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China Tried to Slow Divorces by Making Couples Wait. Instead, They Rushed.

  • February 27, 2021

That same evening, Ms. Shi got an appointment — and her divorce came through the next morning. “I’m very grateful,” she said. In her view, she said, “it is marriage that needs a cooling-off period,” not divorce.

Mandated waiting periods for divorces — to allow for reflection, reconciliation, the organization of finances or discussions about custody — are not unusual in many countries. But in China, the move was met with skepticism and concern, with the hashtag #OpposeCoolingOffPeriod# generating 81,000 comments on Weibo, a popular social media website. People felt the government was overreaching into their personal lives.

“We have seen enough evidence suggesting that even if you make divorce harder and you set up more hurdles, if people are not happy with their marriage, they will find ways to get out,” said Ke Li, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who has studied divorce litigation in China for 15 years.

Women’s rights activists say the waiting period could further disadvantage stay-at-home mothers who often have no independent income to pay for a legal fight. For those urgently seeking a dissolution, the order to wait could complicate the legal process. Even after they have completed the wait, couples would need to make another appointment to finalize the divorce.

The rule also grants either spouse the power to retract the divorce application if they disagree, which could further endanger victims of domestic violence, activists have said. The government said that in such cases, victims could approach a court to dissolve their marriage.

Shen Jinjin, a 34-year-old employee of an insurance company, has been married for over three years to a man who she says is verbally abusive to her and her parents. In January, she decided to leave him.

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