Divorced parents who fail to fulfill their responsibilities to their children stand to lose guardianship under a proposed law that requires both the mother and father to share custody.
The Law Reform Commission in 2005 recommended that a law be introduced requiring divorced parents to share custody of their children in the future.
This would ensure both sides continue their responsibilities toward their children and participate together in making important decisions for them.
A four-month public consultation – ending on April 30 next year – on the issue was launched yesterday.
Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare Paul Tang Kwok-wai said the government has no timetable for such legislation and is keeping an open mind on whether to follow Common Law practices in countries such as England, Wales, Scotland and Australia or to follow Singapore, which has decided not to impose any legislation after public consultation.
“We believe a joint parental responsibility model is a good thing for parents,” said Tang. “Their responsibility for the children should not end with the divorce.
He added: “The proposal will promote their continued involvement in the upbringing of their children.”
The commission set no punishment for non-compliant parents though, Tang said, and an uncooperative parent may be taken to court by the other parent.
“If the court accepts that a parent has failed to do what he or she was supposed to do, he or she could lose control over the welfare of the children. This, perhaps, can be considered a penalty,” he said.
Currently, the court usually makes a sole or joint custody order. The Law Reform Commission proposes these arrangement be abolished and replaced by the joint parental responsibility model unless domestic violence is involved.
The recommendation includes occasions when joint decisions are required such as changing the child’s surname or taking the child out of Hong Kong for more than a month.
The consultation report said during informal meetings the legal sector was more inclined to use legislative means, whereas social workers and women’s groups were concerned the proposal may provide hostile parents with the opportunity to harass the other spouse after divorce.
Jessie Yu Sau-chu, chief executive of Hong Kong Single Parents Association, said the legislation will help both parents to accept the responsibility of bringing up their children.
“However, more social workers will be needed to assist the parents as they might not be on good terms with each other,” Yu said.
One father, in his 30s, who has joint custody with his former wife over their only child, said the legislation will have little impact if the other side is uncooperative.
He said his ex-wife refuses to follow a court order to allow regular visits, not to mention allowing him to make decisions over his son’s education and travel.