Chinese court orders would-be divorcees to 'cool off'

Though Chinese couples are still far more likely to stay married than their American counterparts, divorce rates have surged in China in recent years.
Though Chinese couples are still far more likely to stay married than their American counterparts, divorce rates have surged in China in recent years.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Clashing couples in one part of China will now have to "cool off" for three months before they can legally call time on their union.

Court officials said husbands and wives are too readily seeking a final dissolution when they should be working through their disagreements, and have ordered would-be divorcees to take time out.

Anyone looking to annul their marriage in court in one part of Shandong province will need to become "calm" and "reasonable" before proceeding with a split, the Xinhua state news agency reported. Only those with a "just cause" may object to the new rule.

Though Chinese couples are still far more likely to stay married than their American counterparts, divorce rates have surged in China in recent years.

According to the country's ministry of civil affairs, the number of couples who untied the knot in 2016 - a total of 4.2 million - was 8.3 per cent higher than a year earlier.

The trend is concerning for the ruling Communist Party, which views the traditional family unit as the bedrock of a stable society.

People's Court of Shizhong District official Men Hongke told Xinhua the measure was introduced because "judges frequently found that couples seeking divorce were not in a situation of irretrievable marriage breakdown."

Many couples ask for an annulment impulsively or as a result of parental interference, Men said, blurring the lines between "marriage in crisis" and "marriage in ruins."

At the end of the three-month cooling off period, couples can either file for divorce as planned or request that their term of contemplation be extended.

Users on the Twitter-like Weibo platform ribbed the court for interfering in intimate affairs.

"I would rather recommend a 'cooling off period' before you're allowed to receive a marriage licence," one user said. Others pointed out how the measure could hurt domestic abuse victims.

"Why should they regulate whether I get a divorce???" asked one commenter.

"If there's domestic violence, I have to continue getting beaten for another three months?"