By Trista di Genova, The Wild East
I met my immigration police friend, Eric, at a café today for an informative chat. It’s always nice to run by him questions regarding all the tricky situations foreigners get into in Taiwan. He’s always been so helpful in this regard, even meeting special cases to advise them in his free time.
Today we talked about marriage, divorce, adultery, remarriage, custody battles and amnesty for refugees in Taiwan. Out of every 100 marriages between foreigners and Taiwanese, he estimated about 95% are between foreign males and Taiwanese females. Only about 5% max would be (typically) North American females marrying Taiwanese males.
One overall trend he’d seen over the years is a surprisingly low divorce rate between Taiwanese and foreigners. He said he “didn’t know why, but they (the marriages) seem to go very well.”
When divorce does happen in Taiwan, it’s a fairly easy process if there are no kids or property involved. Filing for divorce would take place at the Household Registration Office where marriages are also registered, and that is sent to Immigration to be processed. When Immigration sends the deportation papers, the foreigner then has 7 days to leave the country! The whole process takes a few weeks. He said it’s possible to change from a marriage-based visa to a student or work visa, and not have to leave the ‘country’. But if you get married with someone else, you would.
It gets more complicated when there are kids and property involved. When Taiwanese couples divorce, they usually sell the property and assets, splitting everything 50-50. There’s usually no alimony, but there may be a one-time payment to the woman. In the case of foreigner-Taiwanese marriages, if both sides can work out an agreement on joint custody, the case won’t need to go to court. They can put their agreement in writing as they are filing for divorce.
Contrary to what I previously understood about custody battles, the Taiwanese spouse doesn’t automatically have the advantage. The judge usually decides in favor of the parent most able to provide financial stability for the child/children, said Eric. I asked, “what if a Taiwanese spouse does not work, but say her family is well-off and can provide support?” He said the court is assessing the financial status of the child’s mother and father, not that of the extended family.
If an unmarried woman goes to the hospital and gives birth, only her name is listed on the birth certificate. Both parents are listed only in the case of marriage. If the mother is a foreigner, unlike the situation in America for instance whereby citizenship may be granted based on childbirth, she does not have an automatic claim to citizenship in Taiwan. One issue is whether this could lead to a situation of a “stateless citizen”, although the child would usually gain citizenship through the mother’s.
If a foreign father is NOT married to the Taiwanese mother of their child — for example if he’s a British national – and he wants to gain custody rights to take that child back to the UK, he would first have to get a DNA test to prove his paternity, then go to court over his custody claim, that is, if an amicable agreement cannot be reached with the mother beforehand to share custody and/or take the child with him.
It’s notoriously difficult to get ROC citizenship if your parents aren’t both Taiwanese. I’ve heard of a few cases where Americans were able to get it, but usually they first had to give up their U.S. citizenship.
This difficulty in attaining citizenship extends to other ethnic groups as well. During the Chinese Civil War, KMT armies went fought in Burma; many stayed and started families there. At the same time Burmese fought for the Nationalist armies and had a claim to ROC citizenship granted by the MND (Ministry of National Defense). Also, many Burmese came to Taiwan “with a fake passport”, Eric said. They would “study or work for a few years and then disappear”; hence the development of enclaves such as ChongHo’s “Burmese ghetto” — communities of Myanmar refugees, who have been “waiting for the ROC to change the laws” that would allow them permanent status. About two years ago, Burmese were able to take advantage of a 3-day period of amnesty offered by the government.