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Chinese Divorce Court Orders Husband to Compensate Wife for Housework


A recent landmark divorce case out of China resulted in a husband being ordered to pay his wife over $7,700 (50,000 yuan) in compensation for years of unpaid labor; i.e., housework. The decision has resulted in some vigorous online debates over the value of domestic work and the rights of women. Many are lauding this decision as a step forward in China in recognizing housework as valuable contribution to a marriage. Others believe the compensation amount is simply not enough.

About the case

According to the BBC, a man (with the surname Chen) filed for divorce from his wife (with the surname Wang) after marrying in 2015. Wang requested financial compensation under the grounds that Chen had not contributed to any household duties during the marriage, nor had he assisted with childcare in the raising of their son.

Under a new civil code that took effect this year in China, Beijing’s Fangshan District Court ruled in Wang’s favor, ordering Chen to pay her monthly spousal support of 2,000 yuan (about $300) a month, in addition to the one-time payment of 50,000 yuan (about $7,700) for her past contributions to the household. The BBC states that the new law provides that “a spouse is entitled to seek compensation in a divorce if he or she bears more responsibility in child raising, caring for elderly relatives, and assisting partners in their work.”

Previously, a spouse could only demand compensation if this was spelled out in a prenuptial agreement, which the BBC notes is a rare practice in China.

Reactions to the decision were mixed. Joy Lin, a Chinese activist promoting gender equality, told the New York Times, “[i]t acknowledges her housework to a certain degree and its economic value. But the compensation is not on par with what she should get and how she should be valued.” Another commenter noted, “I’m a bit speechless, the work of a full-time housewife is being underestimated. In Beijing, hiring a nanny for a year costs more than 50,000 yuan.” On Weibo, a popular microblogging site, a hashtag about the case had 570 million views as the news went public.

Spousal contributions and equitable distribution

In New York, a spouse’s contribution to the marriage as a homemaker is taken into account in other ways. Two of the more complicated parts of ending a marriage are property division and spousal maintenance. Assets between a couple must be separated and divided before each person can move on and begin living their independent lives. The courts consider a variety of factors when determining how to equitably and fairly divide a couple’s assets.

One of the things the courts take into consideration is “contributions and efforts” on the part of each spouse in the marriage. A marital relationship is also an economic one, and the court considers the financial contributions of both spouses throughout the marriage. These contributions can also include emotional and other types of support such as raising the children, keeping the household running, and giving up one’s own career to support their spouse’s. For example, if Spouse A’s contributions to the household and marriage helped Spouse B’s career and finances flourish, then Spouse A’s “contributions and efforts” will likely be taken into consideration in equitably dividing marital property.

How does New York determine spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance (formerly called alimony) is a payment made from one ex-spouse to another over a specified period. In New York, the court takes a wide variety of factors into account when determining spousal maintenance, in addition to a spouse’s contributions and efforts to the marriage.

These can include:

  • Each spouse’s income and property
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Current and future potential income of each spouse
  • Whether or not a spouse will need further education
  • If one spouse has inhibited the other from gainful employment (like domestic violence)
  • Whether there was a shared premarital household
  • Whether one spouse stayed home to raise children rather than working full-time
  • Whether there are still minor children living at home
  • If there are children with disabilities or elderly relatives at home requiring care
  • Waste of marital property on the part of one spouse
  • Costs relating to loss of health insurance

The last factor is any factor the court finds relevant, which gives the court wide discretion on how they award spousal maintenance and for how long. You can read more on our spousal maintenance page.

If you have questions about spousal maintenance, talk to the experienced family law attorneys at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, LLP. We can help represent your best financial interests. Schedule your consultation today by calling (212) 466-6015 or filling out our contact form. Proudly serving New York, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ.