Recent statistics from China have shown that the number of divorces has dropped more than 70% in the first quarter of this year following changes to divorce laws which came into effect on 1 January 2021. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, 296,000 divorces were registered during the first three months of 2021 which was down from 1.05M on the previous quarter and 1.06M in the same time period the year before.
On 1 January 2021, the Chinese government introduced a “cooling off period” requiring couples who are seeking a divorce to wait for 30 days before formalising it. As part of this requirement couples are required to show up for two appointments between 30 and 60 days after applying for their divorce and if they do not do so then their application is automatically cancelled. The changes in China’s divorce laws have drawn controversy with commentators querying whether divorce rates were down because people were changing their minds or whether the process had been made so difficult and people were struggling to get divorce appointments before time ran out. In February, the Chinese media reported that these divorce appointment slots were fully booked in many major Chinese cities and in some cases appointments were being sold by ticket scalpers.
Despite the controversy, these new changes to China’s divorce laws are similar to those currently in place in England and Wales. In England and Wales, there is a cooling off period of approximately six weeks and one day where couples are unable to finalise their divorce (known as the decree nisi stage) which in effect has the same effect. Different to China though, in England and Wales no divorce appointments are required and finalising the divorce (known as decree absolute) simply requires an application to court.
In November 2020 we wrote about the recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics showing that there had been an 18.4% increase in divorces in England and Wales from 2018 to 2019. Indeed, following the outbreak of Covid-19 divorce rates have appeared to be steadily increasing in England and Wales and it is likely that countries around the world are seeing similar rises. It may be the case that China is attempting to curb their ever increasing divorce rates by introducing the new “ cooling off period” however time will tell as to whether attempts to lower divorce rates will be successful.
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