Here at the Law Library of Congress we are frequently asked about different aspects of family law. When asked about Chinese family law, one of the questions that I have found more difficult to answer relates to the documents needed to prove that a divorce has taken place in China. Proving a Chinese divorce can be relatively straightforward in some cases, but is quite complicated in others.
Under China’s national Marriage Law, there are two different types of divorce proceedings: (1) administrative proceedings, in which a divorce is filed with the local government civil affairs department; and (2) judicial proceedings, in which a divorce lawsuit is brought to court. (Marriage Law, arts. 31 & 32.) Only divorce by mutual consent in which the two parties have no disputes over child maintenance and property disposition may go through the administrative proceedings. At the end of the administrative proceedings, the civil affairs department issues a divorce certificate (lihun zheng) to each party, which conveniently serves as proof of divorce. (Id. art. 31.)
However, those divorced through judicial proceedings may find it is not as easy to prove their divorce, because they usually cannot get a divorce certificate or a divorce decree that contains only the information necessary to prove the divorce. Instead, whenever proof of divorce is needed, the divorced person would have to present the full-text divorce judgment (or the mediation statement if the divorce was granted through in-court divorce mediation). A divorce judgment could be very lengthy and contain detailed facts and claims that the divorced person may not be willing to disclose. Moreover, the court judgment is not always self-proving to be effective, or may not show when it became effective. Thus an additional “certificate of effectiveness of a legal document” from the original court that granted the divorce may have to be obtained in order to prove the judgment has taken effect. (Jianhua Wu, Lun Fayuan Chuju Lihun Panjue Shengxiao Zhengming Shu Cunzai de Wenti ji Jiejue Cuoshi [On Problems and Solutions of Courts Issuing Divorce Judgment Effectiveness Certificate], PIN PAI (Nov. 2014).)
I was therefore particularly interested to learn about a new development in this area. Recently, some courts in China have reportedly been piloting the issuance of a single-page divorce decree (lihun zhengming shu) to parties divorced through judicial proceedings. A district court in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, for example, issued Guangzhou’s first divorce decree in March 2017. The divorced parties in that court can now apply for a divorce decree upon the divorce judgment becoming effective. Replacing the divorce judgment as proof of divorce, the divorce decree contains only the names of the parties, their ID card numbers, the court case number, and the effective date, but not any other information from the divorce judgment.
Issuance of the single-page divorce decrees appears to be part of a pilot project launched by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) aimed at reforming courts’ hearing of family disputes, including cases involving divorce, child maintenance, adoption, and inheritance. According to the official SPC document announcing the pilot project, the project began in June 2016 and would last for two years. About 100 local courts were to be selected nationwide as pilot courts in the project. It will be interesting to learn more about the progress of the pilot and to see what the outcomes are, in particular if the SPC will require all courts to issue such single-page divorce decrees when granting divorce in the future.