Divorcing couples should be forced to undergo counselling, says government advisor

City should look at following Singapore's example in mandatory pre-divorce counselling, says government adviser

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 9:42am

Couples filing for divorce could be forced to undergo counselling to try to save their marriages under a suggestion from the government's chief adviser on family policies yesterday.

The growing number of broken families was having an adverse impact on society, Family Council chairman Daniel Shek Tan-lei told lawmakers.

He said the city should consider following the "progressive and proactive" example set by Singapore, where mandatory pre-divorce counselling is being considered as part of a review of the family justice system.

"This is an example that Hong Kong can probably study and we will raise this idea the next time we meet the [chief secretary]," Shek said at a meeting of the Legislative Council's welfare services panel yesterday.

"It is something that can be put up for public discussion."

But Shek admitted making pre-divorce counselling mandatory would probably face opposition in Hong Kong. "The question we must ask is how much Hong Kong people would be willing to do," he said.

"We should tackle the issue of divorce proactively even though it is against traditional thinking. We must move with the times."

A recent study by the University of Hong Kong Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention cited data collected from the Family Court and census statistics as showing the total number of divorces granted in 2012 was 23,255 - more than 10 times the 1981 figure of 2,062 cases.

Hong Kong does not require any mandatory consultation before couples file for divorce.

Independent lawmaker and solicitor Paul Tse Wai-chun responded to Shek's suggestion by saying adults had the right to decide for themselves whether to go for counselling.

"The government should instead be encouraging and helping couples make informed choices," Tse said.

"There are already enough mandatory policies now that don't make sense."

He added that there was not enough solid evidence to show how counselling could help save marriages.

Other lawmakers asked how the council could do more to help reverse the phenomenon of shattered families.

"We have the feeling the [Family] Council is just window dressing. You don't have specific work objectives," said Albert Ho Chun-yan, of the Democratic Party.

"I don't see what impact you can make on new policies in labour, elderly care, childcare and poverty alleviation which can affect families."

Fellow Democrat Helena Wong Pik-wan called for more to be done to tackle the burden placed on women, who were the cornerstone of families.

The council was set up in 2007 with the aim of forging "closer and harmonious relationships among family members".

Shek said the body was a cross-sector, cross-bureau platform that was the second in the world, after Australia, to have introduced mandatory assessment of the impacts and implications on families of all government policies.