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Law on Marriage Clarified by Court

The Supreme People's Court yesterday issued a judicial interpretation of the amendments to the Marriage Law in an effort to better protect the rights of innocent parties and to improve judges' handling of cases.

The judicial interpretation, the first on the Marriage Law, makes clear that "a lasting, stable relationship of cohabitation between a married party and extramarital party of the opposite sex constitutes extramarital cohabitation."

The amendments to the Marriage Law - which came into force in April - ban extramarital cohabitation and stipulates that the innocent party in a marriage can ask for compensation.

However, the judicial interpretation did not define a time limit concerning the term "lasting relationship," leaving considerable leverage in the hands of judges.

The court said that an innocent party can only request compensation from the wrongdoer in a marriage, ruling out the possibility of payment from a third party.

Huang Songyou, head of the Supreme People's Court civil division, explained that this is because, in a broken marriage, it is the wrongdoing spouse who has violated the other's rights.

The possibility of requesting compensation in broken marriages is a new addition to the Marriage Law. Given the fact that many divorce cases involve a third party or concubines in some cases in South China, there have been discussions as to whether the extramarital parties should also be held liable and pay compensation.

According to Wang Yingwu, head of the Dongcheng District People's Court civil division in Beijing, many such cases are expected in the future.

"This is not just about concubines but about many other torts in families, such as domestic violence and other infringements that result in physical and mental harm," said Wang. "There needs to be more specifics concerning the compensation for wrongs."

Yesterday's judicial interpretation said that beating, tying up, restricting personal freedom and other pratices that lead to physical or mental harm are all forms of domestic violence.

Official statistics indicate that as much as 90 per cent of cases handled by China's courts are civil cases and that marriage and family disputes make up the lion's share of civil cases.

(China Daily December 27, 2001)

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