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2018-04-11 10:46:21

Breaking up is hard to do, especially in China.

An 88-year-old woman in the eastern province of Jiangsu will finally be allowed to divorce her 96-year-old husband after two unsuccessful attempts, local media reported Tuesday.

According to an article posted to the WeChat public account of the Jiangning District People’s Court in Nanjing, the woman, surnamed Song, met her husband, surnamed Sun, while they were both working at the same school. Despite the protestations of their children from previous marriages, Song and Sun tied the knot in December 1976.

The first few years of their marriage flew by, which the couple attributes to living under separate roofs. However, when they finally moved in together in April 1982, they found it difficult to get along with each other’s children. Sometimes, things even got physical.

After several stints of living together and apart, Sun was hospitalized in 2010 with acute pancreatitis. He has been living with a friend ever since. The distance made Song’s heart grow farther, and eventually she decided to file for divorce.

In both cases, however, the judges refused Song’s petitions. According to the court’s article, they reasoned that because the couple had been together for so long, because Sun said he still had feelings for Song, and because all the problems seemed to stem from the couple’s kids, there must still be some connection between Sun and Song.

The judges suggested the couple work their problems out themselves — but Song wasn’t satisfied. Earlier this year, she sued for divorce a third time, and after court-ordered mediation, she finally got what she wanted.

It’s not unusual for Chinese couples to find themselves trapped, like Song, in matrimonial limbo. In September 2017, a court in Sichuan province required spouses filing for divorce to take an exam aimed at assessing the state of their marriage: If their compatibility scores were too high, their divorce would be rejected.

“China’s judges are cautious when it comes to divorce cases,” Shi Fulong, a divorce lawyer at Renhe Law Firm in Changsha, told Sixth Tone. Shi added that because China does not recognize the concept of legal precedence, decisions in divorce cases often come down to the beliefs and feelings of individual judges.

However, there are some circumstances under which divorces are generally granted, Shi said: Drug use, domestic abuse, gambling, bigamy, illegal cohabitation, and prolonged separation are all acceptable reasons for couples to split up. Without these scenarios, the lawyer continued, judges often find it hard to determine whether a marriage has indeed gone irreparably sour, or whether the spouses are simply overreacting.

“Of course, traditional beliefs are another reason why most Chinese people [including judges] might prefer to keep marriages intact,” Shi said. After all, he added, the Chinese proverb “better to tear down a temple than break up a marriage” exists for a reason.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Moment Select/VCG)