Laws have recently changed in China, tying the threat of divorce to the threat of losing real-estate. Since the implementation of the law on August 13th marriage registrations fell by 30% in one city alone.
Under the newly redefined law, any property that was purchased before a marriage will no longer be up for negotiation after a divorce; it will belong solely to who bought it or whose name is on the deed. Also, if a house or apartment was purchased by the parents of either the bride or groom, it will revert to that person only, instead of being split between the couple.
Some experts argue that the new interpretation will put women at a clear disadvantage in a culture in which marital homes are traditionally provided by men (and in many cases, by their parents). As a result of the new rule, divorced men get to keep houses whose values will undoubtedly skyrocket in China’s booming real estate market. Their ex-wives, meanwhile, won’t be entitled to any compensation, despite their contributions — financial or otherwise — to the marriage.
“A lot of women contribute money to buying their marital homes together with their husbands, and the homes will be registered under the husband’s name,” says 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. “[Those women’s] effort will be completely invisible after they divorce their husbands.”
On the other side, supporters of the law believe the changes will offer a bit of financial protection to men and women — and their families — as divorce rates are rising sharply across the country. Divorce is still not as common in China as it is in the West, but the numbers have gone up for seven consecutive years. In 2010, a total of 2.68 million couples applied for divorce, an 8.5% increase over the year before, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Beijing has the country’s highest divorce rate, with 39% of marriages ending in a split, followed closely behind by Shanghai.
However, many women are not rushing out to add their name to the deed on the family home. “Some women are really angry about the law,” says Fincher, who is conducting an online survey to gauge public reaction to the law change. “But when I ask them if they were going to talk to their husbands about adding their names to the deed, some women would say, ‘No, no, no, of course not, that would upset my relationship with him.'” Many women are instead venting their anger in popular online forums. “The new interpretation allows whoever bought the house to dominate a marriage,” writes one netizen on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblog. “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.”