updated 22 Dec 2011, 09:27
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Tue, Oct 18, 2011
China Daily/ANN
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Marriages need cash and love
by Jiang Xueqing

Sometimes he runs over budget after inviting his colleagues to a fairly expensive dinner. When this happens he takes money from home and tells his wife so that her bookkeeping is up to date.

Hu said that her husband is not good at taking care of money. Before they got married he had no savings, despite having worked for more than six years. Even worse, he had absolutely no idea where his money had gone.

"So I took his bank card," said Hu, a 28-year-old editor at a daily newspaper in Beijing.

She keeps a very clear and detailed record of how they spend their money, even expenses as tiny as 0.5 yuan. The couple makes 500,000 yuan (S$98,950) a year and spends about 110,000 yuan, not including mortgage payments, which amount to 90,000 yuan a year.

"Money is very important to a marriage," Hu said, and one's life quality should not go down steeply after getting married.

"I remember the popular Hong Kong writer Yi Shu once wrote in her novel, 'I want a lot of love. If there is no love, I want a lot of money.' At least I should have either of them." Love and money: Which is more important to a marriage?

Property off-limits

Some experts said the latest interpretation of the Marriage Law is an attempt to encourage people to marry for love rather than money by restricting treasure hunters' access to others' fortune through marriage.

The interpretation by the Supreme Court, which came into force on Aug 13, made it clear that a home purchased before marriage is the personal property of the person who bought it. In case of divorce, the registered owner must compensate his or her partner for mortgage payments and any increased value in the property.

If the parents of the husband or wife buy a house for their child and the property ownership certificate is registered solely to the child, the house will belong to the child in the event of a divorce.

In the past 10 years, housing prices have skyrocketed in cities. In Beijing, the average price of a typical apartment reached 23,730 yuan a square meter at the end of August, according to statistics from the Beijing Real Estate Transaction Management Network. To the majority of Chinese families, homes have become their most valuable properties.

Some people said the new Marriage Law interpretation will encourage people to care more about affection than property. Others believe that despite its good intentions, the legal interpretation cannot force people to upgrade their moral standards, regardless of the social reality.

"Marriage is not simply about love," said Jiang Yue, a professor in Xiamen University's law school and an expert in marriage law. "It is a process of living. Can you talk about love all day but have no place to sleep?

"Actually, we cannot make a clear separation of affection and material goods," she continued. "Otherwise, why would nobody fall in love with a homeless person who lives under an overpass?"

The modern cave

A survey of more than 100,000 single Chinese in 2009 found that for women, personal income ranked third among the top criteria in choosing a spouse, while physical appearance ranked third for men.

Both men and women chose morality and personality as their top concerns, said Mu Yan, co-founder and vice-president of, one of the leading Chinese Internet dating and matchmaking sites.

Another survey by Baihe, conducted last year among 32,676 people ages 20 to 60, found that about 71 per cent of women consider possession of a house a prerequisite for a man to get married, while only 48 per cent of men have the same point of view. Nearly 86 per cent of the people surveyed selected "having a stable income" as a precondition to tying the knot, followed by "having a house" (58 per cent) and "having a certain amount of savings" (54 per cent).

In general, the situation today is not much different from 5,000 years ago, Mu said. "In primitive communes, women must live in caves to bear children, so the men who are capable of occupying caves will find wives.

"In today's society, housing prices are rising fast... . As the general public and women in particular are feeling more and more insecure, their demands for housing and financial security will keep growing."

Only thing of value

The high pressure of city living forces people to become humble and practical in the real world, despite their noble pursuit of true love. In the eyes of ordinary people, owning a home is extremely important, said Jia Mingjun, founder and partner of the Shanghai Whole-Guard Law Firm.

"Our lawyers have been terribly busy answering phone calls since the Supreme Court announced the new interpretation of the Marriage Law," Jia said. He handled an average of 100 divorce cases a year from 2003 to 2006 and now deals only with cases concerning famous entrepreneurs and stars.

"Almost all divorce cases of ordinary people involve house properties. Unlike rich couples who care more about the partition of stocks, ordinary couples have nothing valuable to divide other than their houses."

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, about 2.68 million couples divorced last year, and 668,000 of them went to court. During the past five years, the divorced population has increased by 7 per cent on average every year.

'Very rational'

To avert possible legal disputes after marriage, a growing number of people have signed or prepared to sign prenuptial property agreements. Such contracts used to be considered a sign of distrust between a couple or lack of confidence in a marriage, and therefore were unacceptable to most Chinese.

Before marrying Wang Haoyu two years ago, Cui Yin bought a house in the Pudong New Area in Shanghai.

The 90-square-meter house cost 1.43 million yuan, including an initial payment of 800,000 yuan.

At the time, the 35-year-old human resources director earned a salary 10 times greater than her fiance's. She could afford the initial payment on her own, and Wang contributed 200,000 yuan as part of the mortgage payment. The couple later wrote and signed an agreement acknowledging that the house belongs solely to Cui.

"My husband is very rational, so he had no objections to the agreement," said Cui, who now has a 1-year-old daughter. "I don't think it will do any harm to the love between us. Besides, the house was indeed earned by my hard work in the past."

During the past two years, the value of the home has grown from 16,000 yuan to 22,000 yuan a square meter. She said if they filed for divorce one day - although unlikely - she would keep the house and give part of its increased value to her husband, based on his contribution to mortgage repayment.

According to a 2008 Baihe survey of more than 2 million people in large and medium-sized cities, 44 per cent have an open attitude toward prenuptial property agreements. Only 3 per cent are unwilling to accept them.

Who's in charge?

As more women become financially independent, the way a couple spends money is also changing. When Hu Jingjing talked to her friends about family finance, she was surprised to hear that many couples spend their money separately rather than putting it together.

Fan Weimin, a 36-year-old corporate lawyer who lives in Beijing, and his wife, Zhou Nan, also a lawyer, have separate bank accounts. They pay for their own clothes and other everyday expenditures.

When it comes to family expenses such as groceries, electricity and household appliances, either of them will pay, although the husband is more likely to.

Some of their friends have joint bank accounts to pay for common expenses of the family, but Fan believes that will only turn into an excuse for a quarrel.

"Who should be in charge of the joint bank account will become a problem," he said. "The wife certainly hopes that the account is in her hand so she will have a sense of security, but what if the husband also wants to take control of the money? Then they have to negotiate to reach an agreement."

He said that who is in charge of the money does not really matter, as long as both sides are honest about their incomes and disclose their banking information to each other.

Nowadays, more and more city couples have separate bank accounts and go Dutch in everyday expenses. Many of them still believe in love and consider mutual trust, tolerance and a sense of responsibility as key elements of a successful marriage.

"We've got to have faith in marriage, although conflicts between a couple are unavoidable," Fan said.

"Since we are tied with another person, we don't have to face the world alone, but have someone beside us to deal with it together. It's such a warm feeling."


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