Chinese law could make divorced women homeless
Summary of story from New York Times, September 7, 2011
On August 13, 2011, millions of Chinese women, and some men, woke to discover their spouse had, in effect, become their landlord.
On that day, the Supreme Court’s new interpretation of the 1980 marriage law came into force, stipulating that property bought before marriage, either outright or on mortgage, reverted to the buyer on divorce.
Previously, the family home had been considered joint property. Experts agree the change would mostly affect women, since men traditionally provide the family home.
The result has been uproar — and, in the cities, a rush to add the wife’s name to title deeds. Some husbands have agreed but others have hesitated.
Since the new ruling, Chinese news outlets have already reported on marriage breakdowns caused by a husband’s refusal to add his wife’s name.
“Feudal society is back again. How many hundreds of years will it take before women are free again?”, said Jingmochengzhu on Sina Weibo, China’s biggest microblog, one of 1.4 million comments on the topic.
“The Supreme Court is under suspicion of overstepping its authority,” said Ma Yinan, a Peking University law professor and deputy head of the Marriage and Family Law Institute.
Supporters were trying to justify the new rules as strengthening traditional family structures by preserving a family’s financial investment, he said.
The government says that in an era of soaring property prices — up around 500 percent since 2000, according to the National Bureau of Statistics — the law must protect a family’s investment.
The interpretation is intended to address an immediate problem, and not build a perfect, logical system, a senior Supreme Court official, Du Wanhua, told legal experts last year.
But the new rules ignore a woman’s unpaid contributions to the home, including childbirth, child rearing, housework and caring for elderly family members, Li Ying, deputy director of the Beijing Qianqian Law Firm, told online publication, Women’s Voice.
The new legal interpretation “keeps stressing ‘fairness, fairness,’ but it doesn’t consider a woman’s weaker position,” said Ying. “It doesn’t recognise at all the value of work done at home.”