Parents' assets targeted by son's ex-wife, court hears

Former husband, a Harvard graduate, wants a maintenance order to be reassessed, saying the money comes from his wealthy parents

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 4:13am

A Harvard graduate in his mid-30s is urging the Court of Final Appeal to re-assess his ex-wife's claim for maintenance payments which he said would burden his wealthy parents.

The son had few assets of his own, and a court order obliging him to support his ex-wife would instead force his parents to "cough up the money", his lawyers yesterday told Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li.

The son claims that, after graduating from Harvard, he was unable to work and needed his parents' support for himself and his wife, whose health deteriorated during the marriage. The pair were married in 1999.

The couple - who were childless - separated in 2006 and the husband petitioned for divorce in 2008. Since the separation, the woman's parents had been covering their daughter's living and medical expenses, totalling about HK$42,500 a month.

The husband has told the court that since the breakdown of the marriage, he had been trying to start a career.

He took a low-paying job in 2009 at a bank to "get a foot in the door". The husband now makes HK$54,000 a month, according to an affidavit.

The woman's lawyers have accused him on previous occasions of making less than "his earning potential", pointing to a Financial Times article on business schools which found executive MBA graduates make on average more than US$200,000 a year.

The former wife is seeking reimbursement for costs incurred by her parents, as well as funds to cover her future living and medical expenses.

The Court of Appeal in 2011 awarded her a lump sum of HK$1.5 million and monthly payments of HK$42,500. The ex-husband is challenging the order, saying it was wrongly based on his parents' assets.

Counsels for both parties and judges argued about when the court could expect parents to provide financial resources.

"Even if the [parents] die soon, this does not mean that they will have much money to leave him [as inheritance]," said the ex-husband's counsel Russell Coleman SC.

"It is not permissible to push and shove the third party [to pay] especially when the third party had said that they are unwilling to pay."

Counsel for the ex-wife, David Pilbrow SC, argued it was "the husband's main responsibility and not her parents" to support the woman, and that "looking at the facts … and history, the court can predict that … the third party will willingly provide the funds."

Chief Justice Ma noted the ex-husband's parents had deposited HK$7 million into his bank: "Can't we assume that there is more money coming?"

The court will hand down its decision later.