And Finally

Break-up fee

Profiteers seize on Guangzhou divorce delays


Exit queue: the marriage bureau

Ticket touts in Western countries make most of their money around pop concerts and sporting events. In China they trade in more essential things, like train tickets and hospital appointments. Scalpers in Guangdong province have just added a new service: a chance for couples to finalise their divorces.

The offer emerged after the Civil Affairs Bureau in the southern city of Guangzhou introduced an online booking system for couples wanting to sign their divorce papers. The platform only issues 330 new appointments a day, which means that demand is seriously outstripping supply. For Rmb600 scalpers have been offering to grab appointments as soon as they are released at midnight each night. Even then, the best they can manage is appointments about a month in advance, however.

A report in the Xiaoxiang Morning News says that the bottleneck has been deliberately designed to slow down the rise in divorces. The Guangzhou authorities deny the allegation, claiming the number of appointments should be sufficient, based on historic demand. But the changes to the online system come as the government tries to bring down the divorce rate. It has also introduced a 30-day “cooling off” period during which either party can withdraw the application for separation.

China’s divorce rate has been rising steadily over the past couple of decades. In 2019 around 4.7 million couples terminated their marriages – a figure equivalent to about half the number who married in the same year.

Before the changes to the application process, couples wanting to divorce would simply turn up at the Marriage Registration Bureau and be issued with an annulment – providing they had agreed on how to divide the marital assets. Now they have to submit a divorce petition and wait 30 days before annulling their union. The problem in Guangzhou is that couples can’t even get an appointment to get things started inside 30 days, due to the small number of slots and the anti-social hour at which they are made available.

Scalpers – or Yellow Cows as they are known in Chinese – have sensed new opportunities to make a return. Some are even running software that spots the release of new appointments a few milliseconds before the rest, uploading applicants’ details into the system quicker than others can manage.

While the touts are part of the problem, public anger is more commonly directed at the local authorities for making divorce increasingly difficult.

“What next, a fine if we get divorced?” asked one furious weibo user. “Think twice before you get married,” counselled another. “You may never be allowed to divorce.”

The only way for a spouse to divorce a partner who doesn’t consent to a separation in China is to prove infidelity, abuse, drug use or to show that they have absconded.

And even in cases where violence and abuse are evident, the courts can still be reluctant to grant divorces.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.