What Happens to Child Maintenance and Access if One Parent Leaves the Country?

Child maintenance
Oct 23, 2020

Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city with people from all over the world. Over the years, many expats have chosen to settle down and start a family in the city. When relationships breakdown and parents separate, this can have a huge impact on the family dynamic. This is even more so when one parent chooses to relocate overseas either to return to his/her home country, for work opportunities or because of a new partner.

What happens to access arrangements when a parent relocates?

Upon divorce, orders will be made by the Hong Kong Court regarding child maintenance and access arrangements. Generally, the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child (the ‘paying parent’) will have to pay child maintenance to the parent who does (the ‘receiving parent’). When separated parents continue to live in the same city, access with the child can be arranged fairly easily. However, this will be complicated if the paying parent relocates while the receiving parent and child continue to remain in Hong Kong.

What Happens to Child Maintenance and Access if One Parent Leaves the Country? 1

Once the paying parent moves to a different country, it will be more difficult for the paying parent to maintain contact with the child and the paying parent’s access with the child will inevitably decrease. Flying back on forth between countries frequently to see the child may not be economically viable especially if the paying parent has moved very far such as to the United Kingdom or Canada. While social media and online modes of communication such as WhatsApp and Skype have made it easier for families to stay connected, the time difference may make it difficult to arrange a mutually agreeable time that fits into the child’s school schedule especially as the child grows older and has more extracurricular activities. Ideally, both parents should be able to agree to the relocation and access arrangements so they can be adjusted to accommodate the move.

What Happens to Child Maintenance and Access if One Parent Leaves the Country? 2

Enforcement of child maintenance if the paying parent relocates and stops paying maintenance

The paying parent still has a duty to maintain their child regardless of how much time they get to spend with the child or what country they live in. However, if the paying parent stops paying maintenance after relocating, the receiving parent may encounter very real difficulties in trying to enforce an existing child maintenance order. The receiving parent will have to go to the Hong Kong Court to try to take enforcement action. The enforcement of Hong Kong maintenance orders overseas is governed by the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Ordinance. Whether a child maintenance order made in Hong Kong can be enforced overseas will depend on the country which the paying parent has moved to and whether it is a reciprocating country. Currently, only 15 countries and places are designated as reciprocating countries:-

1. United Kingdom 9. Brunei
2. Bermuda 10. Malaysia
3. Manitoba, Canada 11. New Zealand
4. Saskatchewan, Canada 12. Singapore
5. Ontario, Canada 13. Solomon Islands
6. Isle of Man 14. South Africa
7. Australia 15. Sri Lanka
8. British Columbia, Canada

If the paying parent has moved to any of the above reciprocating countries, the receiving parent can apply in the Hong Kong Family Court for the child maintenance order to be sent to that country for enforcement.

Parents cannot enforce an arrangement made informally between them, it must be made an order of the court first. Moreover, the receiving parent will need to provide the overseas address at which the paying parent can be found. Enforcement can be further complicated if the paying parent moves to another country with the intention to avoid having to pay child maintenance and the receiving parent does not know where the paying parent is living.

Enforcement of maintenance orders overseas can be complicated. If you are seeking to enforce a maintenance order overseas, it is important to seek legal advice from a family lawyer.

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