Saturday, 13 August 2011

Splitsville Gets Fairer in China

A new law in China comes into effect today, Saturday. It doesn't matter if it's the weekend -- even banks are open seven days a week.

Yesterday the Supreme People's Court released a judicial interpretation of the Marriage Law clarifying how property should be divided when a couple divorces. The court now says the person whose family buys the apartment after marriage is entitled to sole ownership when the couple splits up.

The new interpretation comes after it was announced China's divorce rate has risen for the eighth year in a row.

Some 465,000 couples called it quits in the first three months of this year, up 17 percent from the same period last year. The court handled 1.1 million divorce cases in 2010, mostly involving property disputes.

Many of the divorces involving young people under 30 who critics say are too selfish or immature to understand the sacrifices that need to be made in a marriage. Part of it can also be blamed on the pressure parents put on their only child to get married in their early 20s so that they can have a grandchild.

And so the onus is usually on the man's side of the family to deliver the material wealth in order to be considered an eligible bachelor.

A young woman won't even have a second date with him if he doesn't have at least an apartment and perhaps a car. As buying an apartment is out of reach for the majority of young people just starting out in their careers, their parents have to shell out for the apartment, a hefty investment that really should fall on the young couple's shoulders.

What is the point of giving an apartment to a young couple who in some cases can barely function independently themselves? In Beijing I'd read about young couples whose parents would come in regularly to cook and clean for them.

This cultural belief that one must have an apartment or "home" before getting married has to change. In the West couples save up for years or perhaps their parents help them with the down payment, but it is the couple who purchases the home, not the parents. That is how they gain responsibility for the place. In some cases, they can't afford anything and must continue to rent or they choose to lease.

So it's no wonder China's Supreme People's Court had to make a ruling on property because parents would buy an apartment for their son or daughter only to fear that half of it would go to their son- or daughter-in-law in the event of a divorce.

The ruling basically says the person who put the down payment and whose name the property is under goes to that person in the event of a divorce. However, if both parties share the mortgage, then the property is considered a joint asset and should be split evenly after it's sold.

Until the Chinese stop putting so much emphasis on the material goods around marriage, divorce rates are going to continue climbing.

And whose fault is that?

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