Add on 14.12.2016
I recently had a lawyer from Europe contact me concerning his client, an EU national, who had recently divorced from his Chinese wife. Since the couple got married in China and one of them was a Chinese national, they were able to divorce at the Civil Affairs Bureau using the "divorce by registration" procedure. He didn't retain a Chinese lawyer; instead he relied on his soon-to-be ex-wife to handle the divorce procedure for him. He needed to show his passport and marriage certificate and sign a few documents written in Chinese, including one called the "Divorce Settlement Agreement". He looked it over, but didn't really understand what it said and proceeded to sign it anyway. What he didn't know was that by doing so he relinquished all claims to two houses owned jointly by the couple.
By the time the case came to my attention, this man was understandably panicked at having just signed away millions of yuan. It is tempting to argue in such situations that since he didn't understand the documents, it should automatically be considered invalid. This is simply not how it works - it is the responsibility of each competent adult to read and understand a legal document before signing it. The act of signing is considered by the law as evidence that you agree with the content regardless of whether you actually do. This same rule applies in most countries, including the US, Canada and the UK.
Having a Chinese divorce lawyer draft the Divorce Settlement Agreement in English and Chinese is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to help assure your peace of mind. If you are not perfectly fluent in Chinese and have an advanced understanding of how the legal processes works, you should speak with a Chinese lawyer before signing anything at all. It is really just that simple.
Remember, you alone are responsible for looking out for your own interests and once pen meets paper, there is little you can do to roll back the clock.
A few words about Flora
Flora Huang is a leading Chinese lawyer specializing in corporate and commercial law, international family law and expat divorce. A pioneer in many aspects of transnational legal practice, Flora has served as a China legal commentator in both local and international media and acted as an expert witness in countless international legal proceedings.
Fluent in English and familiar with most major legal systems, Ms. Huang has built-up an enviable network of contacts around the world to ensure that business decisions, litigation, and transactions are informed by up-to-date advice from experienced practitioners wherever the client is or wants to be.
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