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February 20, 2014

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'Fake divorces' behind surge in number of couples parting

Shanghai reported a big jump in the number of couples splitting up last year, attributed to a “fake divorce” wave, increasing instability in young people’s marriages and the economic downturn.

A total of 60,825 couples with at least one Shanghainese partner divorced in 2013, 16,461 more than in 2012, the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau said yesterday.

The divorces included 417 in which one partner was an expat or from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, 17 more than in 2012.

The number of divorcing couples in 2012 was about 7,160 more than in 2011.

The bureau’s marriage registration division declined to explain the surge before a press conference next week when specific details, such as age groups and occupations of those seeking a divorce, will be released. However, an expert said there were several reasons behind the rise.

Many couples, mostly middle-aged or older, had sought a divorce to evade a tax on house purchases and this pushed up the figure, said Leng Li, a psychological and marriage counselor. 

A total of 563,285 certificates proving people were single were issued last year, a jump of more than 312,200 from the year before. 

Such a certificate is required for property transactions.

A total of 14,730 remarriages were registered last year, the bureau said.

Shanghai saw a rush of people seeking a divorce from March as couples worked out a way to escape the tax on second homes.

Some registration centers witnessed a record number of divorces, with some saying they had never seen so many couples seeking a divorce in a single day when the tax was looming. The couples even included pregnant women.

They confirmed that the dramatic surge was triggered by the central government’s property curbs announcement, with many couples seeking a quick divorce but remarriage shortly after.

The impact of the tax policy on “fake divorces”  was more obvious compared with other policies, they said.

After couples divorce, one of them can buy a second apartment (deemed their first apartment) that is tax exempt. After the transaction is complete, couples remarry.

Several property agencies suggested couples divorce to evade the tax.

But bureau officials warned of the risk of some men, or women, tricking wives or husbands into divorce by using the tax as an excuse. 

Leng said some divorced couples had yet to remarry.

The rising number of marriages among youngsters born after 1980 was also partly behind the increase in divorces, Leng said.

Those born after 1980 had been pampered by their parents because they were the product of China’s one-child policy and tended to be more self-centered and less tolerant in a marriage, she said.

Many relied on the opinions of their parents, whose intervention worsened situations when marital disputes broke out, Leng said. She said she received many consultations about such situations, with disputes about property and wedding fees emerging as early as during marriage preparations.

“These youngsters are not happy about their marriage,” she said.

Another possible reason was the economic situation, which put pressure on married couples. It was a general rule that the number of divorces rose when the economic situation worsened, she said.

A total of 147,820 couples with at least one Shanghainese partner tied the knot last year, an increase of around 4,000.

The bureau said earlier that the number of people reaching marriageable age was on the decline, with the trend lasting until 2020, which explained the small rise.

The figure included 2,054 marriages with one partner an expat from 71 countries and regions and people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, a decrease of 141 from 2012.



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