A man checks out the model of an apartment complex at a real estate fair in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, in May 2010. Photo: CFP
Gold diggers and women in marriages they are desperate to leave got some bad news from the Supreme People's Court after its latest judicial interpretation on the Marriage Law.
It ruled that a spouse is not entitled to a share of property purchased by the other prior to marriage. While the interpretation is apparently meant to deter women who conspire to marry in order to swindle men of their assets, it may also strip women who worked for decades of their family assets.
The news triggered heated online debate over its fairness and social implications. Some women believe the ruling puts them at a disadvantage, minimizes their contribution to family life and endangers their security.
Some men believe the law is only fair and protects them and their parents against women whose main criteria for marriage is a man's wealth.
Either way the court's ruling on August 12 is expected to have an impact on how couples approach marriage.
Some cities are reportedly already seeing more couple adding their new spouse's name to property certificate. And the use of pre-nuptial agreements, previously very rare in China, are on the rise.
Marrying for money a mistake
Traditionally women in China leave their parents' home to join their husband's family after marriage. Even today many women are choosing mates based on the ability of the groom's family to provide a financial foundation for marriage.
The new interpretation of the divorce law is getting a lot of comments from women who are starting to believe they shouldn't rely on the ways of the past.
"As women we better earn our own money, buy our own homes, and use an anonymous donor's sperm. That way when we go to work, do the housework, care for the our parents and discover our husbands are cheats, we won't have to worry about getting kicked out and end up with nothing," read a widely circulating microblog post that voiced the bitterness some women are feeling.
A number of people replied reminding women that the law is gender neutral.
"Why do women have such low self-esteem? Why can't you buy your own house? Why is a house the only thing you demand when getting married? Why should you be entitled to something that you haven't paid for?" writes a Web user LeeAFeel on her Weibo, a Chinese microblog.
Many people share the view that the legal interpretation will prevent people from getting married solely for money and property.
"This is good. It prevents lawsuits over houses," said Li Jinchao, a 25-year-old graphic designer. "Now that women don't have a right to the house, it can reduce the divorce rate because some people only get married for the house," he said.
Gold-diggers thinking twice
While the ruling might make some gold-diggers think twice about marrying for money, experts believe the emphasis should be put on reducing the rate of such marriages, not making it harder to exit from unhappy ones.
Many advocates for women's rights believe the court decision will seriously impact women who find themselves trapped in abusive marriages.
"We can't ignore the reality that we still live in a paternalistic society and the interpretation reflects the patriarchal mindset," said Wang Xingjuan, founder of Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center, a non-profit organization that helps troubled women.
While society advocates gender equality, the reality still favors men in many areas, making it difficult for women to leave unhappy marriages for fear of losing everything in a divorce. "The judge might not grant a divorce, or the women might have a very difficult time after the divorce if the compensation is too low for her to rent an apartment," said Wang.
The court's new interpretation of the law, which was passed in 2001, was designed to clear technical issues and guide lower court judgments.
Divorce attorney Yang Xiaolin participated in the two-year deliberation of the new interpretation since 2008. He said the ruling will clarify what is personal property and what is shared matrimonial property.
"The interpretation clears up some confusion and provides a standard for future rulings," said Yang.