Recently, the case of a woman being forced to pay her ex-husband's debt has captured the attention of the Chinese public, many of who fear that the current marriage law provides a legal basis for the wrongful dispossession of pre-marital property.
The female plaintiff, surnamed Dong, was forced to sell property that she obtained prior to her marriage in order to pay off her ex-husband's debt. Dong's husband disappeared after two months of marriage, leaving behind 5 million RMB of debt. Though the court approved Dong's application for divorce, it determined that she must undertake joint liability for the debt, most of which was incurred during the short marriage.
Dong's verdit has gone viral on social media. The hashtag "WomanOwedFiveMillionAfterTwoMonthMarriage" has garnered 4.2 million page views since it was posted on Nov. 15, with many netizens calling the verdict an unfair and unfortunate mistake.
According to Article 24 of the second judicial interpretation of China's Marriage Law, at the time of divorce, debts incurred during married life must be paid off jointly by the couple. Where the couple's jointly possessed property is insufficient to cover the debts, or the property is not in joint possession, the two parties must discuss alternative methods of payment; if they fail to reach an agreement, the court makes a judgment.
Dong is not the first "victim" of the current law. An online poll in October revealed that among 285 respondents who were forced to pay for their spouse's debt, 88.7 percent were women. Gambling was the cause of 41.5 percent of the debt, while 28.2 percent was incurred through expensive extramarital affairs, Chengdu Economic Daily reported.
The law has sparked heated controversy in recent years, as there have been an increasing number of cases where the court determined that a couple must take joint responsibility for a large debt. Fu Lijuan, a female deputy to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, has long advocated a revision of the current judiciary interpretation of the marriage law to better protect women's interests.
"We hope that authorities start to pay more attention to the problems caused by the Article 24, so that they can redefine the joint debt shared by couples, making society more harmonious," an activist who supports the revision of marriage law explained to Chengdu Economic Daily.