LCQ12: Support for separated or divorced couples and their families
The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has launched a two-year Pilot Project on Children Contact Service (the Pilot Project) to assist divorced couples in rebuilding and maintaining healthy communication and contacts with their children, allowing children to contact their parents in a safe and conflict-free environment, as well as to strengthen the support provided for separated/divorced families. The Hong Kong Family Welfare Society (HKFWS), which is responsible for implementing the Pilot Project, set up a service centre named Parent-child Contact Centre (PCCC) in Lai Chi Kok in September last year to provide services under the Project. In addition, a study report on divorced single-parent households in poverty, published by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in April this year, showed that in 2016 up to 40 per cent of divorcees had not received maintenance payments from their ex-spouses on time. As at the end of 2015, the poverty rate of divorced single-parent households was 35.6 per cent, much higher than the overall poverty rate of 16.0 per cent of households with children, and at present nearly one-third of divorced single-parent households are receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments. On the other hand, it is learnt that some of the areas inside the Family Court are currently not equipped with segregation facilities and, several months ago, a woman who was recovering maintenance payments from her ex-husband was attacked and injured in the Family Court. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the number of divorce cases, in each of the past five years, in which the couples had children under the age of 18 and, among such cases, the respective numbers of cases in which the family concerned had (i) all of its children residing with their father, (ii) all of its children residing with their mother and (iii) some of its children residing with their father and other children residing with their mother;
(2) whether it knows the number of requests for assistance received by PCCC so far; as there have been views that there is an acute manpower shortage in PCCC, whether the authorities will allocate additional resources to HKFWS for increasing the manpower of PCCC, and review the effectiveness of the Pilot Project expeditiously; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) whether it knows if HKFWS will consider setting up service centres in other districts to provide services under the Pilot Project for more divorced families; if HKFWS will, of the implementation details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) whether it knows the number of cases of default on maintenance payments and, among such cases, the number of those in which the maintenance payments were successfully recovered, in each of the past five years; whether the authorities will consider streamlining the current procedure for recovery of maintenance payments; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) as the aforesaid study report pointed out that a number of single mothers intended to apply to the court for an Attachment of Income Order for the purpose of recovering maintenance payments from their ex-spouses, but the relevant cumbersome legal proceedings have dampened their desire to do so, whether the authorities will consider formulating other measures to help single mothers recover maintenance payments; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether the authorities will expeditiously review the relevant policies and adopt corresponding improvement measures;
(6) as some divorcees who are receiving CSSA payments have relayed that SWD makes a deduction of maintenance payments when calculating the amounts of CSSA payments payable to them, and they have to provide proof of failure to receive maintenance payments on time (e.g. telephone call logs) before maintenance payment deductions are suspended, resulting in such divorcees often falling into short-term financial difficulties, whether SWD will streamline the procedure for proof submission, such as requiring divorcees to make quarterly declarations only; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(7) whether the authorities will consider setting up a maintenance payment board to co-ordinate the work of the various government departments, with a view to helping divorcees recover maintenance payments; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(8) whether the authorities will consider providing one-stop divorce support services to offer emotional, mediation and legal support for couples seeking divorce; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(9) whether the authorities will consider improving the existing facilities and increasing the manpower of security staff of the Family Court, so as to avoid the recurrence of incidents of a divorcee being attacked in the Family Court; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(10) whether SWD will consider providing an emergency grant to divorced couples with children, who experience urgent financial hardship, so as to solve their imminent problems; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
In consultation with the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) and the Judiciary, my reply to the question raised is as follows:
(1) The Census and Statistics Department does not maintain the number of divorce cases in which the couples have children under the age of 18 and the related breakdown figures.
(2) and (3) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) launched the two-year Pilot Project on Children Contact Service in September 2016. As at the end of October 2017, the Pilot Project provided services for a total of 80 cases, and from the caseload figures so far, the current staffing of the centre can still cope with the work concerned. The SWD has been working closely with the relevant operating non-governmental organisation (NGO) to closely monitor the mode of operation (including staffing) of the Pilot Project, and will evaluate the effectiveness and scope for improvement of the Pilot Project, with a view to better defining the direction for future service development.
(4), (5) and (7) The Judiciary does not maintain the number of cases of default on maintenance payments and the related breakdown figures.
This notwithstanding, the HAB has been committed to enhancing the system of collection of maintenance payments and enforcement of maintenance orders. Over the past period of time, the HAB has implemented a series of legal and administrative measures to improve the maintenance system and stepped up the relevant publicity and education work. The measures taken include:
(a) relaxing the requirement for the Court to issue attachment of income orders to make the issuance procedure more flexible;
(b) imposing interest or surcharge against defaulting maintenance payers;
(c) upon request from legal professionals who could provide sufficient information, allowing designated government departments (i.e. the Immigration Department, Transport Department and Housing Department) to disclose the addresses of maintenance payers against whom legal actions will be taken to recover arrears in maintenance; and
(d) launching publicity and education programmes to enhance public understanding of the responsibilities of maintenance payers, rights of maintenance payees and services available to them when they are unable to receive maintenance payments.
The HAB will continue to closely monitor the situation and explore feasible measures to facilitate the enforcement of maintenance orders.
Besides, the HAB has carefully examined the suggestion of setting up a maintenance board before, and considered then that it would unlikely bring, whether to the maintenance payees or taxpayers, any more significant benefits than those which could be achieved by improving the existing system. That said, as it has been some time since the subject was last examined in detail, and the latest statistics and information relating to divorce and maintenance are incomplete, the HAB will, through the Family Council, commission an organisation to conduct a study to gather the latest local statistics and overseas experience for reference in reviewing the related policy to facilitate consideration of the way forward.
The HAB plans to invite tenders before the end of this year with a view to commencing the study early next year. It is expected that the study will take about 18 months to complete. Upon completion of the study, the HAB will report to the relevant Panel of the Legislative Council.
(6) In assessing the amount of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments to be granted to a CSSA recipient, the SWD will first assess his/her recognised needs. If the applicant has assessable income (including maintenance), the CSSA payments will be suitably deducted.
In case of any changes in the information provided (such as whether maintenance payments have been received or the amount of maintenance received), the recipient is required to report to the SWD. Before the maintenance payments have been successfully recovered by the recipient, the SWD will not, on account of such payments, reduce or stop the CSSA payments for which he/she is eligible. Meanwhile, the SWD will follow up on the status of recovering maintenance payments when reviewing the CSSA case concerned (usually every six to 12 months). In general, CSSA recipients are not required to report the relevant information to the SWD every month.
(8) The 65 Integrated Family Service Centres (IFSCs) and two Integrated Services Centres (ISCs) operated by the SWD or subvented NGOs over the territory provide a spectrum of preventive, supportive and remedial family services for families in need, including arranging appropriate services having regard to the needs of parents who intend to initiate / are undergoing divorce procedures or have been divorced as well as their children, and considering referring those parents to suitable mediation/legal support services.
The Government will provide additional manpower resources in 2018-19 to strengthen the co-parenting support for divorced/separated parents and their children through IFSCs/ISCs and the Family and Child Protective Services Units under the SWD, including organising different types of groups and activities and providing counselling and support services on parenting. The SWD will discuss the detailed arrangements with the relevant stakeholders later.
(9) The Judiciary has all along attached great importance to court security issues, and reviews court security measures from time to time. Over the past few years, the Judiciary has taken measures to enhance security at various court buildings. The Judiciary is now taking further steps to strengthen court security in phases, with the first phase being implemented in the Family Court. Since 2012, the Family Court has already introduced the security screening process whereby bag and suitcase inspection is conducted for court users before entering the Family Court, and articles such as sharp objects and bottles containing liquid are prohibited. Starting from November 15, 2017, the Judiciary further requires court users entering the Family Court to be inspected by hand-held metal detectors in order to raise the level of security.
In addition, the Police's presence at the court buildings has recently been strengthened, including the stationing of police officers at the High Court and District Court (including the Family Court) premises. The Judiciary will continue to review with the Police how the security arrangements for all levels of courts may be further enhanced.
(10) In special and emergent circumstances, where no financial assistance arrangement is applicable, the SWD will consider providing temporary emergency relief to the individuals or families in need (including divorced/separated parents with children) through the charitable/trust funds under its administration, including Tang Shiu Kin and Ho Tim Charitable Fund, Li Po Chun Charitable Trust Fund, Kwan Fong Trust Fund for the Needy or Brewin Trust Fund. Persons in need may make enquiries with and submit applications to IFSCs or ISCs.
Ends/Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:45
Issued at HKT 15:45