updated 9 May 2012, 20:12
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Wed, May 02, 2012
China Daily/ Asia News Network
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Divorce even more of a mess for foreigners
by Cao Yin

[Above: Liu Li, a judge with Aoyuncun court in Chaoyang district of Beijing, explains the court's simultaneous interpretation room.]

As more foreigners come to Beijing to work, more of them are getting married - and divorced.

And that's leading to long delays in the courtroom.

Aoyuncun court, which has handled most legal disputes involving foreigners in the capital since April 2009, regularly has to track down husbands and wives living overseas.

Add to that the constant delays as legal documents are sent back and forth across borders.

Liu Li, one of the court's judges, said she has been hearing one particular case for more than two years.

"The defendant is a United States citizen who has no residence in China, so we have to send the legal documents to his home in the US," she said.

The documents have been sent to the defendant before, but he lodged a disagreement on jurisdiction and, as a result, they were sent back to Beijing.

"We overruled his dissent and thought there was no problem of jurisdiction. So we had to serve the case again in the US," Liu said. "This service costs us too much time and has become our biggest trouble."

Aoyuncun court, affiliated to Chaoyang district people's court, has tried 385 cases involving foreigners.

So far the court has handled 87 divorce disputes - top among foreign-related civil cases, followed by house purchases and loan conflicts.

Most foreigners involved in lawsuits in the district are from South Korea, Liu said, adding the US ranks second and Japan next.

"As judges deal with these cases, the biggest challenge is the service of legal documents," Liu said, adding she cannot estimate how long service could take if the defendant is living in another country.

For a usual Chinese civil case, indictments must be served to defendants within five days, but "how much time the document takes to be served to foreign defendants depends on whether judges can find out their overseas addresses, and the working efficiency of embassies," she said.

The documents must be served in line with international covenants or by embassies, Liu said, so if the two countries have no covenants and the overseas address is vague, service will be extremely long.

"Currently, China has no service agreement with the US, which is why the case that the judge mentioned took more than two years," said Yang Lin, a Beijing-based senior lawyer specializing in international cases from Yingke Law Firm.

Service would be faster and more effective if China had more agreements on legal affairs with other countries, she added.

Ouyang Hua, another judge at the court, said more understanding of foreign cultures and clients is needed to hear foreign cases, "because our trial is not only important to the two parties, but also represents the image of Chinese judges".

In June, two Japanese came to the court, arguing over a house in Beijing after they divorced.

The woman plaintiff hoped to get 60 percent of the property, while the man would be allocated the rest, according to the indictment.

Ouyang first served the indictment to the male defendant through diplomatic channels as soon as possible and tried to learn more about the couple's conflicts during preparation.

He found out the man had a mistress in Japan and even had a baby.

"I was so surprised at that time and talked with my colleagues about how to tell the woman the truth," Ouyang said, adding that respecting the two parties and understanding their cultures are the precondition for hearing a case.

"The woman had no idea about what her ex-husband did during their marriage, so what we did first was to inform her in a soft way and calm her down," according to him.

"She was in a rage and hoped to get mercy from the court," he said. "We couldn't be indifferent to such a poor woman, but we should also announce a fair judgment without any personal emotion."

Finally, the judge allocated 90 percent of the property to the woman, considering the man had faults during the marriage.

"The judgment is hardhearted, but we can give the weak party enough concern," he said, adding he had taken care of the woman in his spare time and encouraged her to be confident in marriage.

As the case ended in December, the woman sent the court a silk banner full of thanks.

"It was the biggest support and encouragement of my work. Being a judge, I was satisfied at that time," he added.

To clear up complicated legal procedures, reduce unnecessary trial detours and pass on their experiences, the two judges will produce a brochure about how to try foreign-related cases to guide other judges across the capital.

In addition, the judges want to apply the Internet to courts, aiming to provide a convenient hearing environment for involved parties and lawyers, and set up a trial database for legal officers, they added.

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