Let divorcing couples decide if they need counselling

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:25am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 5:48am

Marriages are supposed to last a lifetime, but more than one-third in Hong Kong end in divorce. Most often, a couple decide they are not right for each other and part ways peacefully. If children are involved, though, the circumstances are markedly different; the experience can be traumatic and psychologically damaging. The effects on a family and, perhaps later, the community can be such that there are growing calls for mandatory counselling to try to prevent break-ups.

Singapore is considering the idea as part of a review of its family justice system. Like Hong Kong, the city-state has been built on conservative values and strong family ties, but divorce rates are also rapidly increasing. The similarities are reason for the Hong Kong government's top family policy adviser, Family Council chairman Daniel Shek Tan-lei, to suggest studying the idea, even though it goes against traditional thinking. Singaporean courts and social welfare services are already key players in supporting families that are splitting up, the priority being to protect children's interests.

More could certainly be done in Hong Kong to help families going through divorce. While Singapore provides one-stop specialist support, services here are fragmented. Mediation, counselling and visitation of children by separated and divorced parents are dealt with in a disjointed manner and there is no seamless progression to such services from the courts. Skilled specialists are in short supply.

But while post-divorce services need reviewing, it would be wrong to try to force a couple to stay together if they want otherwise. Lawyers are already required to suggest counselling to work through differences. There should be nothing mandatory about the process. Marriage is a personal matter that involves a decision by two adults, and divorce should not be treated differently. A couple may want advice or counselling, especially if children are involved, but it is for them, not the government, to decide.


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