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Daily Drip

Not So Fast: Can a Mandatory Pre-Marriage “Cooling-Off Period” Decrease the Divorce Rate?

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Against a backdrop of aging population demographics and shifting attitudes toward marriage, Chinese officials continue to come up with measures they hope will encourage more people to tie the knot and deliver more babies.

With less than a fortnight to go until one of the country’s main policy-setting meetings — the “Two Sessions” — takes place, there’s been a flutter of proposed initiatives in the family-planning field. One of those to grab considerable attention online has been the suggestion of setting up a “cooling-off period” before a marriage is confirmed (this would be in addition to the new cooling-off period introduced before a divorce can be finalized.)

Party official Xu Shanshan strongly advocated for such a cooling-off period at a meeting in Shanghai late last week, arguing that a premarital medical examination should form a part of the pre-wedding window. Xu said couples ought to fully disclose such information to each other before a marriage registration takes effect. And people say romance is dead.

Xu’s statements come after China’s new civil code was passed last May, which endorsed a controversial 30-day cooling-off period for divorces, in the hope that the time to rethink would help reduce the divorce rate. A total of 4.15 million couples filed for divorce in 2019.

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The proposal has sparked heated discussions on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, with the hashtag #Shanghai plans to set a pre-marriage cooling-off period# accumulating 190 million views in just 12 hours.

“I’ve already suggested this before, this is much more important than a divorce cooling-off period,” reads a highly upvoted comment on the site. “Nowadays, many people get married too impulsively. They don’t solve problems while in relationships but hope everything will turn alright once in a marriage. But actually no, marriage is not used to solve problems. Therefore, we must think clearly and make good choices before getting married.”

At the same time, given the public’s general lack of enthusiasm for having a second child despite the ending of China’s notorious One Child Policy, the Shanghai Women’s Federation is planning to submit another proposal, suggesting that couples share the statutory 128-day parental leave and that this includes a 42-day mandatory period of male leave. 

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“It’s more than necessary, many fathers are absent during the growth of their children,” reads a popular comment on Weibo.

“What you dream is light, what you see is night,” says a different voice. “If men also go on leave, who is going to make money to support the family?”

The comments — and the hundreds of millions of views on related hashtags on social media — are a sign that such debates will continue to rage for some time. Although the period before big Party meetings is often filled with various “proposals” that don’t always make it into actual policy, it’s clear that the soaring divorce rate and record-low fertility rate are very much on people’s minds.

Cover photo: Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash

Lu Zhao
Lu Zhao is a bilingual and multimedia journalist with a focus on human interest and social issues. Her work has appeared in USA Today, UPI, SupChina, Pandaily, Chicago Reporter, and other publications.