Divorce law change sparks debate

By Chen Hong (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-12 07:03

SHENZHEN: A new effort to better protect the rights and interests of women has raised concerns about gender equality in this southern boomtown.

A law-drafting group led by the Shenzhen Women's Federation has been revising the regulation on how Shenzhen Special Economic Zone implements the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, which came into effect in 1993.

The fifth version of the revised draft stipulates that divorced women should get no less than 60 percent of the couple's shared assets in the event that the husband is responsible for the breakup.

Husbands found to have engaged in bigamy, illegal cohabitation with a third party, abuse or abandoning family members will be found at fault in cases of divorce.

If a husband attempts to hide, transfer, sell or destroy the couple's shared assets, or tries to misappropriate his wife's assets by fabricating debts, the court could raise the wife's share of the shared assets to no less than 70 percent, according to the revisions.

Shenzhen is the first city in China to attempt to prioritize women in the division of shared assets, said Liu Fang, a lawyer with Shenzhen-based Guangdong Dena Law Firm.

"It's unacceptable. The revision isn't in line with the legal principal of equality," Liu told China Daily.

She has been involved in recent discussions of the revisions.

"What if a man was put into the same situation? Will he get only half of the couple's shared assets? I don't think judges should support this measure, nor should the legislative body pass it."

Liu, who has more than 20 years of experience working as a lawyer, said she hoped the focus of the revision would be on how to classify the seriousness of family abuse.

"Family abuse cases are increasing, and usually women are the victims. But in most of the cases, women cannot get compensation because the concept of abuse is not clearly spelled out," she said.

Li Jianyong, a lawyer with the China Commercial Law Firm, also doubts the fairness of the revision.

He said he hoped the revision would make the existing rules more practical, allowing the fault-free party in divorce cases to be reasonably compensated.

"It's hard to collect evidence. For example, illegal cohabitation means a long-term, stable extramarital relationship in which the two parties have been living together for at least three months," Li said. "If the situation continues, changing the proportion of the division of assets is meaningless."

The women's association said the revised approach to dividing assets was aimed at protecting the legal rights of the fault-free party in a divorce. These people occasionally receive 10,000-50,000 yuan ($300-$1,500) in extra compensation.

The law-drafting group is welcoming suggestions from the public and legal experts, said the association.

The draft will be handed to the legislative body by the end of this year.

(China Daily 07/12/2007 page5)

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