China awards woman £5,400 compensation in first divorce ruling to put value on housework

Louise Watt
·3 min read
ironing
ironing

A divorce court in China has ordered a man to pay his wife £5,500 as compensation for the housework she did during their five-year marriage, in what is believed to be a landmark legal first.

Beijing’s Fangshan District Court ruled in favour of the woman, who had complained that her husband “didn’t care about or participate in any kind of chores around the house,” according to China Women’s News, the official publication of the state-backed All-China Women’s Federation.

Each day, the husband went out to work leaving her to care for their child and do all the housework, said the woman, who was identified in state media reports by her surname, Wang.

The ruling, which effectively puts a monetary value on housework. The court ordered Wang’s husband, identified as Chen, to pay 50,000 yuan for neglecting his share of the domestic duties.

Such a judgment was made possible through a new civil code, which came into effect at the beginning of the year. The new provisions allow for a spouse who shoulders more responsibility in caring for children or elderly relatives, or carrying out unpaid housework, to request compensation from their partner in the event of a divorce. Both parties should negotiate the amount between them, but if they fail to agree a court can decide for them.

Feng Miao, the presiding judge, told Chinese media that while the division of a couple’s assets usually involves “tangible property … housework may constitute intangible property value”, and help to promote “the other spouse's personal growth, and chances to receive further education”.

The court also ruled that Wang and Chen’s property should be divided equally between them. It awarded Wang custody of their child, and ordered Chen to pay 2,000 yuan (£220) in monthly child support.

The judgement is being appealed, although it wasn’t clear whether Chen or Wang launched the appeal.

He Xin, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law, said that he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“China is a country that has wonderful legal principles on gender equality so I don’t think it’s strange or unexpected if some judges make a ruling according to the law,” said Professor He.

The problem is that in practice, he said, there is systematic bias against women on issues in divorce cases, including division of property and child custody.

“China is not really a very gender equal society … so for whether to grant a divorce, for example, usually the majority of the plaintiffs are women, they want to get divorced, but if the men are resistant, on the first petition the court usually rules against the divorce petition, no matter whether there is domestic violence,” he added.

Women in China used social media to show support for the ruling – but said the compensation given for years of housework was too little.

“If she were a hard-working cleaner she could have earned more than this amount in half a year,” wrote one.

“The price for being a full-time mother is job opportunities, social experiences, time, networking, and so on,” lamented another. “50,000 yuan is too little.”

Another said the ruling was, at least, “a good start”, and hoped that it meant that the needs of full-time mothers would start to receive more attention.

Chinese society still expects wives to do the bulk of housework, child-rearing and caring for family members, a notion that has been boosted under President Xi Jinping, who has called on women to “shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of the old and the young”.

Additional reporting by Yiyin Zhong