China plans new cooling-off rules to delay divorces as more marriages break down

Lawmakers consider changes to civil marriage code aimed at encouraging couples to stay together

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 10:46pm

A “cooling off” period could be required for splitting couples in a bid to tackle China’s soaring divorce rate.

The proposal, to make couples filing for divorce wait for one month before their request can be processed, is one of a number of changes included in a new draft of the Civil Code submitted to the National People’s Congress on Monday.

The new Civil Code, due to come into effect in 2020, is intended to cover all aspects of private life, including adoption, inheritance and contracts, as well as marriage.

The draft code includes significant modifications to existing marriage and adoption laws, in particular the removal of clauses on family planning.

China sends further signal on end to family size limits with revised civil code

The one-month cooling period would give couples the opportunity to withdraw their divorce application from authorities at any point, and was drafted in response to China’s shifting policy on birth restrictions, according to Zhou Kai, a lawyer at Jiangsu Tianzhe law firm, based in Nanjing in eastern China.

“Young people who have been married for a short time and have no children might feel more free to divorce,” Zhou said.

“But that would be contrary to the intent of lifting China’s birth restrictions.”

Zhou said the cooling-off period was impractical and unlikely to lower the high divorce rate as intended.

He said that from his own experience, people who consulted him about divorce were usually quite determined and the couple usually had conflicts that could not be solved by simply “cooling down”.

The idea of a cooling-off period for divorcing couples is not new. Since 2005, for example, South Korea has given couples who mutually agree to separate 1-3 weeks to change their minds between filing for divorce and the final decision.

Figures from China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs show the number of separations per 1,000 people doubled between 2006 and 2016, from 1.46 to three.

A total of 4.2 million couples divorced in 2016, an 8.3 per cent rise from the year before.

In contrast, British opposite-sex couples divorced at a rate of 8.9 per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 and over in 2016. According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, this was an increase on 2015 divorce rates of 4.7 per cent.

The Chinese proposal has aroused online discussions, with many mocking the idea.

“I support a one-month cooling off period before marriage,” one internet user commented on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

Fang Gang, sexologist at Beijing Forestry University, said the measure aimed to uphold marriage, rather than free choice, but there were situations where the policy would not be appropriate, such as in cases of domestic violence.

A number of cities in China have already instituted their own attempts to discourage divorce.

In June, the city of Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, made couples take a test before granting divorce.

Questions covered the spouse’s birthday, favourite food and how housework was divided.

Another change under consideration is a provision to declare a union invalid if one party tricks the other into marriage with forged ID or other certificates.

This would clear up a gap in the existing legislation which does not explicitly cover the use of fraudulent documents when registering a marriage.