China’s new divorce law, which makes it harder for couples to split, has sent husbands and wives rushing to file applications to dissolve their marriages as they think that the new conditions complicate the process and compromise their freedom, a media report quoted lawyers as saying.
Under the new law, which was implemented from last month after being passed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) last year despite criticism from the public, couples who mutually agree to dissolve their marriage must complete a month-long “cooling-off" period to reconsider their positions.
After the 30 days have passed, couples can go to their local civil affairs bureau to apply a second time for their official divorce documents.
Divorce lawyers have been inundated with requests from couples to file for divorce once their 30 days are over, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Monday.
In some cities such as Guangzhou, the demand for consultations with divorce lawyers is so high that scalpers are charging premium prices online to help couples secure appointments.
Zhong Wen, a lawyer based in Sichuan province who specialises in divorce, says he has already received numerous phone calls from anxious clients concerned that the new law complicates their divorce and compromises their freedom to split.
If one party withdraws from the agreement to divorce before the 30 days are up, the application is cancelled, leaving the other party to apply again and restart the 30-day clock, or to sue for a divorce – a costly and lengthy process.
Zhong told the Post that one client was a rubber stamp away from having her divorce finalised when her husband changed his mind.
He added that, even before the cooling-off period was introduced, it was easy for one party to a mutually agreed divorce to change their mind.
“Now, with the (30-day) period, the divorce process is too unpredictable," he said.
Statistics show that the divorce rate in China has risen from 0.96 divorces per 1,000 people in 2000 to 3.36 in 2019, which is regarded high as compared to the countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Figures from China's Ministry of Civil Affairs show that in 2019, some 9.47 million couples got hitched, while 4.15 million couples parted ways. That's kind of a watershed as it was the first time the number of registered married couples dropped below 10 million, state-run CGTN reported.
When the law was passed in May last year, Chinese citizens criticised the central government for interfering in private matters. More than 600 million comments were posted online using the hashtag “oppose divorce cooling-off period".
Officials believed the legislation would lower the divorce rate in China, which has risen rapidly and prevent “impulsive divorces" among young people.
The law was passed by the National People’s Congress, China’s Parliament as part of the country's first Civil Code, which replaced several existing laws covering marriage, adoption, inheritance and property rights.
Ran Keping, a law professor at Wuhan University who discussed the Civil Code with lawmakers before it was drafted, said that policymakers were unhappy with the country’s high divorce rates.
“Even though the freedom to divorce is a basic right of individuals, from a societal point of view, a high divorce rate will affect (the country's) stability," he said.
The new law does not apply if a spouse files for divorce on the grounds that they are a victim of domestic violence. However, Zhong said the law would still disadvantage women, particularly those without an independent source of income.