As China seeks to rein in the number of divorces that have been increasingly taking place in the country, civil affairs departments in some Chinese provinces have introduced novel measures to address the rise in marriage breakdown.

As of last week, couples who are seeking a divorce in China’s eastern Jiangsu province must first take a quiz testing their knowledge about one another before they can proceed with the legal split. The test has also been introduced in at least two other provinces.

Rising Divorce Rates

Legislative changes introduced in 1995 have made it easier for Chinese citizens to end a marriage. Since then, the number of divorces has steadily risen. Divorce rates in China have been increasing for the past ten years. In 2017, 3.4 million Chinese couples filed for divorce (up by 8% since 2016). In contrast, in 1979 only 319,000 Chinese couples registered for divorce.

Chinese authorities have pointed to a combination of factors affecting this trend, including increased financial independence of Chinese women as well as a growing intolerance towards cheating and domestic abuse,

Families as the “Cells of Society”

China places great emphasis on strong families, and generally believes that social instability is a threat. In 2016, President Xi Jinping called families the “cells of society” and urged citizens to promote “fine family culture”. Later that same year, the highest Chinese court counselled lower courts to save marriages whenever possible, and to distinguish between couples whose relationships are in “marital crisis” or “marital death”.

The government has previously also encouraged Chinese couples to have more children, in order to address demographic problems resulting from a rapidly aging population in combination with the effect of forty years of the “one child policy”.

The “Divorce Test”

The tests are intended to address “impulsive divorces”. Liu Chunling, a marriage registration official in Jiangsu, told Chinese media that the tests give couples a moment to “calm down and reminisce on moments in their marriage, reflecting on their roles and responsibilities in the marriage and family life”, adding, “[a] beautiful, harmonious family needs a beautiful and harmonious marriage”.

The tests generally follow a standard fill-in-the-blank and short answer format, and also include an essay component. Questions on the test include:

  • When is your anniversary;
  • What is the best memory between you and your partner?
  • How many times have you travelled together?
  • What is your partner’s favorite food?
  • What is your child’s favorite snack?
  • Have you fulfilled your responsibility to your family?

Couples who score at least 60 on the exam still “have hope”, whereas those who score below that can
“conclude that their marriage is about to break”.

The Test in Action So Far

While Chunling notes that the test is intended to be only a starting point and not a deciding factor in whether a couple can split up, there have been reports of a couple whose high score on the “divorce test” resulted in a court preventing their divorce.

A report from state broadcaster CGTN noted that a couple in the Sichuan province scored 80 and 86 on the test respectively, which a court concluded “suggested a healthy marriage”. The wife, who had been the one to petition for divorce, eventually agreed to the court’s decision.

Responses to the Test

Responses to the introduction of the divorce test have been largely negative. After a copy of the one such test was posted on Weibo (a popular Chinese social media platform), internet users rapidly criticized the practice, writing, among other things:

  • “So if you remember your anniversary you can’t divorce?…Divorce isn’t a case of amnesia”
  • “They are adults and have the right to divorce. Isn’t this an interference in domestic affairs?”

Officials have responded by saying that the divorce tests are voluntary, and re-iterating that their main objective is to consider their decision to separate rationally and to treat it seriously.

While we do not have “divorce tests” in Ontario, the decision to separate or divorce is complicated, emotional, and best undertaken with the advice and guidance of a knowledgeable family lawyer. Many people simply don’t feel comfortable dealing with a large, high volume firm which treats them like a number.  Windsor family lawyer Jason Howie has a small firm dedicated to working with you directly and putting your needs ahead of all others.  You won’t be dealing with a large, faceless organization.  Instead, you will be working with someone who will give you and your case the attention it deserves.

To speak with Jason Howie today, contact 519-800-1039 or reach out online.  Jason has been a fixture of the family law community of Windsor and Essex County for over 25 years: many prospective clients come to Jason through referrals from current or past clients, and also through referrals from lawyers, accountants, medical professionals and marriage counsellors.

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