A district court in China’s Shandong Province has introduced rules mandating that couples will be forced to undergo a compulsory three (3) month “cooling off” period before being allowed to divorce there.
Cooling off period
The People’s Court of Shizhong District in Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong Province, this week mandated that all divorcing couples must take three (3) months to become “calm” and “reasonable” before the court will allow them a divorce. In the last week of the three-month period, the couple can request that the court end or extend the “cooling off” period. No person shall object to observing this mandate “without just cause.”
The “cooling off” period was introduced because judges frequently found that couples seeking divorce were not in a situation of irretrievable marriage breakdown. Many couples file for divorce on impulse or due to excessive intervention by their parents. If these cases move directly to legal proceedings, a marriage in crisis could be placed on a fast track towards divorce — something the court seeks to avoid by requiring a “cooling off” period.
Divorce in China
Divorce rates in China began to rise in 1980 when the country’s marriage law established “no-fault divorce.” The law recognized that lack of mutual affection could be used as a basis for divorce, although communities and courts still practiced heavy mediation.
By 2001, the new marriage law and a series of judicial interpretations rid court interventions, thus further reducing legal barriers against divorce. Amendments have also been made to Article 32 of the revised 2001 Marriage Law, and parties to a marriage can now apply for divorce under, and by showing, the following grounds:
- Bigamy or a married person cohabiting with a third party;
- Domestic violence or maltreatment and desertion of one family member by another;
- Bad habits of gambling or drug addiction that remain incorrigible despite repeated admonition;
- Separation caused by incompatibility, which lasts two full years;
- Any other circumstances causing alienation of mutual affection.
During the period from 1985-2015, the crude divorce rate in China increased six-fold, from 0.44 to 2.80 per 1000 people, on par with the United States and many European countries.
There has been both praise and criticism of the new rules online, with some applauding the effort to uphold marriage, while others see it as undue overreach by the court.
Of course, this court has jurisdiction over only a very small portion of China’s population (Jinan’s Shizhong District had only ~700,000 residents in 2011, when China conducted its most-recent census), so it remains to be seen whether the court’s new rules will have any wider-reaching impact. However, with rising divorce rates in contemporary China, public discussions and governmental organs have often criticized the lack of effort in marriage maintenance, and many provinces have already sought to encourage couples to pause and consider giving their marriages another chance. Thus it is conceivable that courts elsewhere in China could adopt similar “cooling down” periods for couples seeking divorces.