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As outbreak slows to trickle, big cities see divorce filings pour in

By LI LEI in Beijing and HUO YAN in Xi'an | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-03-25 09:48
[Photo/VCG]

Registration offices in major cities have been overwhelmed by divorce applications since they resumed services this month following a slowdown in domestic novel coronavirus infections.

The deluge of applications has prompted many to suspect that the self-quarantine rules-which limit the time people spend outside their homes to curb infections-have taken a toll on faltering marriages, although some divorce lawyers suggest that the month that follows the Lunar New Year is traditionally a turbulent period for couples.

In Xi'an, Shaanxi province, the influx of divorce appointments has led local registrars to implore bickering couples to think twice and avoid making rash decisions, according to Huashang News, a local newspaper.

Many were quoted as saying that they have been working full tilt to handle such applications since they returned to work on March 2.

A search on the city's public service reservation platform by China Daily showed that couples seeking divorce have to wait until early April to have their petitions reviewed.

In Shanghai, quarreling duos were dismayed to find they have to wait until early May to file their earliest petitions, and those in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, were compelled to move fast as slots were running out for April, according to local reservation data.

A registry in Dazhou, Sichuan province, said they handled 88 such petitions between Feb 24 and March 11, a sharp increase, adding that the remainder of March has been fully booked.

There has also been a rise in domestic violence cases.

According to Under Blue Sky Women and Children's Rights Association, an anti-domestic violence group in Hubei province-which was hit hard by the epidemic-police in Jianli county in Hubei received 175 reports of domestic violence in February, compared with 47 during the same period last year.

In Qianjiang, another county in the province, 85 cases were reported in January and 89 in February, both around twice the numbers reported during those months last year.

"The increase is prominent, whether year-on-year or compared with months before the novel coronavirus outbreak erupted in December," said Wan Fei, a retired police officer in Hubei who founded the association in 2014.

It is not unusual for marriage crises to erupt in the wake of the Spring Festival break, which many marriage lawyers have described as a hotbed for family frictions and even broken relationships.

The weeklong holiday brings together family members of several generations under the same roof who have drastically different living habits and values, potentially creating serious friction, lawyers and relationship experts say.

This year, the novel coronavirus outbreak disrupted the festivities in late January and forced many to either sit idle at home unpaid or work remotely.

Schools have also been canceled, causing millions of students to attend online courses from their bedrooms.

Limited space at home has caused couples to lose their independent territories for months, causing interference and magnifying small problems, according to Zhang Jing, executive director of the Family Development Research Center under China Women's University.

"The needs of wives, husbands and children for work and study environments vary, and the failure to communicate may result in an emotional breakdown," she said.

For some, parenting was the focal point of marital conflicts during the epidemic, which shuttered schools and compelled parents of young students to teach from home so as not to let them fall behind their peers.

Li Xin, a 37-year-old mother of two who lives with her parents-in-law in Xianyang, Shaanxi, said: "Their grandparents dote on them and my husband does not approve of my teaching, which is frustrating."

Liu Ruini, a lawyer with the Shaanxi Span Law Firm in Xi'an, noted a trend of people who work away in cities divorcing their partners in rural areas after the Lunar New Year reunites them and reveals growing gaps in values, visions and financial capabilities.

"When people get financial security, they crave spiritual resonance," she said.

However, Zhang Jing, the researcher, noted that bonding has tightened for some couples, usually white collar workers who have little quality time for each other because of tight schedules.

The bonding is also stronger among some couples who are both hospital workers in epidemic-stricken regions, as they appreciate each other's bravery in the face of death, she added.

Liu said the divorce reservation numbers are misleading, noting that not all of those who applied would divorce.

"Many were just quarreling, and they do not mean it," she said.

He Qi in Shanghai contributed to this story.

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