And Finally

Change of heart

New cooling-off clauses introduced as divorce rate increases


Gillian Chung: reality check

How much of reality TV is genuinely real and how much is staged? WiC’s guess is that much of it is manufactured, especially when celebrities are involved. The former husband of Gillian Chung – an actress from Hong Kong – confirmed as much recently. The two had starred in reality series in the last two years before divorcing in March. The ex-husband then told the media that the couple had actually wanted to part shortly after they were married but the contracts they had signed to appear in the reality shows had forced them to stay together and put on the pretence of married bliss.

The couple might have had more time to rethink their eventual separation in mainland China than in Hong Kong. Last week Chinese legislators passed what is being classed as the country’s first “civil code”, which comes into effect at the start of next year. It replaces existing laws on marriage, adoption and property rights. But the most-discussed item is the introduction of a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period for couples seeking divorces.

The move comes at a time when the divorce rate has been on the rise. Social views on marriage are changing, not least as more women become financially independent. Government data suggests almost 9.5 million couples tied the knot last year but there were 4.15 million that went their separate ways. That’s up substantially on 2003, when divorce was first allowed by mutual consent, and 1.3 million couples dissolved their marriages.

The rationale behind the law is to help couples think carefully about ending their marriages, says Xinhua, which saw it as a way of blocking impulsive break-ups and securing “a harmonious family and society”.

Cooling-off periods like these aren’t unusual in other countries, but the reaction from the Chinese public was widely critical. “We cannot even divorce freely?” one netizen fumed. “There must still be a lot of people who marry impulsively, so they should set a cooling-off period for getting married as well!”

Across the Taiwan Strait, there was another landmark ruling last week too, when laws classing adultery as criminal behaviour were declared to be unconstitutional.

The verdict – coming a year after the legalisation of same-sex marriage – defangs legislation in force since 1935. “The Criminal Code should not be used to punish actions that hurt personal feelings,” the head of the constitutional court said in announcing the order.

In the last four years Taiwanese police have investigated more than 10,000 people for philandering, with more than 1,222 convictions, The Economist magazine noted last month. Straying spouses received fines averaging $3,000 and criminal records. The new ruling will put a stop to such sentencing.

“The adultery law offers limited help to maintaining marriage relationships,” said Lin Hui-Huang, secretary-general of the island’s Justice Ministry. “State power interfering in marriages actually has a negative impact on marriages.”

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