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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: The debate over a Chinese divorce court ordering ‘housework compensation’ for a woman

A divorce court in Beijing has ordered a man to compensate his ex-wife for the housework she did during five years of marriage. A look at the ruling, and the debate over it.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 25, 2021 7:27:12 am
housework compensation, china court ruling on housework compensation, china civil code, express explainedThe court has split their joint property equally, and ordered the man to pay around $7,700 to his former wife as 'housework compensation'.

In a landmark judgment delivered weeks after China enforced its new civil code, a divorce court in Beijing has ordered a man to compensate his ex-wife for the housework she did during five years of marriage.

The court has split their joint property equally, and ordered the man to pay around $7,700 to his former wife as “housework compensation”. The ruling has since sparked intense debate online over the value of unpaid domestic work.

The “housework compensation” ruling

As per court records, the man, with surname Chen, had been married to his wife, surname Wang, since 2015. In October last year, Chen filed for divorce at the Fangshan District Court in Beijing.

Wang, a homemaker, was initially reluctant to divorce him, but later asked for restitution of $24,700, alleging that she had been alone taking care of the couple’s child and of domestic work, and that Chen “barely cared about or participated in any kind of domestic chores”, reports in the BBC and CNN said.

The court has now ruled that Chen should pay his former wife 50,000 yuan ($7,700) for five years of unpaid labour as a one-off payment. Wang has also been awarded the custody of their child and monthly alimony of 2,000 yuan ($300).

The judge presiding over the case told reporters on Monday that although splitting couples’ joint property usually means dividing tangible property, “housework constitutes intangible property value”.

China’s new civil code

On January 1, the Chinese government brought into force a new civil code, which legal experts have described as offering greater protection for individual rights.

Under the civil code, restitution is allowed in divorce cases where one spouse bears greater responsibility than the other in raising children and taking care of elderly relatives. Before the new law came into force, such compensation could be demanded only in cases where a prenuptial agreement had been signed– in itself an uncommon practice.

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Debate over the ruling

Since the verdict was first reported by local media in early February, debates over it have raged on the social media platform Weibo, with a hashtag related to the order being viewed over 50 crore times.

Many have commented that 50,000 yuan is too small an amount for five years of household work, and have expressed that men should take up a greater role in managing domestic duties. Others have described the verdict as recognition of unpaid labour at home.

As per government figures, divorce rates have soared in China in the recent past, growing over five times over the last three decades– from 0.69 divorces per 1000 people in 1990 to 3.36 by 2019. At the same time, marriage rates have also dropped. Since 2013, the number of people getting married for the first time has gone down by 41%, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

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