The lawfully and awfully wedded

  • Colours of China
  • Monday, 02 Apr 2018

MOST wedding vows are pledges of lifelong commitment and loyalty, but judging from the high divorce rates in many countries, what couples promise to do when they get married and what they actually do after that can be very different things. It’s apparently the case in China too.

According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, over 11.4 million couples registered their marriages in 2016. The same year, there were more than 4.15 million divorces.

In the first half of last year, nearly 1.9 million couples ended their marriages, some 10.3% more compared to the same period in 2016.

Beijing recorded a shockingly high divorce rate of 39%, which means nearly two out of every five married couples split up. The capital recorded some 5.58 million marriages and 1.85 million divorces last year, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Shanghai’s divorce rate was the next highest, at 38%, followed by Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Hong Kong.

Last year, courts across China settled over 1.4 million divorce petitions, 100,000 more compared with the previous year.

According to the Supreme People’s Court’s recent special report on divorce and alimony disputes, 73.4% of the petitions were filed by women.

Being on bad terms with each other was the main cause for divorce, with such cases making up 77.5% of the total. Other reasons included domestic violence, bad habits or addictions, and unfaithfulness.

The report also shows that the seven-year itch may not take that long to develop.

“Problems usually occurred between husband and wife after two to seven years of marriage,” says the report.

Marriages do not fail overnight. The build-up to the collapse happens slowly due to factors such as the lack of communication, loss of trust, financial problems and changes in priorities.

Chinese parents have a great influence on their children’s lives; they love being involved, often giving “orders” on the juniors’ career decisions, home renovations and choice of life partners.

Reasons for parents rejecting their daughters’ prospective husbands include “He does not have a house”, “We do not see a bright future in him” and “We want our daughter to live a comfortable life”. In short, the men are too poor to marry the daughters.

The high dowries, which can be as much as tens of thousands of yuan to hundreds of thousands of yuan, have also put off some suitors.

On the men’s side, low education level, aggressive character and having a rural hukou were among the reasons parents reject their sons’ lovers.

Hukou refers to a person’s place of origin – generally, it is either rural or urban. Each group gets different types of social welfare and benefits. It is like a domestic passport for the Chinese.

Even when they have moved to the cities and work there, those with rural status do not enjoy the same benefits that come with urban status, and their children have no access to public education.

Sometimes, these youngsters take too long to find the “right person”.

When the “golden period” for marriage has gone by, they tend to wed out of desperation or mainly to please their parents.

This contributes to the high divorce rates.

Other factors for marriage failures include the rising financial independence of women, the changing perceptions of divorcees, poor relations with the in-laws, and friction over housework.

Getting a divorce is pretty easy and basically free in China.

In cases of divorce by mutual consent, couples only have to bring their identification and other relevant documents to the Civil Affairs Bureau, pay a processing fee of about 10 yuan (RM6), and that is all.

The same day, each of them will get a divorce certificate in the form of a red booklet, which is the same size and colour as the marriage certificate.

Not surprisingly, it was reported that some couples had been issued with the wrong certificates on their wedding day.

The Chinese government is serious about addressing the high divorce rates.

In some provinces, couples seeking divorce are required to observe a mandatory “cooling-off period” of between three months and six months in the hope that they will reconsider their decision to split up.

Nine out of 10 such couples in Sichuan province have reconciled after the cooling-off period, the China Daily reported.

“Many impetuous couples decide to divorce due to minor disagreements, causing much pain to the children and the elderly. And there is a great chance that they will regret this move after they have calmed down,” said Li Yibing, president of the Anyue county People’s Court in Ziyang.

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