Do China courts have jurisdiction over divorce of two foreigners?

With more and more foreigners working and living in China, we have received quite a number of inquiries from foreigners in China who wish to divorce in China with their spouses who are also foreigners.

But what is the take of Chinese courts regarding jurisdiction over such cases? In other words, if such a case is submited to China courts for resolution, will China courts entertain such a case?

I. Hypothetical Case

Assuming a foreign couple, husband from USA and wife from German, are separated from each other with husband still working in China and wife having gone back to German, now the wife wants to sue the husband for a divorce in China. By the way, they got married outside of China as well.

Please note, for some tactic reasons, the wife sues for divorce only without regard to custody of child or dividsion of marital properties. Just for dissolution of their marriage.

II. China Courts’ Jurisdiction

Strictly speaking, China Civil Procedures Law has no specific provision addressing jurisdiction over a divorce case between two foreigners. China Supreme Court’s various interpretations have no light shed on the issue.

It is understandalbe that China courts are hestitant or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction over a case in which there are no “Chinese citizens” or “Chinese assets” or other Chinese interests invovled. This must be the reason why Chinese courts often refuse filings of such cases.

But China courts are divided on the issue.

First of all, our research into national judgment database found that some China courts have entertained and tried such cases and made judgments. Theses cases are not many indeed but they indicate that China courts, if they are willing, can still exercise jurisdiction over those cases. After all, there are neither prohibitive provisions in China Civil Procedures Law.

Particularly, in Shanghai, the most popular metroplis city in China, the local highest court (the Shanghai High People’s Court 上海高级人民法院) issued an instruction on this jurisdiction issue back in 2011 in which the court had adopted an active attitude toward the question: desipte that the parties to the action are not Chinese, and they are not married in China, if they both agree and submit to the jurisdiction of China courts, then the courts may accept the filing of such cases. Our team have handled a case in the past with a local court in Shanghai.

You see, some China courts just don’t wanna bother, and decline jurisdictions, and some courts may be proactive and are ready to help with disfunctioning marriages.

We also noticed a case where the court finally dismissed a case that had been filed on the ground of forum non-conveniens doctrine, which is plausibly perfect execuse to shrug off unwanted cases.

III. What You Learn

If you or your client is caught in a situation similar to the hypothetical case above, you have got to be mindful if you wish to go to China court for a divorce.

If you have to have your divorce conducted in China court, then you need to be careful with your case filing efforts. While it is surely difficult to get your divorce case filed with a China court, you do have a hope (in light of other precedent cases that are handled by China courts). Hire a Chinese lawyer that is well-versed in this area of law and that has a hard-core perseverance in getting things done.

Jason Tian

Jason Tian, senior partner, specializes in foreign-related legal services ranging from foreign investment in China, banking and capital, real estate, M&A, corporate, international trade, estate planning, inheritance and divorce at his blog:

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