Court denies divorce to woman after she was paralyzed from a jump to escape domestic violence

Society & Culture

Last summer, a woman in Henan Province jumped out of a second-story window to escape spousal violence. Almost a year later, she’s still stuck in her abusive marriage because a local court refused to grant her a divorce. Now she’s making a second attempt to leave her violent husband. And this time, she’s got the support of millions of people.

Last summer, a woman in Henan Province jumped out of a second-story window to escape spousal violence. Almost a year later, she’s still stuck in her abusive marriage because a local court refused to grant her a divorce.

Now she’s making a second attempt to leave her violent husband. And this time, she’s got the support of millions of people.

In a recent interview (in Chinese) with the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald, a Hunan-based newspaper, the battered wife, surnamed Liu, said that her husband had subjected her to multiple vicious attacks throughout their marriage. The first time she faced physical abuse was when the couple was having a dispute about her husband’s gambling habit.

That’s when the idea of getting a divorce first came into the picture, Liu recalled. But after her husband apologized and promised not to hurt her again, she chose to stay in the marriage.

However, things only got worse from there. In August last year, the abuse escalated to a point where Liu’s husband pushed her to the ground in their co-owned clothing shop, hitting her repeatedly and punching away her phone so she couldn’t call the police. Unable to escape from the main door, which was locked by her husband, Liu opted to climb out a window and drop to the ground outside to call for help.

Suffering several bone fractures due to the jump, Liu has been paralyzed from the waist down since then. Liu said that during her hospitalization, her husband’s father threatened the lives of her family members if she reported the assault to the police.

Determined to get out of her dangerous marriage, Liu then filed for an divorce on the grounds of domestic violence. But earlier this month, the local court ruled that her divorce request would not be approved because her husband wanted to continue the relationship. Liu was also told that in order to obtain sufficient evidence to prove her domestic violence accusations in her divorce case, she needed to file a criminal complaint against her husband.

However, after being shown medical records about Liu’s injuries, the local police decided that her paralysis was a result of her “attempted suicide,” and that it had no direct relation to the husband’s abuse.

“I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was trying to escape so I wouldn’t be killed,” Liu told the newspaper. She added that her husband was finally arrested this week after her appeal, saying that she’s filing for a divorce again.

Since her interview was published, Liu’s horrifying story has gained a great deal of attention on Chinese social media, with the majority of the responses showing support for her and condemning China’s legal system. On Weibo, as of July 23, a related hashtag (in Chinese) regarding the news has garnered over 260 million views and inspired about 85,000 posts about the case.

Most commentators directed their anger at the court, saying that by denying Liu an exit from the toxic marriage, the court is putting her at greater risk for harm. “So basically the family court is telling her not to come to them again until she is dangerously close to being killed by her husband,” a Weibo user said (in Chinese). Another one commented (in Chinese), “It’s been a year since she wanted a divorce. What was the judge thinking? Are they punishing this woman for seeking to end her abusive marriage?”

Many also pointed out that Liu’s case was an alarming example of how China’s policies that promote marriage and couples sticking together make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to leave their abusive partners. In 2019, in a bid to reduce the country’s soaring divorce rate, China introduced a new clause in the family and marriage section of its revised civil code, stipulating that divorce-seeking couples must wait 30 days before their request is approved. Since then, the so-called “30-day cool-off period” has been met with a fierce backlash from critics who argued that the legislation does nothing but add unnecessary obstacles to people who are in dire need of a divorce, especially those facing violent domestic abuse.

When this year’s Two Sessions meetings took place in May, there was a widespread online campaign calling for China’s policymakers to remove the proposed clause. Some delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC) also voiced their concerns, including Jiǎng Shèngnán 蒋胜男, a screenwriter from Zhejiang Province, who said, “The ‘cool-off’ periods are forcing the vast majority of divorce-seeking couples to sacrifice their convenience due to some marital problems of a small cluster of people.” Despite the strong opposition, the controversial clause was still included in the final version of the new civil code, which was approved and is slated to take effect on January 1, 2021.