Chinese city limits divorces to 15 a day to help troubled couples 'think again'

City's Civil Affairs Bureau says its quota is to 'help fix more broken families' because of mainland's rising divorce rate, but microbloggers and Xinhua say it is abusing its powers.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 7:09pm

A mainland marriage registry office in Xian, Shaanxi Province, has been accused of intruding on the basic rights of couples after setting a daily limit of no more than 15 divorce registrations to try to help couples to “think again”.

The actions of the Civil Affairs Bureau, in Changan District, have been criticised by microbloggers and the state’s official Xinhua News Agency, which claimed yesterday that it had abused its administrative powers and intruded on couples' basic rights by introducing the quota of 15 divorce registrations each day.

Only the first 15 couples to arrive at the Civil Affairs Bureau, in Changan District, after it opened at 8.30am were able to file for a divorce each day, Sanqin Metropolis Daily reported on Friday.

Lin Wenhui, director of the bureau’s marriage office, told the newspaper the quota was introduced in March 2012 to try to “help to fix more broken families” because of the mainland’s rising divorce rate.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs reports that 3.5 million mainland couples filed for divorce last year – a rise of 12.8 per cent compared with 2012.

Some young couples had rushed into getting a divorce after a fight, but the bureau’s daily quota meant they would have extra time to consider their decision, Li said.

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“Because of the quota, we’ve often seen cases of couples, who have waited around the whole morning, deciding to forget about their divorce by the time of their afternoon appointment,” Li said.

However, the office had recorded only 140 fewer couples getting divorces in 2012, since the new quota had come into effect, compared with 1,900 in 2011.

News of the bureau’s divorce quota was widely circulated on Sina Weibo, the mainland social media platform, over the weekend.

Many outraged microbloggers posted comments saying this regulation had violated the nation’s laws on marriage and people’s basic rights.

“The civil affairs bureau has no right to make any decision for a couple,” said a Beijing microblogger, who identified herself as Yanyan.

“Is there anything on the mainland that the authority could not restrict,” another Beijing microblogger said.

These comments supported the view of Xinhua’s online commentary, which called the quota “a misreading of the rule of law spirit”.

Introduction of the quota had been intended as an act of goodwill, but this was no excuse for violating the law, Xinhua said.

China’s constitution protects the freedom of marriage, and any couple wishing to end their marriage have the right to file for a divorce, in accordance with laws concerning marriages and divorce.

Other media reports said cities in other provinces, including Shandong, Jiangsu, and Guangdong, had introduced similar divorce quotas during the past few years over fears that many couples were filing for a “fake divorce” so that they would gain exemption from paying property tax on a second apartment.