HISTORY has been made in a landmark divorce ruling in China after a court ruled that a husband should be his wife compensation of $7,700 for all the housework she did during the five years of their marriage.
In the first such ruling of its kind anywhere in the world, Ms Wang, a homemaker, demanded restitution equivalent to $24,700 from her husband after he filed for divorce at a district court in Beijing. She told the court that during their marriage, she was left to take care of their child alone and do all the housework single-handedly as her husband barely cared about or participated in any kind of domestic chores.
In its ruling, the court ordered her husband to pay Ms Wang around $7,700 as housework compensation, after splitting their joint property equally. Ms Wang was also awarded custody of their son and $300 per month in alimony.
China has recently introduced a new civil code, a wide-ranging legislative package, which the government and legal experts say will better protect the rights of individuals. In effect since January, it includes a clause enabling a spouse to seek compensation from their partner during divorce for taking more responsibility in caring for children and elderly relatives.
Unequal gender roles in domestic life have been a topic of public debate in China in recent years amid a rising feminist movement. Despite increasing education levels and women’s growing economic status, gender norms and patriarchal traditions have not caught up with these changes and women are still expected to carry out most of the childcare and housework after marriage.
Long Jun, an associate law professor at Tsinghua University, said: “For the spouse who works outside, after divorce they can still enjoy the resources, connections and status they’ve had and still earn the same level of income. However, for the spouse who has been paying efforts quietly at home, they will have to face the problem of returning to work, meaning that the homemaker has to pay a hidden cost in addition to the efforts they paid during the marriage.”
This right to seek housework compensation in divorce proceedings is not a new concept in Chinese law. In 2001, housework compensation was added to a revision of China’s marriage law with the precondition that it only applied to couples who agreed to separation of property, in which each spouse retains exclusive ownership of property acquired during the marriage.