As a foreign divorce lawyer, I often meet clients for consultations who ask: “I want to divorce a foreigner, what court do I go to?” Deciding which court that has jurisdiction is the first step regarding divorce cases involving foreign relations. This article begins with finding jurisdiction. In China, there is not a specialized legal system for foreign divorce proceedings and involves civil procedure law and the Supreme Court’s judicial interpretation of documents.
1. Grassroots courts
Divorce cases regarding foreign relations is usually done through grassroots courts. Article 17 of civil procedure law states that these courts will have primary jurisdiction over civil cases unless otherwise noted. From here we can see that the court in the place of domicile will handle the case if there are no special circumstances involved.
2. Intermediate courts
Article 18 of civil procedure law states that the intermediate court will have jurisdiction over (i) major foreign related cases, (ii) cases that will have great influence in the area, (iii.) Supreme Court determines that the case should be handled by the intermediate court. What is considered a major foreign related case? The law refers to these cases as having a large amount of disputes, level of complexity, or one involving foreigners. The intermediate courts are used to prcess cases that are difficult or utilize universal laws.
3. Case size will affect jurisdiction level
Article 3 of the civil procedure law states that the high court of each province, autonomous region, and municipalities directly under the central government may proceed with a case at a local court level depending on actual situation, case facts, size of the case, and the influence it has on the local community if they are in accordance with Article 19 and 20 of the civil procedure law. The jurisdiction of cases must be submitted to the Supreme Court for approval. For example in Beijing, if a divorce case involves 500,000RMB in property rights, the intermediate court will handle the case. Other cases involving foreign relations will be under the grassroots court.
The most common problem in foreign related divorce cases is determining jurisdiction. Lawyers will guide the divorcing parties to the correct court for litigation.