Planned parting

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-26 19:48:02

Chinese parents take the lead in splitting up their children

Some Chinese parents intervene in their children's marriages from the beginning until its dissolution. Photo: Li Hao/GT


Even though arranged marriages have long been a thing of the past, so-called "arranged divorces" are becoming increasingly common.

The term refers to parents of a young couple intervening in the divorce proceedings, with some even planning the entire process, going as far as appearing in court on their children's behalf.

Data from the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of couples born in the 1980s getting divorced - the majority of which as a result of parents' interference in the marriage, the Legal Mirror reported in March. The major conflict is often financial issues such as parents buying houses for the newly-weds, said the judges.

"In many cases, the desires of the couple are completely hijacked by their parents. Sometimes even when they want to patch things up, parents' interventions make it impossible," said Wang Xiuquan, a divorce lawyer and partner at Beijing Jihe Law Firm.

Although parental influence has been declining over the last half of the century, and young people have become more independent, according to experts, this particular phenomenon of arranged divorces reflects parental dominance in a new form.

Parental interference 

During the entire mediation and trial, Zhang Xi and her husband Zhang Lei were sitting on the sidelines, while their parents were kicking up a great deal of fuss about their grandchild's custody, according to the Beijing Haidian district court.

The Beijing Morning Post reported that after realizing their marriage was no longer working, the couple agreed to get a divorce and have their child live with the maternal grandparents, who had largely been caring for the child.

But when the paternal grandparents heard about this plan, they forced Zhang Lei to go to court to get custody over his child, arguing that Zhang Lei is the only male descendent for three successive generations and his family has to take care of the child.

Of the up to 130 divorce cases that his firm handles every year, Wang pointed out that in the majority of them, the parents had a hand in the case. In almost one in every 10 cases, the parents would act on behalf of their children to fight over benefits.

Wang told Metropolitan that he has even encountered physical violence in one of his divorce cases. The family members of a husband physically confronted his client, the wife's father, in the court room only a few weeks ago.

Parents arranging divorces usually make things extremely complicated for the couple, he said. It's very common to have civil lawsuits involving physical confrontations or fights over property, stemming from a single divorce case when parents are involved.

"Parents don't back down," said Wang. "With parents intervening, it is usually less likely that one party will withdraw the case, or initiates a willingness to patch things up."

When it comes to the custody of a child, a very common order from the couple's parents is "don't hesitate to fight for custody, because we'll help to raise the child," said Wang.

"As a third party in the marriage, the parents are disconnected from any feelings, and tend to haggle over every penny, like they are doing business," he said. In Beijing, most middle- or lower-class parents won't let up even a little when it comes to real estate. It's not uncommon for the parents of the feuding couple to give false evidence to benefit their child, said Wang. They will say that the house they bought for the couple was only intended for the husband, or it was not a gift, but a loan.

It causes great complications for the court, Wang added. 

Experts say that the lack of maturity and independence of the post-1980 generation is one of the reasons why the "arranged divorces" are becoming more prevalent. Photo: Li Hao/GT


Exercising control

 "I am immature, but I never had a chance to grow up," a woman surnamed Lin told news portal, Her mother made all decisions for Lin, her whole life, ranging from what extracurricular courses to sign up for when she was a child, and what college to go to, to what occupation she should follow after graduation.

"They (her parents) were the ones who told me to get married and they were the ones who told me to get a divorce," Lin said. After rushing their daughter into a marriage only three months after her first blind date, Lin's parents had a bad relationship with Lin's in-laws. Her parents and in-laws made the decision for the couple to get  divorced without even asking their opinions. Their parents "just wanted it to end as soon as possible."

Psychiatrist Han Sanqi has also found "arranged divorces" quite common in China. He told Metropolitan that from a psychological perspective, the root of the problem lies with parents posing strict "control" over their children.

"Many Chinese parents set rules for their children as soon as they start dating, demanding their potential spouses meet certain requirements, which means control in the first place," he said. "One is not allowed to get married if the fiancé doesn't meet the parents' requirements. If the marriage can't live up to the parents' expectations, the parents will demand a divorce."

Han pointed out that the phenomenon is typically Chinese. The importance of traditional values and culture means that young couples still maintain a tight connection with their families, which leads to them tending to listen to their parents' opinions instead of solving problems in their marriages by themselves.

The harm of such "arranged divorces," said Han, is that all the relationship problems remain unresolved and the young person is not able to recover from the psychological burden. It might prevent the young person from remarrying for a long time, he said. 

An immature generation

One of the reasons why "arranged divorces" have been emerging in recent years, said Han, is the peculiarities of the post-1980 generation. Most of them are an only child, due to China's family planning policy, with a very close bond with their parents.

"One child can take all the resources, but it's extremely unhealthy when the parents place all their expectations on one child," said Han. "Even when the child gets married and leaves home, parents look after the couple and the grandchild, and continue to intervene."

Beijing, as an international metropolis, sees less cases of parental involvement than in the rural areas of China, said Han. "When the youngsters are economically independent, they suffer less control from their parents."

Wang said that divorces among different generations are driven by different reasons.

"Compared with the older generation most of whom got divorced because of affairs, the post-1980 generation focuses more on their [unmatching] personalities, and tend to solve their problems with a type of fast-food solution, which is getting a divorce," he said.

He explained that as an independent adult, one should deal with the issue rationally. Among the post-1980 generation, there is a lack of managing and nurturing in maintaining a marriage, he said. "They should learn to be more responsible, especially after having their own children."

Wang added that since many young people are relying on their parents financially and psychologically, it's almost impossible for them to completely reject their parents' meddling in their business.

Therefore, for those who can't stop their parents from intervening, Wang advises "only listen to the rational part of their general advice, but do not let them get involved in the specific conflicts between the couple.

 "At least, don't let the parents be representatives," he added.

A changing society 

Along with China's rapid economic growth, its societal structure is also shifting. In 2014, more than 3.6 million couples got divorced - a 3.9 percent increase compared with 2013, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Along with the continuously rising divorce rate in the last 12 years, traditional marriage values are being challenged time and again by the emergence of new marriage-related phenomena.

Some of the terms frequently used in public discourse serve as evidence of these changes, including "flash marriage" (couples getting married after knowing each other for a short period of time); "naked marriage" (couples getting married without owning any major assets or spending much money on a wedding ceremony); "invisible marriage" (couples legally married who continue to pretend that they are still unmarried in front of their family, friends and colleagues). Similarly there are terms for describing a quickie divorce ("flash divorce") and pretending not to be divorced ("invisible divorce").

Wang pointed out that all these phenomena show that young individuals now have more choices when it comes to marriage, which is a good sign of growing independence and individualism.

The rise of parents intervening in divorces seems to be a regression, but the new "arranged divorces" are completely different from arranged marriages which were dominant in the old days.

When it comes to marriage, what parents wanted in the past were benefits for the family, while modern parents want material benefits and happiness for their children, which also shows a kind of improvement of the society, said Wang.

"I think a divorce will be more rational and thorough when parents are not involved," Han concluded. "Keeping your independence is the key to a happier new marriage after a divorce." 

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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