PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 12:00am

Q Should sole custody be abolished in divorce cases?

I am still reeling from a divorce that cost $7 million and encompassed custody issues involving our son. I therefore consider myself experienced enough on the rules governing custody in Hong Kong to have an informed opinion on this latest proposal by the Law Reform Commission.

In my case, and I suspect a majority of others, the concept of shared custody of a child would not work. The reason most married couples get divorced is because they cannot agree on fundamental issues. To assume that they will agree on matters concerning their offspring is unrealistic, even if the intention is to protect the child from any conflict.

In my particular case, the reasons were far more complicated than this. I am a foreigner who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for a long time. My ex-wife is a local Chinese.

Problems started to magnify after our son was born, to the extent my ex-wife abused both my son and I psychologically and physically on a regular basis. This was partially accepted by the judge, although it was very difficult to prove.

I felt compelled to take action to protect my son, who was four years old at the time, by starting divorce proceedings and applying for sole custody. This was a very painful process, but I firmly believe it was in the best interests of our son. He is now a very balanced child.

The Law Reform Commission should focus on trying to alleviate some of the flaws associated with court procedures such as those involved in my case. At present, there seem to be few guidelines for the legal profession and others to follow that prevent divorce and custody cases being costly and confusing. If the new proposal comes into effect, they will benefit more when inevitably ensuing disputes reach the courtroom, prolonging agony for the offspring.

In your editorial you stated: 'There is especially a concern that in cases where there has been domestic violence, the safety of the wife or the child might be placed at risk through greater contact with the husband.'

The assumption that the father is the aggressor is made all too often. In my case, it was assumed that the mother would be the better parent by the Social Welfare Department which became embroiled in our custody dispute - as I understand they do in most contested custody cases.

The department, which the presiding judge invariably relies on for an 'unbiased' opinion, came to its conclusion without considering the history of our case or their own psychological tests which showed my ex-wife had a narcissistic and histrionic personality disorder. Instead, they claimed their conclusion was mainly based on 15 minutes of playtime that my wife and I each had with our son.

A video was apparently made of these play sessions, but the department destroyed it before the case came to court.

Our family will never recover from our financial loss, which has far-reaching consequences for our son. It is fortunate he appears unscarred.

Instead of trying to force couples to co-operate, the Law Reform Commission, in cases where joint custody is not feasible, should look at ways of curtailing the antics of all parties involved when deciding which parent is more suited to care for the offspring at the outset of the separation. This would be far more beneficial for the children than to have conflicts in decisions that will affect their childhoods.

Name and address supplied

Q Should a mass breast screening programme be introduced?

Congratulations to the organisers from the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation. Many women and their families will benefit from the foundation's educational and support work.

As for the debate over mammograms, I don't know the official statistics but I do know that a yearly mammogram may have saved my life. I was 55 when my annual mammogram showed 'calcifications', cancer warning signs. These calcifications could not be felt by a manual examination. (An interesting pamphlet in my doctor's waiting room shows the size of a malignancy that can be detected by a mammogram and the size of a malignancy that can be felt as a lump - quite a difference.)

In my case, a biopsy confirmed the cells were malignant and I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. However, because of the early diagnosis, the cancerous cells were contained and I did not have to have chemotherapy.

In addition to saving lives, routine mammograms save physical and psychological stress and the cost of additional medical intervention. From where I sit, mammograms are one of those things that may cost money now but can save a lot in the long run.

Nancy W. Tse, Mid-Levels

On other matters ...

I refer to the complaint from Irene Yeong on March 4 about the hotline service of our [Water Supplies] Department.

Owing to the recent implementation of a new computer system, the hotline has been busy as a lot of customers call us to inquire about the new format of the water bill, new account numbers and related payment arrangements.

We expect the volume of calls to return to normal when customers get used to the new bills. Meanwhile, we will increase the manning level to cope with the surge in number of calls. We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers.

Suen Kwok-keung, Water Supplies Department