Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: Divorce On The Rise In China

July 7, 2011
Leisha Murphy

North America is not the only place where divorce is on the rise. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs in China, 2.68 million couples ended their marriage in 2010; up 8.5 percent from 2009.

This number is comprised of 2.01 million couples who filed for divorce (an increase of 11.5 percent from 2009), and 668,000 couples who separated via court sanction. The number of divorces in China has been steadily rising over the past five years, which has kept pace with the increasing number of marriages.  In 2010 China registered 12.4 million marriages; a two percent increase from 2009.

Why the increases in numbers?  First, the changing face of Chinese society.  There has been a significant increase in wealth and independence of both Chinese women and men. Second, many couples now work further away from home and spend less time together, which causes tension and strain on the relationship.

Interestingly, the changing socio-economic status of Chinese citizens, particularly women, draws parallels to Canada, where an increase in divorces has kept pace with the increase in women’s societal and financial independence.

Changes in the Divorce Act (Canada) and changes in the court’s interpretation of the Act have enabled women to build financial security after a marriage breakdown through spousal support. The currentDivorce Act and judicial interpretation of the Act is in stark contrast to earlier versions of the Act and accompanying court decisions. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, the courts largely supported a “clean-break model”, which emphasized spouses achieving economic self-sufficiency and moving on with their lives, with little or no on-going support.

An example of the clean-break model is the decision of Messier v. Delage, [1983] 2 S.C.R. 401, where the Supreme Court of Canada held that marriage does not create an entitlement to a pension for the financially dependent spouse. Because the wife’s unemployment was in no way related to the marriage, an increase in the quantum of support was not justified. This case also illustrates the judicial perspective that spousal support is a private matter between the spouses.

This model left many women and children in poverty after divorce, having left their careers during the marriage to take care of the children and the home. In the 1992 Supreme Court of Canada decision of Mogev. Moge, [1992] 3 S.C.R. 813), the Court rejected the “self-sufficiency/clean-break” model for spousal support, and developed a series of policy considerations based on an equitable sharing of economic consequences, to be applied by the courts in future cases.

The Divorce Act has also changed to recognize the shifting gender roles in society.  Specifically, the rights of men in a marriage breakdown was amended in 1985 to allow men to claim for spousal support.

The concept of spousal support is, theoretically, just.  A spouse who forgoes career advancement in order to, for example, be a stay-at-home parent, should be compensated for that non-financial contribution to the marriage.  Yet, has spousal support gone too far?

Spousal support in cases of high-net worth parties takes into account the “lifestyle” one party may have acclimatized to over the course of the relationship.  Although they may not have contributed financially to the relationship, they walked into the Ferrari of marriages, and according to the courts, are entitled to maintain the same level of lifestyle post-marriage.

The recent relationship breakdown of Nickleback front man Chad Kroeger is a good example.  His common-law relationship of seven years resulted in Kroeger paying his ex-girlfriend $25,000 per month of support (pending a final court decision, where Kroeger’s ex-girlfriend seeks $95,000 per month in support).  Quite the windfall when you consider that Kroeger’s ex is currently raking in approximately $12,000 per year and previously worked as a hairdresser in Edmonton.

If you are considering entering a relationship of some permanence, or considering a separation from your partner, you should educate yourself on the spousal support entitlements, if any, for your spouse and/or seek legal advice so you are not surprised later on.

Leisha Murphy
Leisha Murphy
Partner (Vancouver)
Connect Family Law

Leisha has practised exclusively in the area of family law since being called to the British Columbia Bar in 2010. Before opening Connect Family Law in 2015, she practiced in the family law group of a leading British Columbia law firm.