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China Divorce LawsA contestant on a popular matchmaking show on Chinese television once dismissed a male suitor by telling him she “would rather weep in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle with you.”
Now, following controversial changes to China’s Marriage Law, she may be eating her words altogether.

This new law has seen an entirely new perspective on marriage and divorce in a country where these institutions have been highly regarded for centuries. In China, there were nearly two million registered divorces in 2010, up 14.5% from the previous year. The country’s divorce rate has more than quadrupled, from 0.4 per 1,000 people in 1985, to 1.85 per 1,000 in 2009.

Changing of the Guard
According to the new law, residential property is no longer to be regarded as jointly owned and divided equally in the event of a divorce. Instead, whoever bought the apartment or house is the sole owner and gets to keep it in its entirety. In China, the rulings of its most senior judges automatically replace existing law. For the male-dominated Supreme Court, which features just one woman amongst its 13 judges, the new ruling is a brutal attempt to shore up the crumbling institution of marriage by making divorce less attractive. It is also a ploy to end the obsession with property ownership which has gripped China in recent years as house prices have skyrocketed.

This new law will most certainly force many wives, unhappy or otherwise, to stay with their husbands. In traditional Chinese culture, the husband and his family pay for everything for the new spouses when they become married. Therefore, under the new law, if a divorce were to be finalized, the wife would have no place to live. Many wives in China are homemakers, and having no place to call home would present a multitude of problems.

Women in the provinces of China have expressed their concern and their opinions on the new law and how it will affect them. Not only will they be under the mercy of their husbands, but it will also almost encourage men to take mistresses, as leaving is not an option for wives. One woman was quoted as saying, “The new Marriage Law tells us, we women should earn our money, buy our own house, get artificial fertilization in the hospital and have a baby by ourselves.”

Above all, in a country where women are barely visible in the higher echelons of the ruling communist party and where there is no specific legislation outlawing gender discrimination, the new law is being seen as proof that China is still a man’s world.

The face of marriage as an institution and the rate of divorce would be drastically different if these laws were implemented in the U.S. The face of marriage in a country such as China, which has long been linked with traditional values and long marriages, regardless of a couples’ happiness, has changed. Once a dirty word, divorce is now so commonplace that in the first half of 2011 almost one million marriages ended, a jump of 17.2% on last year according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Only time will tell how this new law will affect China, and the world.

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