Another Chance at Love
Remarriage of the elderly
is fraught with obstacles as the legalities
By TAN WEI
Lin Guicheng was overjoyed when he got a second shot at living a happy life with the woman he loved, but for this 67-year-old widower from Shandong there was to be no fairytale ending.
Things began to change in Lin’s life in early 2004, when after many years of living alone following the death of his wife, he met an old woman with the surname, Tao, who had migrated to Shandong and become his new neighbor. Lin’s three sons had long since married and moved out of his house and Tao would often come over and help him with his household chores. Love blossomed and in April 2004 the two announced their intention to get married.
With preparations for the wedding underway and Lin’s sons supporting their father’s decision, things suddenly turned sour. The reason was the arrival of Tao’s former husband.
It transpired that Tao had not officially divorced her husband although they had been separated for many years. The situation caused much embarrassment in the village. Tao fled leaving no word and a heart broken Lin became the laughing stock of the area. Time heals all things and at the end of last year Lin again found a woman whom he wanted to marry, 61-year-old Yu Xiuzhi. However, remembering his previous experience, the worried Lin thought he would first talk it over with his sons.
They were unanimously against a marriage, believing not only that their father had suffered enough ridicule, but also that the marriage would mean they divide their father’s property with Yu. Undaunted Lin and Yu set up a home together. Their relationship is not recognized by Lin’s family.
The Two Obstacles
After losing a spouse, the aged have far more difficulties than middle-aged and young people to start up new relationships. A recent nationwide survey published in Chinese Women Weekly shows that among people over 60 in China, 35 percent have lost their spouses through divorce or death. Of those, 37.6 percent are willing to remarry, yet only 6.9 percent have realized their wish.
In China, remarriage among seniors is loaded with many practical problems, such as interference by the family, partner’s different lifestyles, distribution of property and child rearing. It is the thought of dealing with these problems that leads to many seniors opting to live a lonely life rather than remarry.
An 82-year-old elderly Tianjin resident named Cao, could not believe that his remarriage became the pretext for his children to shirk the responsibility of supporting him. In 1998, Cao married Cheng. Five years later he was hospitalized with cancer. During his time in hospital, Cheng was the only person by his side. At that time, Cheng was 76. During last year’s Spring Festival, Cao’s condition deteriorated and he had to contact his children. However, only his daughter came to see him. Cheng spent the New Year’s Eve with Cao in the hospital.
Du Xinke, in charge of Tianjin Aging Committee, said this scenario was common among the aged who chose to remarry. Facing such problems, some old people choose to live together but not remarry, a situation that brings another set of problems as rights and interests cannot be protected by laws. The most serious problem is that the cohabitation may cause more harm to the rights of old women. This is because women’s life expectancy is longer than that of men. If women partners are not accepted by the children of the deceased men they will most likely be driven from the home. The practice is grossly unfair as the women in these cases have inevitably taken care of the men to their last days. Lawyers have warned that it is illegal to live together in the name of husband and wife without formal marriage registration in order for the spouses’ rights to be protected by law.
Starving for Social Security
Today remarriage among the aged is widely accepted. However, apart from matrimonial agencies, it is difficult for them to find suitable partners. An old woman named Liu, 55, divorced for five years, was dissatisfied with the service provided by matrimonial agencies. She said, “I think that these agencies should not consider marriage as a trade. They only recognize money but not people and I get no feeling of security from them. They take your money but do not provide any services afterwards. As matrimonial agencies are one of only ways for aged people to realize remarriage they should be managed more strictly.”
Wang Laihua, Director of the Institute of Public Sentiments of Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, believes that societies should give more thought to the elderly and set up places such as chatting centers for them to engage with others.
Guo Chongde, a professor studying this issue believes the government should improve the social labor security system for the elderly, especially those lonely old people in the countryside without retirement pensions.
The new Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China, which was discussed and passed at the 21st Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress on April 28, 2001 and put in force on October 1, 2003, provides a legal guarantee for remarriage, including such issues as property and support. According to the new marriage law, the property of the husband or wife will not become common property after remarriage, rescinding the previous stipulation that said property would become common after seven years of marriage. Besides, according to the new law, both of husband and wife can make clear which part of their property is personal property and which part is common property by a written stipulation.
In addition, the law prescribes that the obligation that children should support their parents will not end in the advent of remarriage, taken the added burden of worrying about their livelihood off the shoulders of the aged.
Ren Guang, 76, is a retired teacher and widower. In 2001, he met 50-year-old Xu Liping through a matrimonial agency. Initially Xu thought their 26 year age gap would be a problem, yet after dating for six months the couple found they had much in common. Ren said, “I think the most important things to look for in a partner are similar interests and true love. I have six children, three of them agree with my decision to remarry and another three do not, but I don’t care about their opinions. I do not need their support because I have my own pension. If they are willing to come to see me, Xu and I will welcome them. If they aren’t, I will not blame them. Xu is still young and still has a job. She has told me that I can save my pension and we can use her salary for living expenses. We are happy together.” Ren admitted frankly that Xu and he had not notarized their property legally, and didn’t believe this would be a problem.
Wang Laihua said ultimately the happiness of elderly couples rests in their own hands and although it is important to take into account the material aspect of forming a union, they should not become obstacles in a chance to find love a second time around.