China’s Supreme People’s Court has closed a loophole in the controversial Article 24 of its marriage law.
The article made both ex-spouses liable for debts accrued during their marriage and was intended to prevent couples from divorcing to avoid paying back their debts. But it also allowed for scenarios in which, for example, a soon-to-be-divorced husband could secretly take out loans and leave his future ex-wife on the hook for part of the repayment.
Cases of divorced persons fighting lawsuit after lawsuit against creditors who hold them liable for millions of yuan have made headlines in recent years, as have calls to repeal Article 24.
On Tuesday, the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest judicial authority, added two clauses to the article. One stipulates that courts should not rule in favor of a creditor if they colluded with either spouse to purposely accrue debts. The other clause says that creditors should not win lawsuits if the borrowed money was used for illegal activities, such as gambling or buying drugs.
Article 24 was introduced in 2004 to protect creditors from couples who get sham divorces to avoid paying off their debt obligations, Hu Donghua, head of the second civil court of the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court, told Sixth Tone. Hu has been involved in several cases in which creditors sued a divorced person for debts accrued by their ex-partner.
“The new amendment to Article 24 doesn’t change the article fundamentally,” Hu said, adding that the article is in fact not as bad as the people arguing for its repeal would have others believe. But Hu maintained that the law must be “prudently applied” by experienced judges, as verifying debt obligations is a complex process.
In an accompanying notice published on Tuesday, the Supreme People’s Court ordered the provincial high people’s courts to take more evidence into consideration beyond IOUs and other such documents.
On Tuesday, an unidentified Supreme People’s Court employee said in an interview with state news agency Xinhua that certain judges have handled Article 24 cases in a “simple and mechanical manner” because they were under pressure from their high caseloads, or because they lacked a sense of responsibility.
But to some people who are currently embroiled in debt lawsuits, the move by the Supreme People’s Court is a poor consolation.
“It isn’t helpful at all,” said Luo Zongzhi, a 39-year-old associate professor at southern China’s Guangxi University for Nationalities who divorced in December 2015. Luo lost three cases in June of last year and was ordered to pay more than 300,000 yuan ($43,700) to plaintiffs who say they are his ex-wife’s creditors.
According to the judgment document obtained by Sixth Tone, Luo’s ex-wife had borrowed funds and gambled online before the divorce. The judge, however, was unsympathetic to his argument that she had gambled the money away.
Luo has appealed the ruling and is still waiting for the trial to start, but he has little hope of victory this time around. “If Article 24 isn’t repealed, I stand no chance of winning my appeal,” he said.
(Header image: A couple part ways after completing divorce registration procedures at a civil affairs bureau in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, April 19, 2014. VCG)