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China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-Down World

Filings started rising in March as couples emerged from quarantine.

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Illustration: Inkee Wang

As the coronavirus raged through China, Ms. Wu, a housewife in her 30s in southern Guangdong province, spent almost two months in isolation with her out-of-work spouse. They fought constantly. Wu, who declined to give her full name because she wants to protect her privacy, ticked off a familiar list of marital irritants, including money (too little), screen time (too much), and housework and child care (not evenly split). One particular annoyance was her husband’s habit of engaging their two children in play in the evening when they were supposed to be going to bed. “He’s the troublemaker in the house,” she says. “I don’t want to endure anymore. We’ve agreed to get a divorce, and the next thing is to find lawyers.”

Although China publishes nationwide statistics on divorce only annually, media reports from various cities show uncouplings surged in March as husbands and wives began emerging from weeks of government-mandated lockdowns intended to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Incidents of domestic violence also multiplied. The trend may be an ominous warning for couples in the U.S. and elsewhere who are in the early stages of isolating at home: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the opposite might be true of too much time spent together in close quarters.