regarding the child’s custody and upbringing, while the natural father does not have automatic parental rights. To enjoy parental rights, the natural father must make an application for a Court Order under ( Section 3(1)(c) of the Guardianship of Minors Ordinance , Cap. 13 ).

D. Upon Separation

In the event of a breakdsown in their relationship, cohabitants do not enjoy any legal rights. In particular, the law does not provide unmarried separated couples the same rights that are enjoyed by divorced couples following the breakdown of their marriage.

X. Transsexual marriage

Transsexual persons are those who have changed from one sex to another. Normally transsexuals change their gender by undergoing a sex reassignment surgery. Following surgery, they will receive a new identity card with the new acquired gender.

According to section 40 of the Marriage Ordinance , marriage involves a voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Prior to the latest Court of Final Appeal (CFA) decision in W v Registrar of Marriages , the law did not recognize a transsexual’s right to marriage.

W v Registrar of Marriages case

In this case, a post-operation male-to-female transsexual known as “W” was refused marriage to a man by the Registrar of Marriage, for the reason that “W” was biologically a male and hence not fit for the purpose of marriage to a man. “W” challenged the decision through judicial review: (i) challenging the interpretation of “female” under sections 21 and 40 of the Marriage Ordinance , and (ii) challenging the constitutionality of the Marriage Ordinance —claiming an infringement of her right to marry guaranteed by Basic Law Article 37 and Hong Kong Bill of Rights Article 19(2) . Both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal ruled against W – however, the Court of First Instance suggested the government to conduct a public consultation on gender identity, sexual orientation and the specific problems and difficulties faced by transsexual people, including their right to marry.

CFA decision

In the latest and final decision of the Court of Final Appeal in 2013, the CFA declared that the meaning of “woman” and “female” includes a post-operation male-to-female transsexual person whose gender has been certified by an appropriate medical authority as having changed after sex reassignment surgery. Accordingly, the Court held that under the law “W” is entitled to be included as "a woman" under the relevant provisions of the Marriage Ordinance, and therefore is eligible to marry a man.

XI. Same-Sex Marriage / Civil partnership

Under the Hong Kong law, marriage shall be a Christian marriage or the civil equivalent of a Christian marriage. Section 40 of the Marriage Ordinance ( Cap. 181 ) states that marriage "implies a formal ceremony recognized by law as involving the voluntary union for life of  one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others ". Therefore, same-sex couples are excluded from the legal institution of marriage, along with the benefits of marriage.

Civil partnership (or same sex unions) is not recognized in Hong Kong. Under section 4 of the Marriage Reform Ordinance , marriage is defined as “the voluntary union for life of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others…”

It is worthy to note that under the UK Civil Partnership Act of 2004, British Nationals and BNO citizens already have the right to register as civil partners, meaning Hong Kong residents holding BNO status actually possess the right to register for civil partnership under UK law. However, they cannot register for civil partnerships in Hong Kong as the HKSAR government raised “strong objections” with the British consulate-general. Therefore, despite their “citizenship”, Hong Kong people do not have the British constitutional rights within Hong Kong.

FAQ

1. Is there any age restriction for marriage in Hong Kong?

The minimum age for marriage in Hong Kong is 16. However, if either party is over 16, but still under 21, and is not a widow or widower, written consent to the marriage is required. The written consent is usually provided by a parent or guardian.

Any person, minister or civil celebrant who, knowing that a written consent from the proper person has not been obtained, marries or assists or procures any other person to marry a person under the age of 21 years who is not a widow or widower commits an offence and shall be liable to a fine and imprisonment.

For more details, please go to Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > An overview .

2. My wife is an Australian. I want her to come to Hong Kong and live with me. What do I have to do?

For spouses from overseas (other than Mainland China), if they wish to enter Hong Kong to reside, they need to apply for a dependant visa. They must show that they are dependants of their spouses who are either Hong Kong permanent resident or a resident who is not subject to a limit of stay (i.e. a resident with the right to land or on unconditional stay).

The following conditions must be satisfied for a successful dependant visa application:

  • Reasonable proof of a genuine relationship between the applicant ("dependant") and the spouse residing in Hong Kong ("sponsor");
  • the applicant should be of clear criminal records and raise no security or criminal concerns for the HKSAR;
  • the sponsor can substantially support the dependant and provide suitable accommodation during his/her stay in Hong Kong.

For more details, please refer to Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > Marrying non-HK residents .

3. I got married in the Mainland China a few years ago but my husband has left me and disappeared. I want to marry another man in Hong Kong now. Is there any risk that I may be committing bigamy?

If you got married in Mainland China, as long as the divorce process is not completed and your status is not “single”, then you cannot get married again in Hong Kong.

Vice versa, if the party originally got married in Hong Kong but is getting married again in the Mainland or overseas, albeit undergoing divorce proceedings at the time the party gets married (assuming the proceedings are not yet completed), the said party commits bigamy.

Any person who, being married, marries any other person during the life of the former husband or wife shall be guilty of an offence triable upon indictment, and shall be liable to imprisonment for seven years.

For more about bigamy, please visit Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > Bigamy .

4. I suspect that my wife is having an affair with another man. Can this be a reason for divorce?

Adultery is one of the reasons a party can use to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, which is the legal grounds for divorce in Hong Kong. You have to establish the fact of adultery. You have to show that your wife has committed adultery, and you find it intolerable to live with her. However, if you and your wife continue to live together for more than six months following the act of adultery, you will not be entitled to rely on the fact of adultery. Besides, you must have certain knowledge that adultery has occurred, not only a belief that there has been adultery.

To know more about this, please go to Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > Adultery .

5. I am a woman cohabitating with my boyfriend. We have no plans of getting married. Would this jeopardize us in the legal sense?

Unmarried cohabitant couples do not have the legal status of married couples because they do not enjoy the benefits attached to married couples, which include tax, pension, medical and public housing benefits. The most important fact is that, regardless of how long the cohabitants have been living together, cohabitant couples are not recognized as married couples under the law. Thus, cohabitant couples fall outside the scope of the rights enjoyed by many married people.

If you want to know more, please refer to Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > Cohabitation .

6. I am getting married very soon. My father is very rich and he does not trust my fiancée. He has suggested me to make a nuptial agreement with my fiancée. What is a nuptial agreement?

Agreements made between couples before or after marriage are known as nuptial agreements. Nuptial agreements are contracts, entered into by couples, which determine the rights and obligations of each of them in the event their marriage fails. Premarital agreements are drawn up and signed before marriage, while post-marital agreements are made during the marriage. Post-marital agreements can be made either while the couple is still together, or when they separate. Post-marital agreements entered into during separation are known as “separation agreements”.

The content of nuptial agreements normally include terms for

  • division of property
  • maintenance for support of a spouse
  • other financial arrangements such as trusts, company share transfers etc.

More complex agreements may arise where specific terms for a financial award result in the breakdown of the marriage.

For more about nuptial agreements, please visit Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > Nuptial agreements.

7. Do nuptial agreements have any legal status?

Nuptial agreements, other than separation agreements, are not as a general rule considered binding in the usual contractual sense in law in Hong Kong. There is no specific legislation concerning nuptial agreements, and not many court cases have addressed the topic of nuptial agreements.

However, such agreements (not being separation agreements) could be taken into account when deciding the outcome in divorce proceedings in Hong Kong courts involving ancillary relief and division of financial assets under the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Ordinance as “circumstances of the case” or “conduct”, and may be upheld in part or in whole.

When the court needs to determine whether or not to make an order in accordance with a nuptial agreement, the question of fairness is a key issue. As ruled in an English case, nuptial agreement should be given effect (that is, enforced) if it was “freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing, it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement.” This principle was followed in Hong Kong.

On the other hand, according to the Matrimonial Property and Proceedings Ordinance, separation agreements (agreements entered between couples once they have separated or on the occasion of their separation) are valid contracts.

To understand more about this, please visit Matrimonial Matters > Marriage and co-habitant issues > Nuptial agreements.

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