July 2-8, 2012
Forum highlights new immigrants in Taiwan are particularly vulnerable in divorce and custody battles
Reported by Chiou Kuo-rong
Written by Lydia Ma
Taiwan International Family Association (TIFA) and Union of Excluded Immigrants and Unwanted Citizens (UEIUC) held a forum on July 1, 2012. The theme of the forum was “When new immigrants face divorce and custody battles”. One of the main problems highlighted at the forum was the fact that whether a parent was granted custody of a child was dependent upon whether the parent was a resident of the ROC. This phenomenon is particularly problematic among new immigrants facing divorce because they are less protected by the law if they are not yet ROC citizens or residents.
One of the problems discussed at this forum was the fact that when new immigrants enter a divorce and custody battle in court without first being a permanent resident, they are very likely to wind up being deported and lose custody of their children in the process. For those who already possess residency status, they might later be sued for deception or abduction of a minor and lose custody of their children as well.
“Lady No.6” was one of the women who shared her sad story at the forum. She recounted that, upon the death of her Taiwanese husband, the judge gave custody of her child to her husband’s elder sister. Because she also lost her resident status, she was immediately faced with deportation. Afraid of losing her child, she fled from her house to hide from immigration officers and had to visit her child secretly. Thanks to the help of social workers, “Lady No.6” has now extended her stay legally and secured a lawyer who will work pro bono to help her in court.
“Mrs. Hong” was the victim of domestic violence for a long time before she was granted a divorce from her husband. However, just as she was about to take her child to Vietnam to visit her relatives, her husband sued her on the grounds of deceiving and abducting a minor. Because she was taking her child out of the country, the judge increased her sentence. She could face either life-imprisonment or more than 7 years of imprisonment. As she told her story, her 9-year-old daughter was sitting quietly among the audience. It was obvious that the girl did not understand the adult world of custody battles that her mother was facing.
UEIUC spokesperson Kung Yu-chien underscored that even Taiwanese who are fluent in Chinese often don’t understand laws and court proceedings pertaining to divorce and custody. Therefore, it is not surprising to her that immigrants who are rarely fluent in Chinese can neither comprehend what is going on nor how they can be found guilty of abduction or violating custody laws. She added that raising awareness of the law is not the solution as the law itself needs to be amended because it is unfair to new immigrants and also makes custody dependent on residency status.
TIFA Executive Director Chang Yu-hua said that it will be very challenging to change laws concerning custody in Taiwan. However, she noted that the personal tale of “Lady No.6” is indeed a good example of how a parent’s residency status can prevent them from enjoying their right to raise their own children. The plight of these mothers also shows that Taiwanese laws regarding marriage lag behind significantly when compared to the laws of other countries