Recently, couples desiring to untie the knot in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, have had to wait up to a month to be granted a divorce, as civil affairs authorities there have been short-staffed owing to the multitude of couples. Since daily divorce registration numbers are limited, if couples can't make it into the quota for the day, they simply have to wait.
The fact is that divorce is sweeping through China. According to recent statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the divorce rate has been rising over the past 12 years in China since 2003, resulting in some Chinese cities setting a quota on the number of permitted divorces per day.
Some have claimed that this measure prevents more families from breaking up, as it's believed that many young couples make an impulse decision when seeking a divorce. Others, however, argue that the practice interferes with the freedom to divorce and can hardly be expected to help save marriages.
A well-intentioned policy
Zhang Li (Zhejiang Daily): Most divorces we see nowadays result from young couples' impulsivity, with simple procedures fueling breakups. If divorce proceedings are more complex, the couples in question will likely spend more time reexamining their marriages, and many of them may choose not to get divorced.
It's easy for a marriage to break up, but it's not easy to build a new family that operates properly. The divorce registration quota is an attempt to save marriages. If civil affairs bureaus can provide more services such as psychological consultations, couple breakups may become less common.
Lei Zhenyue (Jianghai Evening News): The divorce registration quota has been adopted to delay rather than restrain divorces. It is an attempt to offer couples more time to contemplate their marriages in order to deter breakups driven by spontaneity.
Young people today tend to give priority to their own emotional demands, while neglecting their responsibility to their families. Particularly, couples born in the 1980s and 1990s are slow to play their new roles in the newly formed family. They continue to live as they did in their own families, feeling free to do whatever they want. As a result, conflicts often emerge between spouses as well as between young couples and other family members. If these young couples are not used to pondering over the reasons for the conflicts, of course they'll see divorce as the only option.
There are cases where young couples quarreled, got divorced and began to regret their decisions shortly after. Even in such cases, pride will prevent them from admitting the huge mistakes they have made, and they will have to move on in regret, with their families now broken. The ease of the divorce process is somewhat fueling the divorce craze.
The practice of imposing a quota on divorce registration exists to give impulsive young couples a buffer period, when they are expected to adjust their emotions and finally restore breaking marital relationships. In Songjiang District of Shanghai, an office dedicated to marriage counseling is located right inside the divorce registration office. Professional marriage and family consultants are employed to help couples intending to divorce reconcile. About 70 percent of the couples coming to get divorced reconciled in the first half of this year, and the divorce rate in Songjiang has dropped for the first time in years. In this sense, the divorce registration quota is a policy with good intentions, which is meant to reconcile couples, save families and stabilize society.
Indeed, this is a common practice around the world. In South Korea, for example, couples can receive court confirmation of their divorces a month after submitting required documents, three months if children are involved. In Germany, there are also legal provisions on a buffer period for couples intending to get divorced. These policies help couples mend the rift between them.
Lu Jing (www.tl.wenming.cn): While some people think a rising divorce rate implies greater freedom and tolerance, it is actually a serious social problem that may adversely affect the country's stability.
The divorce registration quota is conducive to preventing impulsive divorces. During the buffer period, couples have enough time to examine their marriages and weed out problems that damage their relationships. Also, the quota disperses those who want to take advantage of loopholes in the law. For instance, in order to cool the real estate market, large metropolises have placed restrictions on a family's purchase of a second home. Some couples have faked a divorce to get around the restrictions, as the procedure is just so simple. However, in the face of the quota, those who foresee a much bigger cost in getting divorced may give up this practice.
While offering more time for consideration to couples who decide to divorce on impulse, the registration quota deters those who want to take advantage of easy divorce procedures.
An undesirable precedent
Wang Guoliang (Anhui Daily): Harmonious marriages undoubtedly need to be safeguarded. However, a couple's enjoyment of their marriage is private and something known only to them. Outsiders are unable to tell how the couple really feels within their marriage. Sometimes, the couple seems to be doing well, but the marriage might be torture for both spouses. No one else has the right to decide for the couple whether their marriage should continue or cease. Imposing a quota on divorce registration ventures into the territory of meddling with couples' private affairs.
China's Marriage Law permits couples to get divorced on the basis of the two sides' free will, and divorce registration departments should issue divorce certificates after confirming that the two sides have properly dealt with issues concerning assets, children, etc. The law has not entitled them to save marriages from impulsive divorces by setting up various barriers.
Indeed, a rising divorce rate has caused a series of social problems such as those related to children's education and disputes over family assets. There are many methods to curb divorces, such as professional and effective marriage consultations and family dispute mediation offered by communities. Divorce registration authorities must respect couples' free choice; the quota on divorce registration is hurting their freedom and legitimate rights.
Wang Dan (Xin'an Evening News): Why is the quota used? In short, summer is a peak time for divorce in Guangzhou, and there is limited staff in civil affairs bureaus in the local districts. Thus, the reason for the divorce registration quota is not so complex as is discussed at all.
Imposing a quota does nothing but delay work, and it does little to reduce the rate of divorce. Those who choose to divorce because love no longer exists will never give up just because of the registration quota, and neither will those who fake a divorce for the sake of buying new homes. While it may prevent divorces caused by hasty decisions on the couples' part, the quota can inconvenience those who really intend to divorce. The "quota" policy can be seen in many areas of social life. It seems that this policy tries to address a problematic situation, but in nature, it is degrading public service.
Divorce is a normal social phenomenon, and if people want to get divorced, just let them do it. Isn't it the civil affairs authorities' work to hand out divorce certificates? Imposing a quota on divorce registration because of numerous work pressures risks setting a precedent for similar policies in other areas of the law.
Copyedited by Eric Daly
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