Losing a property in China is quite similar to losing romance.
A new interpretation of China’s Marriage Law was rolled out
by the country’s Supreme Court last month, changing the way property disputes are handled after a divorce.
In the weeks after the changes were made, marriage
registrations fell by 30% in the southwest city of Chongqing alone. A
sign that couples across China have been thinking more seriously about
Any property or asset
that was bought before a marriage will no longer be up for negotiation
after a divorce. The property will only belong to who bought it or whose
name is on the deed, according to the recently redefined law that took
effect on August 13.
In addition, instead of being split between the couple,
houses or apartments purchased by the parents of either the bride or
groom will revert to that person only.
Since the changes were proposed last November, controversy
has been brewing. In a culture in which marital homes are traditionally
provided by men, and in many cases, by their parents, experts argue that
the new interpretation will put women at a clear disadvantage.
In short, divorced men get to keep houses whose values will
obviously skyrocket in China’s booming real estate market. Despite the
women’s contributions – financial or otherwise – to the marriage, their ex-wives won’t be entitled to any compensation.
Leta Hong Fincher, a doctoral candidate in sociology at
Beijing’s Tsinghua University, who has studied China’s Marriage Law and
its impact on the gender wealth gap, said many women contribute money to
buying their marital homes together with their husband, and the homes will be registered under the husband’s name.
She added that the women’s effort will be completely invisible after they divorce their husbands.
On the other hand, as divorce rates are rising sharply
across the country, supporters of the new legal interpretation believe
the changes will offer a bit of financial protection to men and women –
and their families – as divorce rates are rising sharply across China.
The numbers have gone up for seven consecutive years, although divorce
is still not as common in China as it is in the West.
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, a total of 2.68
million applied for divorce in 2010, an increase over the year before.
Beijing has the country’s highest divorce rate, followed by Shanghai.
The newly defined law will help promote judicial consistency
when it comes to divorce, said Guo Wanhua, a marital lawyer at Chang An
Law Firm in Beijing.
Guo added rulings over property ownership in divorce cases
used to vary drastically between different courts. Under a clear
guideline that treats both genders more equally, now the judicial
process is made a lot simpler.
Meanwhile, some fear the Marriage Law changes could drive
property prices up even further in China’s already overheated market.
After the new law went into effect, nearly 60% of
respondents said they would consider buying a house on their own before
marriage to avoid any problems after a divorce, according to a survey
conducted by the online portal Sina.com.
However some couples are trying to circumvent the Marriage
Law interpretation by registering both of their names on
property-ownership certificates, making the marital home a legally shared property.
Furthermore, the government has helped to encourage this by
eliminating taxes on adding a spouse’s name to a property deed. But for
some couples, raising such issues with their partner may be quite
Fincher, who is conducting an online survey to gauge public
reaction to the law change, said some women are really angry about the
However some women said they are not going to talk to their
husbands about adding their names to the deed because that would upset their relationship. Instead, they vent their anger in popular online forums.
One netizen on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like micro
blog, said the new interpretation allows whoever bought the house to
dominate a marriage.
The person added, “As a woman who has been married for seven
years without even thinking about adding her name on the deed, I don’t
know if this is a reminder or bitter irony.”
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