CIVIL Affairs experts have proposed changes to the mainland's marriage laws in a bid to curb a growing number of divorces. A proposed law would require couples to live apart for three years after applying for a divorce before the marriage could be legally dissolved, Wenhui Bao newspaper reported. It would also make extramarital affairs illegal and if an affair was the grounds for a divorce, the adulterous partner would be made to compensate their spouse financially. An official from the All-China Women's Federation said the organisation was involved in the proceedings to make sure the law protected women. 'We cannot say at the moment whether the new proposals would be more beneficial to women,' the official said. Official figures show that the number of divorces in 1996 rose to 1.1 million from 389,000 in 1980. There was a drop in the number of marriages from 10.4 million in 1980 to 9.3 million in 1996. Although an increase in divorces has sparked concerns that simple, quick divorce procedures will ruin the mainland's family structure and destroy the social fabric, others see divorce as an important freedom that can save those otherwise trapped in unhappy or abusive marriages. 'I have a friend who is about to divorce his wife,' said a young Beijing man who is engaged to be married. To him, divorce is an important freedom. 'My friend and his wife just can't get along together so it's really bad for them to stay married,' he said. A female taxi driver who became divorced several years ago said that, although her life was difficult now as she had to support herself and her young son, she did not regret the move. With a shortage of housing on the mainland, the requirement to live apart for three years before being granted a divorce while a couple was still technically married might result in more extramarital affairs during the three-year period, despite lawmakers' hopes to curb adultery.