When breaking up breaks down the official process

By Paul LePetit Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-28 18:03:02

Illustrations: Lu Ting/GT

Divorce in China has been a growing option for many, sometimes for the wrong reasons. In 2014, 3.6 million couples in China divorced, almost double the number from 10 years before.

Previously it has been easy to obtain a divorce -- providing both parties agreed and there were no problems with child custody or property assignment. It cost 10 yuan ($1.53) and for many in Shanghai this was a bargain. Couples could be legally divorced and then apply to buy property as unmarried people. They would walk home together and carry on living together as they had done before, happy with a piece of paper that gave them a great financial advantage in buying another apartment.

Nowadays divorces are no longer automatically granted but couples seeking a divorce have to be interviewed by officials. The South China Morning Post reported that couples were now questioned about the reasons for their divorce, whether they have made provisions for their property and for raising their children. "Professional counselors also work alongside registry officials to provide help for couples," the article continued. The counselors can refer cases to social workers or lawyers if they deem an application for divorce was made without careful thought, according to the article.

The aim of the checks is to ensure couples have thought fully about the implications of splitting up and to reduce a rising divorce rate, the report said. However staff have been struggling to cope with the workload and the overwhelming numbers of divorce cases, the report said. Sun Xiaohong, the deputy director of the marriage registry center under the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, said the authorities were hoping to introduce online registration to make the process quicker and more efficient.

Easy divorce is a comparatively modern phenomenon. In Britain, for example, it was not until 1857 that divorce was legally possible, but in those days it was extremely expensive and required an act of parliament. Even today the Philippines still does not allow divorce.

The new regulations in China reflect, to some extent, the approach to divorces and divorce laws in many other parts of the world. And this is a good thing. It is a demeaning experience to watch, as I once had to in family courts in other countries, mature and highly intelligent people, highly qualified lawyers, arguing in court over trivial household items or examining minor events in an effort to prove a failing or flaw on the part of a husband or wife.

The way a country views divorces is a reflection of the way it views marriages and in China marriages are historical, cultural and traditional social arrangements. The coming together of a husband and wife also involves families, children, property and a heap of cultural baggage from both families and society. Here society and the authorities are doing their best to preserve the qualities of marriage, to ensure that it lasts as a useful and good tool, one that can maintain stability and encourage good citizenship.

But, offering counseling services for couples who are seeking divorces does seem to be like shutting the stable door after the bride or groom have bolted. Surely there should be counseling services for people who want to get married.

This is a positive approach to a problem that involves more than the legal aspects of marriage - marriage is always about relationships in the main. It is obvious that one way to ensure that marriages last, is to make sure that the bride and groom are suited to each other and understand the problems they might face together. If this is done as a matter of course and procedure, then the marriage registry offices should not be overwhelmed by divorce cases. Of course, that is in an ideal world.

Related story:

Divorce freedom should be respected

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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