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Marriage knots unraveling

Updated: 2011-08-08 07:51

By He Na (China Daily)

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Extramarital affairs a major factor behind rising divorce rate amid changing social scene, reports He Na in Beijing.

Marriage knots unraveling

Wang Xiuquan, a senior matrimonial lawyer with Beijing Chang An Law Firm, spends most weekends at the office, thanks to the soaring divorce rate. His wife has complained many times, but now she spends weekends with him - at his office.

"Divorce lawyers became the busiest lawyers in our firm in 2005," he said. "Our team handled about 110 divorce cases last year."

Cao Cheng, a senior matrimonial lawyer with Beijing Yingke Law Firm, confirmed the heavy workload.

"I'm not joking if I say that I work almost seven days a week. My phone number has become a divorce consultant hotline."

Marriage knots unraveling

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that 465,000 couples registered for divorce in the first quarter of this year, a 17.1 percent increase from a year earlier. The number of divorces nationwide more than doubled in eight years, from 1.18 million in 2002 to 2.68 million last year.

Many people consider the increase a symbol of social progress, because it means people feel freer to break the bonds of unhappy marriage and pursue new love.

But that freedom comes at a cost, experts say. "We should not neglect its negative effects, especially its impact on children and family members on both sides," Shu Xin said. He is director of the China Marriage and Family Affairs Consulting and Research Center, a nongovernmental organization.

"Not all the couples say goodbye peacefully," Shu said. "Many of them become strangers, even enemies. These people could easily lead to extremes in revenge, which threatens public security."

Children feel it

Under the traditional view of marriage in China, a husband and wife were to remain faithful to each other. Extramarital affairs not only brought shame and disgrace to those involved, but also their families. Divorce was something best kept in the closet. People attached high value to family.

Under those social standards, Shu said, if it came to divorce, "the couple would rather give up anything to fight for custody of the child. But nowadays, many couples consider the children as barriers for their remarriage. As long as they can get rid of the burden, they would love to provide more economic compensation."

Yu Hai, professor of sociology at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said, "The financial loss of divorce may not be much, but in the long run the cost is immeasurable, especially for families with children. Single-parent families have a huge negative impact on children's personality development, family awareness and view of marriage."

A recent survey of 5,000 younger students at 70 Beijing middle schools showed that at least 20 percent have psychological problems in varying degrees. And 65 percent of those students come from single-parent families.

These kids have a lot of problems, Shu said. "However, tracing the sources, all are family problems. The development of juveniles needs care from both parents. It's indispensable."

Terminal affairs

Shu admits he has no data, but he suspects that extramarital affairs are responsible for 70 percent of divorces. He sees infidelity as evidence of moral decline and the collapse of social restraints on unacceptable behavior.

He gave this example:

A man in Hunan province is in his late 40s and owns property worth more than 200 million yuan ($31 million). He plans to divorce his wife, because he fell in love with a recent college graduate who had worked at his company for half a year.

The man and his wife had built the business from delivering cargo on a tricycle. They have three children, and the youngest is 5.

"His wife is a very good woman and a nice mother," Shu said. "In a bid to help her, I met the girl. I thought the girl would feel guilty meeting me, but to my surprise she said confidently that the married couple's love is not true love. The man needed a wife like her to help him develop his enterprise."

Shu was direct in his response: "Do you know that your decision changes the life of his wife, three children, four parents? If these people's lives become miserable from now on, will you be happy for the rest of your life?"

The young woman's face turned red, Shu said.

"Many years ago," he told China Daily, "people who had a mistress, a concubine - their behavior disgusted everybody. But nowadays, many people think an extramarital affair is a symbol of success.

"Such people hold an unhealthy moral compass. They are not ashamed of their deeds."

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