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New marriage explanation draws heated debate

By Wen Sheng (People's Daily Online)

14:42, August 18, 2011

The Supreme People's Court's new interpretation of the Marriage Act makes a clearer demarcation of spouses' property, but it has also sent the whole nation into a whirlpool of debate about an ominous result of freer breakup of families.

The legal explanation, which came out on Saturday, rules that houses and other major properties – not explicitly put in the names of both partners on legal papers – are solely belongings of the initial owner. In China, men are usually obligated to buy a house prior to marriage.

Originally, the law said the properties must be evenly cut and distributed between the divorced partners.

Opponents of the interpretation decry it as official abandoning of one of Chinese fine cultures -- close family – as the new interpretation is to encourage men or women to seek extramarital affairs, needless to fear property loss.

"There will be fewer economic means to restrain the man's behavior after marriage, because even if he cheats he'll still get the house," complained a 33-year-old married woman surnamed Wu.

She estimated that many women are disillusioned by the new act and inclined to take a wait-and-see attitude. Many will refuse to be married, because they fear once they are divorced, they will get nothing – not a roof. Nevertheless, more females will begin to work hard and try to buy their own houses.

By protecting the rights of house owners, the new explanation is believed to bring China one substantive step closer to Western legislative values that prioritize private rights over anything else. Some opponents even claim that it will move the country faster on the road of becoming a commercialized society.

However, proponents say that by removing economic bandages, marriages would become more based on "true love".

"If a law or interpretation could clear the road to divorce for many economically, it should not be regarded as a bad thing. Marriage should be a free choice. Once the economic obstacles are removed, it will become freer," said Law Professor Li Hong-xiang from Jilin University.

He said the new interpretation reflected a change of the social environment in China caused by the shift from a planned economy to a market economy. There have been changes in economy, culture and people's mindset. But the most prominent change is that people pay more attention to individual rights and freedom.

By clarifying ownership of property, those women or men's "dreams of marrying to houses and fortunes" are scuttled, and the law supporters say it is a huge progress.


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