Family Lawyer Jocelyn Tsao is Hong Kong’s Advocate for Children’s Rights
November 07, 2023
Jocelyn Tsao, the managing director and partner of Withers Hong Kong, is a prominent family lawyer with a remarkable career trajectory.
A strong advocate for women’s autonomy, she is also a leading partner in the divorce and family team. With over 15 years of experience in family law, Jocelyn provides comprehensive advice on all aspects of matrimonial law. Her expertise shines in cases involving the well-being of children, such as custody, care, and control.
She has successfully handled numerous child relocation cases and developed a deep understanding of Hague Convention cases concerning child abduction and litigation before Hong Kong’s High Court. Jocelyn sits down with The Beat Asia to explore her storied career with Withers Hong Kong.
From a young age studying at one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious schools, what spurred your interest in practising law?
My mother! Like every Asian mother, she's demanding. Both my twin sister and I studied at Diocesan Girls' School, where my mother would think every grade lower than 60 percent was a fail. My mother would always complain that I wouldn’t be able to study a subject like law in university. When I began to progress in secondary school, I stumbled into law as I fell in love with reading.
How did your professional journey with Withers Hong Kong begin?
During the crunch time of graduating from law school in university, while most of my classmates sought to practice law at university in popular areas like mergers and acquisitions, corporate law, commercial law, and work with big international law firms, I was the only one who trailed down the route to a small local firm which specialises in family law.
As events unfolded, I was up against one of the now retired senior partners at Withers, a real Queen bee of family law practice. I was put up against her in a case to negotiate in a mediation. She probably liked me when I was just a trainee, and when Withers set up their Hong Kong office, she asked me to join her when she was recruited for the family practice.
Three years ago, two senior partners in our family team left and set up their own firm. I was appointed to head the team within a short span of time, even though I was the youngest partner in the family. A year later, I was appointed to be the managing partner of Withers.
What most attracts you to family law dealing with domestic relations and family matters?
I decided to enter family law right after I graduated. I did not want to practice corporate and commercial law, or any practice area where the objective is helping rich people make more money. I wanted to do something more humanistic and [that has] a greater meaning.
All lawyers like problem solving. We love to be the one to offer people a solution. I love it when I can help resolve difficulties or situations within the family dynamic. Children's issues motivate me most whenever there are disputes in relation to children, because as opposed to just fighting about money, children's issues are more delicate because there is no black and white.
You must have common sense to gauge what is reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances for the children in that divorce scenario. I find it meaningful because the objective of the exercise is really to safeguard the children's well-being as the primary objective, and at the same time, balance your client's interests.
In what ways do you feel you have been able to push forward legal representation in the LGBT community in Hong Kong?
Since I am not in the area of judicial review practices, so ultimately, I don't have the expertise to deal with same-sex marriage equality. However, with my expertise in family law in this LGBTQ arena, I can help Hong Kong’s rainbow families.
One of the things we want to achieve is parental equality, so that even though you're a same-sex parent, you're still recognised in law to have equal rights as a parent.
In 2020, we worked with an expat lesbian couple, who had broken up, but the biological mother still wanted the non-biological mother to have her parental rights recognised. We took the case to court, and thankfully, the court sided with us, because the children's interest is paramount. With that landmark case, any other same-sex couples with children can also get equal rights in terms of custody, guardianship, and care and control.
What’s been your most proud case in your 15 years working at Withers Hong Kong?
Only one comes to mind. It was a children's case that lasted over eight years concerning a pair of twin girls. The parties of a French female and Austrian male had not been married, but the issue lay with the two girls. The father, a good for nothing male partner, was very narcissistic.
The mother finally ended the relationship, and therefore they had to deal with the custody and care arrangements of the two daughters. The reason why it lasted eight years is because this father has been manipulative to the girls and a bad influence on them, and tried to make the mother's life difficult by vetoing each decision she wanted to make for the girls.
We had to go to court multiple times over eight years. We fought for the mother to have full decision-making power – from joint custody and reasonable access to eventually sole custody and minimal to no access for the father, because we argued that the father was not coming from a place of wanting what's best for the girls and there was no way the mother can work with the level of mania the father was putting her and the girls through.
Explore more about Jocelyn’s work with Withers Hong Kong, and contact her here for any queries regarding family law or disputes.
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