In a bid to enhance traditional marriage values and restrain a rampant obsession with property, China’s supreme court ruled recently that spouses will no longer inherit property rights through marriage.
In other words, if a couple divorce, the wife would have no rights to ownership of the family home if it had been bought by the husband or, in many cases in China, by the husband’s parents, according to the new interpretation on China’s marriage law by the Supreme People’s Court.
The judicial ruling, while applauded by some for encouraging young people to focus on their prospective partner’s virtues rather than their wealth, has ignited a storm of controversy nationwide, with many young Chinese of both sexes now considering buying property before tying the knot, rather than jointly shouldering a mortgage — which could further inflate the demand for housing.
A survey conducted by Sina.com, the country’s biggest Chinese-language web portal, showed that 58.8% of the respondents said they would consider buying a flat by themselves to avoid disputes during divorce. Some 63% said the ruling wouldn’t help to constrain home prices.
Under the previous marriage law, a house bought before wedlock was evenly divided when a marriage ended, regardless of who paid for the property, unless either party was found guilty of bigamy, domestic violence, abandoning the family or living with a lover for more than three months.
In July, property prices in Beijing and Shanghai rose 1.9% and 2.5% year-on-year, respectively, slower than in the previous months of the year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. However, real estate analysts say sales will gradually pick up now that the new rules have taken effect.
Marriage has been a strong driver of demand for housing, adding fuel to China’s sizzling property market because it is almost impossible for a Chinese man to marry if he doesn’t own an apartment. Indeed, to marry without owning a flat — known as a “naked wedding” — is often considered shameful, and many young Chinese women even look down on a mortgage, preferring a man who owns his own home outright.
A popular match-making TV programme broadcast earlier this year demonstrated the extent of this hyper-materialism — it featured a young Chinese girl in the show claiming: “I’d rather be miserable sitting in a BMW than happy on a bicycle.”
The supreme court’s ruling is aimed at removing the biggest source of contention in divorce cases in China. The country’s divorce rate has grown rapidly recently, with 946,000 couples applying for divorce in the first half of 2011, which equates to more than 5,000 Chinese married couples ending their relationship every day, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Last year, there were 1.96 million divorce cases, up by 14.5% year-on-year.
As one outraged microblogger wrote: “The new marriage law tells us to forget about getting married, we women should earn our own money, buy our own house.”