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Matrimony and money

By Xu Lin (China Daily)

13:41, July 08, 2013

Signboards at the bureau of civil aff airs of Minhang district in Shanghai warn against couples who may fake divorce to try to set around property purchase limitations. (China Daily)

Marriage is supposed to be for richer or for poorer, but some Chinese couples have taken the marriage vows to another level. Xu Lin highlights cases of fake marriages and divorces.

Some Chinese couples are filing for divorce or getting married to exploit loopholes in the recent housing price control policies. And they are faking it.

In early March, the State Council announced a ruling requiring those who own more than one apartment to pay a 20-percent income tax of the capital gains rather than the previous 1 to 2 percent.

It means couples owning two properties could avoid the high taxes if they split, with each party owning only one property after the divorce.

The loophole triggered an avalanche of divorce cases. In Shanghai, the divorce line was so long that the civil affairs bureau had to limit the daily number of divorces.

"I can never forget the day when my parents got divorced. It's such an insult. They love each other but had to do it for my son," says a Beijing resident, who only wants to be known as Huang.

Like many families, they had planned to buy a house in a good school district as Huang's son is about to start primary school. Thanks to the fake divorce, they evaded a tax of more than 700,000 yuan ($113,890) when they sold one of the two properties - both under his mother's name.

"It's not a clever solution, but it solves our problem. I've heard of couples who fake a divorce because of the new policy. But when it happened to my own family, I was so disturbed," he says.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, single adults with permanent Beijing residency are not allowed to buy a second apartment. The ruling instigated some to "fake" marriages to sidestep the regulation.

It's not the first time that housing policies have affected marriages. Several years ago, people from cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing enter into make-believe divorce or marriage, to qualify for more relocation compensation in the form of new houses, when their old houses were demolished or possessed for development.

In one case in March, a pair of parents and their son and daughter-in-law from Ningbo, Zhejiang province, all got divorced. Later, the father-in-law "married" his daughter-in-law - so the family could get even more compensation.

But their move failed to fool the local public security bureau, which refused to change their household registration.

"Some couples try to seek advice from us regarding false divorces because of purchase limits and high tax in the housing market, but we always tell them don't do it, as what is supposed to be make-believe may become reality," says Ming Li, deputy director of China Marriage and Family Counseling Center.

It happened to a couple she counseled. The couple, in their 30s, supposedly faked their divorce and the husband stopped going home. When the wife questioned the husband, he denied that the divorce was fabricated. He used it to his advantage to be with his new partner, whom he had been having an extramarital affair with.

"Someone will suffer from the make-believe divorce. For a successful man, there are hordes of women throwing themselves at him. When he's divorced, whether it's fake or not, the situation will be complicated," Ming says.

"Marriage is sacred. You can't just do whatever you want, treating it like a trade," she says.

Chen Yiyun, a marriage researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agrees.

"A fake divorce may turn out to be true. If there are already problems in the marriage, one may seize the opportunity to sneak away," she says.

"The price of housing is always increasing. Some people fake their divorce to qualify for a new house. After all, investing in property is the most stable form of investment. Money in the bank devalues and it's too risky in the stocks market," she says, adding that in Chinese culture, owning a house is paramount.

Yang Xiaolin, a partner with Beijing Yuecheng Law Firm, says under the law, property bought before marriage is considered as personal wealth rather than conjugal property.

When they remarry each other, if one doesn't want to change the property registration, the other can do nothing about it.

"And if one party wants to marry someone else after the fake divorce, the other party can't stop it by saying 'it's just a fake divorce'," he says.

He has dealt with a case where the party who owns the properties refuses to remarry his ex-wife after the fabricated divorce, leaving her in a lurch.

"In such cases, one can't seek legal redress.

"We have to publicize such cases so people will not treat marriage like a joke. "Generally, it is a risk to fake your divorce. It may even affect your children." The sanctity of marriage is always the most important.

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