Kate Springer talks with two single mums about how they found their footing.
Sonia Lee Nazzer
Half-Canadian, half-New Zealander Sonia Lee Nazzer moved to Hong Kong with her ex-husband in 2006. A mother of four children and owner of Academy of Jazz dance studio, Nazzer is currently going through a divorce.
How did you come to Hong Kong?
I was traveling with my husband and my baby was an infant. We were supposed to head up to Tibet, but it was Chinese New Year and we hadn’t booked tickets yet so there were no flights available. We ended up staying in Hong Kong for two weeks and I fell in love with the city. It felt like a place where anything was possible. We had our second baby back home in New Zealand and then moved to Hong Kong to work as kindergarten teachers.
At what point in time did you and your husband separate?
We have been separated for 16 months. We gave things a last shot by moving back to New Zealand for a short time. It wasn’t going to work, so I kept my business here under management. When things didn’t work out in the marriage, I had something to keep me going both financially and with purpose.
How did you tell the kids?
In an ideal world, we would have sat down and done it together. I didn’t have an ideal situation, and the other party told them in a very negative way so we have had to work through a lot of issues. There is a lot of blame and anger from the kids because they feel I am responsible, because I made the choice to leave.
What would you have done differently?
I got engaged at 21 and was married at 23. If I had the chance to go back, I would wait until I was 28 or 30. I think I would also tell myself to have more confidence. I would not have hesitated to make the decision earlier. Sometimes if you leave things too long, then it can have a sharper and more difficult ending. But I have beautiful kids, and I had them young, so I still have a lot of life left in me.
Where do you find support here?
I see an amazing therapist and Hong Kong has good counseling services and good churches. People online also tend to be really supportive. They are more willing to be vulnerable and open with each other — you can break down the barriers faster online, and then meet for coffee later.
“Depending how you end your marriage, the grief is not something you really expect”
How has the divorce affected you emotionally?
I jumped into another relationship really fast after separating, which was probably not the best idea. Depending how you end your marriage, the grief is not something you really expect. For me, it was a difficult end. You have a lot of anger and when that’s gone, it’s the feeling of being robbed of the dreams that you had that are now no longer feasible.
How did the divorce affect you financially?
My business was in ruins when I came back to Hong Kong from New Zealand. My business partner cancelled our contract and at that point, I was in serious financial crisis — I had four kids to feed and clothe. Hong Kong is a very expensive place.
What about the price of the divorce itself?
It takes a lot longer — and a lot more money — than you think. If you’re even thinking about going down this road, get all the legal aid set up before you even start. I thought it was a matter of filling out some forms; going to court and that would be it. It’s much harder to exit a marriage than to get into one. My legal aid hasn’t processed yet and every time my lawyer has to reply to a simple letter it costs me $3,000. It’s insane.
What was an unexpected side effect?
It’s a double-sided sword here. Breaking up the marriage and losing the business partnership were both really hard things, but they got me on the path to doing it on my own and trusting myself. My business has grown by 50 percent in the last four months — so I went from having a tiny dance school to now having two schools and 14 locations around Hong Kong. I had good support from my father to open my own space and then things started to work for me.
What advice would you give to others?
When you’re newly single, try to meet new people. I like to go to meet-up groups and interest groups, working at a church or volunteering — doing something that reminds you that you’re a person in your own right and not just a mother. I also think it’s important to exercise. You have all this anxiety and you feel like you’ve stopped breathing. Yoga helped me to breathe and take time out off my phone, no kids — even an hour in a quiet yoga
room was amazing.
Originally from Israel, recently divorced Lior Sade moved to Hong Kong 18 years ago for her job. She remarried in Hong Kong and had a daughter,
later divorcing her second husband in 2007.
How did you find yourself in Hong Kong?
I moved to Hong Kong divorced with two sons who were 10 and 13 at the time. I worked at a high-tech company and I moved out here for my job. My boys adjusted well but I found myself struggling with my social life at the beginning. At that period of time it was unusual for a woman to move to Hong Kong by herself.
When did you meet your second husband?
I met my second husband in Hong Kong and we got married. Everything was fine for a while. I was working and we had a helper. However, I was travelling all the time. After I had my daughter, I wanted to be at home more. I didn’t want to skip those early steps in her life. So, I left my job after 30 years and found myself working in a similar company where I was able to spend much more time in Hong Kong.
“It’s important to remember that you are divorcing your husband. You are not divorcing the father of your kids”
When did things start to fall apart?
I was living the expat life — huge house on The Peak, big budget for two helpers at home. After two years or so, the new company wanted me to start travelling. And then the marriage started to crack. And then all life started to crack. Five months into the divorce, which was very time consuming and
acrimonious, I reduced my job to part time but, soon enough, I was fired.
Was the divorce expensive?
Yes — very expensive. I was married for four or five years, and the divorce took just as long. The problem was with the money. Hong Kong law splits the assets 50-50 for everything in your name, even before you met your husband. I have many more assets outside of Hong Kong, and it cost a lot of money to fight it.
What happened at the trial?
I found myself out of a job, spending all my time on this divorce, and then in 2008 I got the judgment, which really threw me down. It was a shock. I lost. He got 50 percent. I will not lie to you, for many months I was really depressed. I was waking in the morning just because I have a daughter.
What was the process like to appeal?
There are only 28 days to appeal the judgement, but I woke up to life seven or eight months later and no lawyer wanted to take my case. The only one who considered it wanted fees in the region of US$100,000. So I went to university, studied everything, and tried to do it myself. The same judge denied me. But I didn’t give up and I went to the high court.
What happened in the end?
To cut a long story short, in front of the high court judges, I won my case. However five days later my ex-husband disappeared and didn’t resurface for two years. So we were left with no money, and I was stuck in Hong Kong with a judgment that we couldn’t enforce. It was terrible. I decided to change my life and do something about this.
What did you do?
I studied and studied, and created my own business. I am a qualified mediator but the most important thing that I do is my work as a McKenzie friend. I help people represent themselves if they don’t have money for a lawyer. In most cases, I manage to convince the other side to mediate instead of go to court.
How did your life change due to the divorce?
Fortunately, I am permanent resident so my husband could not cancel my visa. However my daughter suffered a lot. The first thing I had to do was change our luxurious flat to something else. I moved from Peak Road to Pok Fu Lam then later to a tiny flat on Mosque Street, which had no buzzer or elevator.
What’s it like today?
Even today, because our divorce was so acrimonious, we can’t speak so we communicate via text messages. Even our texting is uncivilised. But it’s important to remember that you are divorcing your husband. You are not divorcing the father of your kids. I am encouraging mums not to be miserable, not to be sad, not to blame their husbands in front of the children — what we feel, the children will feel.
How has the divorce affected your daughter?
My daughter is growing up differently. She has suffered a lot. My first problem was how do I continue to pay for her life? However I think all of us single parents, can take this lemon and make lemonade in order to create with our children, better citizens for the future.
What advice do you have for other women?
As expats we are exposed to one level of earning capacity but if you look at the total of Hong Kong, that lifestyle is not the norm. Hong Kong is a bubble and what you have can be taken in a minute. There are more women than before who are initiating the divorce and more women are working and trusting themselves. Being a mum is great, but one day the kids are by themselves. And then what?