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    Chinese Court Denies Father’s Claim to Children’s ‘Lucky Money’

    Ruling on a divorce case, the court split all marital assets equally but rejected the father’s bid for money previously gifted to his children, emphasizing that such assets belong to them.

    Highlighting the often-overlooked property rights of minors in China, a court in China’s southwestern metropolis of Chongqing has ruled against a father who sought a share of his children’s 260,000-yuan ($36,000) “lucky money,” amid a divorce case.

    Often handed to children in red envelopes, “lucky money” is a traditional gift given during Chinese New Year, symbolizing elders’ love and blessings. Considered tokens of good fortune and protection, parents often manage their children’s lucky money if they are minors.

    In a verdict made public on Tuesday, the Chongqing court detailed the legal dispute over the ownership of children’s lucky money to emphasize the importance of protecting minors’ property rights during divorce proceedings.

    According to the court, the father, surnamed Cai, and his former wife, surnamed Wang, married in 2007 and have two sons. Their relationship ended in 2020 due to disagreements over child-rearing philosophies, with the sons living with Wang thereafter.

    Following more than 400 days of separation and a previously unsuccessful divorce petition in 2020, Cai filed for divorce again, this time looking to divide not only marital assets but also all the lucky money saved in their children’s names.

    While the court granted the divorce, distributing marital assets equally, it dismissed Cai’s request regarding the lucky money. It declared that the money — as gifts from elders and relatives — belonged to the children. Cai and Wang, as guardians, were deemed without authority to manage their sons’ assets.

    Under Chinese law, the age or intellectual capacity of minors to physically accept red envelopes does not impact the ownership of the gifted money — it unequivocally belongs to the children. Guardians are prohibited from using their children’s property unless it serves the children’s best interests.

    In a similar case in 2023, a court in the eastern Jiangsu province ruled in favor of two teenagers who sued their father for taking their Lunar New Year and birthday red envelopes. The court ordered the father, surnamed Zhou, to repay the 16,800 yuan he had withheld since January 2020, following his refusal to return the funds before the teenagers initiated legal action.

    Across China, the value of a red envelope varies widely, influenced by regional practices and customs. Data from Wacai, a domestic financial management platform, reveals significant regional differences in the amounts gifted. For instance, provinces along the southeastern coast tend to offer higher amounts, with Fujian leading with average lucky money gifts of 3,500 yuan.

    Given the sums involved, the majority of Chinese parents opt to manage the lucky money on behalf of their children, who may not yet possess the skills to handle it responsibly.

    In a recent video that went viral on social media, a mother safeguarded her first grade son’s 7,100 yuan from red envelopes by issuing a receipt for just 71 yuan. In a negotiation she documented with videos and photos, she playfully convinced her son to agree to terms he scarcely understood so she could help secure his financial future.

    “Maybe when he grows up a bit, like in the fifth or sixth grade, and is more aware of such issues, I’ll let him keep his own money,” the mother told Jiupai News.

    Dai Yuhan, a 21-year-old college student from Chengdu, in the southwestern Sichuan province, told Sixth Tone that she received up to 3,000 yuan in lucky money annually as a child, which her mother then saved for her. “My parents didn’t use any of the savings, and I didn’t really want to manage my own money back then,” said Dai.

    Similarly, Huang Mingyu, a junior college student from Quzhou, in the eastern Zhejiang province, recalled giving her sizable red envelopes to her parents for safekeeping, which they later used for her education expenses. “It meant I didn’t need to spend so much money myself at that time,” she said.

    Additional reporting: Lü Xiaoxi; editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: VCG)