Once virtually unheard of in China, divorce has become an increasingly common issue for Chinese families – so much so that the Supreme Court was recently compelled to issue a “reinterpretation” of the marriage law to address the very sticky issue of dividing assets after a divorce.
Dubbed the “the law that makes men laugh and women cry,” the new interpretation essentially makes any property purchased before the marriage the sole property of the buyer or his or her family if the home was purchased by their parents (any money co-paid towards a mortgage would be awarded back to each spouse based on the ratio of the original payments).
The new interpretation appears to be an attempt to get couples to marry for love, rather than financial reasons, but critics began crying foul soon-after it was announced because Chinese tradition mandates that the groom (or the groom’s family) purchase a newlywed’s home prior to the wedding.
Anticipating that the law would leave them high and dry after a divorce, many women have even announced that they simply are not willing to get married due to the perceived financial risk, and the issue has been debated for months by the media and bloggers and on social networking sites.
If it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then this law could very well be a signpost along the way. The average woman’s salaries in China is said to be only around 66% of what a man typically makes. And since it is also quite common for women to stop working for a few years after giving birth, a divorce under these conditions could prove disastrous.
Perhaps the main flaw in this legislation is that it applies equally to all couples, including ones that have been married for many years – which doesn’t really make sense considering all of the possible conditions surrounding a divorce.
Take, for instance, France, where I lived for ten years and met and married my husband: There the law mandates spouses who are in more financially advantaged positions pay “reasonable compensation” in the form of monthly child support and living expenses payments (even if the couple is childless) to their exes. Furthermore, getting divorced in France takes a heck of a lot longer than in China – around two years, as opposed to two weeks – which in the end is perhaps an even more effective deterrent than ham-handedly legislating morality.