New divorce regulations came into force in October, streamlining procedures for separating couples and decreasing the embarrassing public exposure endured in the process. The change was reported as reducing the minimum time needed to get a divorce from 30 days to 30 minutes and has raised fears of a surge in hasty divorces.
Under the old system, couples who wished to separate had to tell their employers or local residence committee that they wished to split and ask them for a signed letter of introduction to the civil affairs department of the local government. Once the file was submitted, the couple had to go through a cooling-off period of at least 30 days. The process often appeared designed to maximise the number of people who knew about the intended divorce and increase social pressure for the couple to stay together.
The revised law only requires partners to produce their marriage certificate and identification before signing a joint statement saying they wish to get divorced. Wu Changzhen, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, welcomed the enhancement of privacy rights but said that the new rules should include a cooling-off period. "China has just jumped from a highly restricted system to one of absolute freedom," she said.
The national divorce rate increased from 3 per cent in the 1970s to 13 per cent in 2000. In some cities such as Shanghai it is now more than 25 per cent.