The Gavel – Sep 2014 – The End of a Marriage that Never Began

The Gavel – Sep 2014 – The End of a Marriage that Never Began



With the increased divorce and break-up rate, sadly love stories end every day around us. When couples live together, they may have collective property, including real estate or jewelry. After the break-up, disputes about the division of this property can occur; but how does one deal with these disputes if the couple is not married yet? Here is and example to answer this question.

Jenny and Peter fall in love at first sight and get engaged shortly after. At the engagement party, Jenny receives a beautiful engagement ring from Peter and her parents receive a betrothal gift from Peter’s parents. After the engagement, they decide to buy an apartment together in the city center; they pay RMB 3,000,000.00 for the apartment, which is registered in the name of both parties. After that, they pay the deposit for a wedding banquet. However, eventually the relationship goes sour and they decide to break up; now, they face problems dividing the properties.

First of all, let us talk about the definition of “Engagement” in Chinese Law. A promise to wed, it is the period of time between a marriage proposal and a marriage. On March 19th 1953, Answers of the Marriage Questions points out that, “the engagement is not a necessary before marriage. Man and women can choose to engage of their own free will”. In conclusion, an engagement does not have any legal effectiveness on both parties. So, although Jenny and Peter were engaged, they are still single by PRC law.

Furthermore, according to the Marriage Law of the PRC, “the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage shall be prohibited”. In addition, the supreme court rules that if it is found that the pleading of a party concerned for the return of the betrothal gifts given to the other party is both parties fail to complete the registry formalities, the people’s court shall support him or her.

We can conclude that in the former case, Jenny and Peter were not married in the end, so Jenny and her parents shall return the ring and the betrothal gifts back to Peter and Peter’s parents. However, there is no need to return small gifts such as dresses or accessories.

Nowadays, real estate is always noteworthy due to its commercial value. In the former case, the couple bought the apartment together, and the property is in their names. So their property shall be divided in accordance with the percentage of which they own the apartment. If Jenny wants the apartment, she shall pay Peter according to the percentage he owns times the market value and vice versa. If neither of the party wants the apartment, they could sell it and divide the money according to the percentage, after they have equally paid off any debts such as mortgages.

The final issue is the wedding banquet deposit, and the penalty of contract breach. The person who has signed the contract with the restaurant will bear the liability of breaching of the contract and the other person shall pay back this person based on the principle of fairness.

In conclusion, considered as still single by law, the money the couple has earned, the properties they own and the gifts they receive are not collective properties, but shall be considered as personal wealth.


This article is intended solely for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Although the information in this article was obtained from reliable official sources, no guarantee is made with regard to its accuracy and completeness.