China considering to use buffer period to curb divorce

Chinese divorce certificates. Photo: Handout

Driven by fears over an increasingly rising divorce rate, China is mulling an administrative measure to reduce ill-considered separations, triggering heated discussions among sociologists, human rights advocates and Internet users.

Recently, a new draft of the Civil Code submitted to the National People's Congress, the country's top legislative body, proposed to introduce a one-month cooling-off period for couples wanting to divorce, during which they can put the bee on their divorce application at any time before their requests are processed by the authorities.

According to the new draft of the Civil Code, which is set to come into force in 2020, a couple is considered to have the intent of burying the hatchet if they do not revisit the divorce registration department for a divorce certificate within the cooling-off period.

"In fact, the simple formality for divorce has led to an increase in the number of hasty divorces, which is detrimental to family stability. That is the reason why the new draft code proposes to adopt a one-month cooling-off period," said Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, adding that the buffer period would give couples wanting to divorce an opportunity to reconsider their decision.

Xie Hongfei, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the cooling-off period would strike a balance between the right to divorce and the need for a stable marriage. "The goal of the cooling-off period is to help stabilize marriages and prevent married couples from making a rash decision based on an inaccurate evaluation of their relationship," added Xie.

China's divorce rate has been rising for 15 years in a row, said an article in the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.

According to statistics from China's National Bureau of Statistics, 4.15 million couples got divorced in 2016, compared with 1.91 million 10 years ago.

The idea of introducing the cooling-off period is not a new policy. In July, China's Supreme People's Court issued a decree stipulating that courts are allowed to set a cooling-off period, which is no longer than three months, by mutual consent when dealing with a divorce case, according to Caixin. Within the cooling-off period, courts can do family mediation in order to avoid marriage breakdown that is caused by impulsive decision.

The policy has, to a large extent, proven to be effective in one Chinese county.

According to Jiang Xinru, a local judge in Anyue county in western China's Sichuan province, 90 percent of couples subject to a one-month cooling-off period have ultimately changed their minds about seeking a divorce since March when the local court and civil affairs bureau adopted the policy requiring couples hoping to divorce to rethink about their relationship within the one-month period before making the final decision.

One young couple even thanked Jiang in tears for stopping them from divorcing impulsively, recalled Jiang.

The cooling-off period method has gained support of many Internet users, who deem a buffer period as enough for a husband and wife to cool down when trifles cause a tiff.

At the same time, some Internet users voiced concerns over the possibility that the cooling-off period would make the determined-to-divorce couples suffer more in case that domestic violence, maltreatment and property transfer take place within the period.

"Many couples maintain their marriages not because they are content about their marriage but because of the lack of courage. The cooling-off period could diminish their courage which they have spent a long time to get," commented an Internet user on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform in China.

Also, a women's rights advocate criticized the policy for disregarding the right of those couples who are quite sure that a calm thinking cannot fix their marital relationship.

"Only the husband and wife know the real feelings about their marriage. Others cannot understand from a third-party perspective," said Feng Yuan, cofounder of Equality, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization combating gender violence.

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