A descendant of the Wing On empire’s founder lost his appeal against a lower court’s decision to increase his maintenance payments to his wife, in the Court of Final Appeal on Friday.
Edwin Kwok, 36, the fourth generation of the Kwok family, had been ordered in December 2011 to triple his monthly maintenance payments to his former wife, Connie Ng, to HK$42,500. That Court of Appeal judgment also ordered a lump sum payment of HK$1.5 million to Ng. Friday’s ruling upheld that decision.
Wing On is best known for its department store in Sheung Wan.
The top court on Friday also clarified the law on how to identify the assets of divorcing couples in order to calculate maintenance payments.
It ruled that financial assistance from third parties – such as parents – should be counted as the husband and wife’s assets if it was likely to continue in the foreseeable future.
The court said this approach was not aimed at pressuring the third parties to continue providing for the divorcing husband and wife.
”In looking at reality, the court can take into account not only what a party actually has, but also what might reasonably be made available to him or her if a request for assistance were to be made,” Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li wrote.
A court order would only be binding on the litigating parties, and would not affect third parties who were not involved in the case, he wrote.
Kwok’s mother is the daughter of the late Dr Li Shu-pui, one of the founders of the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital. Her brother, Dr Walton Li Wai-tat, is the hospital’s superintendent.
According to evidence heard in court, the couple met at Harvard University in 1996.
The court also heard Ng’s allegation that when she shared a flat in America with Kwok, he molested her and left her alone in the flat for three days without food, leading to her psychological problems.
Despite that alleged incident, the two continued their friendship and developed a romantic relationship, the court heard.
They married in 2000 in London. The wife contracted a rare intestinal condition in 2002, leading her to undergo more than 10 operations. The pair divorced in 2008. Kwok by then had a girlfriend in show business, the court heard.
Between 2005 and 2010, Kwok’s parents, in their 70s, deposited HK$7 million into his bank account. His father also paid Kwok’s credit card bills of almost HK$1 million, while his mother gave him HK$1.6 million in gifts between 2006 and 2008.
Kwok studied economics at Harvard and attained an executive master of business administration (EMBA) degree in a course run by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s School of Business and Management, the court was told.
Despite his education, he earned barely HK$15,000 a month as a senior control officer at a Swiss private bank in 2009, the court was told. By last year, he earned about HK$54,000 a month.
This was much less than EMBA graduates’ average annual salary of US$465,774 – about HK$3.6 million.
The lump sum order was made after considering Ng’s needs and the money her parents spent on her medical conditions. She suffers from panic attacks, insomnia and depression.