In Guangzhou, separating couples are losing out to scalpers on divorce appointments

Society & Culture

Scalpers in China who sell hospital appointments and concert tickets have discovered a new revenue source: selling appointments for official divorce registration.

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Chinese officials tried to make divorce more difficult with the introduction of a “cooling off period” before a legal separation can be granted, but now divorce-seeking couples in Guangzhou have a new obstacle: scalpers and bots.

The Beijing News reported (in Chinese) that scalpers in the city of Guangzhou, whose main businesses used to be selling appointment slots at prestigious hospitals and concert tickets at inflated prices— have discovered a new revenue stream — abusing the divorce appointment system by snatching up just about every available slot, and reselling them to separating couples.

When speaking to the newspaper, furious couples said that they had to push back their separation because no dates were available for them to submit divorce documents to local officials until next month. They called out resellers for charging up to 600 yuan ($93) to grab a slot for them in the online reservation system, which has no mechanism to fight bots when releasing new slots around midnight.

The reservation system, implemented at the beginning of this year, was a byproduct of a new law written in China’s first-ever Civil Code, which requires divorce-seeking couples to complete a month-long “cooling-off” period before official approval, during which time either party is entitled to withdraw its request. 

The couples who were struggling to secure an appointment in February had already filed an initial request for divorce in person in January and waited 30 days to have it processed. Previously, couples seeking to separate only needed to pay one visit to the marriage registration office to have all paperwork sorted out. 

In an interview with the Beijing News, local officials in Guangzhou explained that there was a huge waste of staffing resources due to couples who bailed on their appointments. The scarcity of available spots was exacerbated by the reduced working hours during the Lunar New Year holiday, which will have all civil affairs offices across the city shuttered for about a week. 

They added that aside from online booking, couples seeking a divorce could make appointments over the phone or go directly to offices, where staff members would put down their names and notify them when other people’s appointments were canceled at the last minute. 

But on Chinese social media, many critics blamed authorities in Guangzhou for not doing more to offer extra slots for couples in need and make the reservation system less vulnerable to abuse. Some directed their outrage at the country’s policymakers, arguing that the couples’ scalper headaches could have been avoided if the government had listened to the public, which previously voiced strong opposition to the idea of a divorce “cooling-off” period and expressed concerns that the additional barrier would make getting a divorce an ordeal for many couples. 

“There’s an easy solution to the scalper problem. Just remove the system and let everyone who wants a divorce have one. But clearly it’s a no-go for local officials,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Another one commented (in Chinese), “Who could have imagined that divorce appointments are more scarce than COVID-19 vaccinations now? The ‘cooling-off’ policy really created a new business for scalpers.”