Update: offices resume divorce registration service on ‘Chinese Valentines’ Day’ after receiving complaints
Published: May 17, 2021 08:12 PM
A couple is waiting to submit application outside the divorce registration room at the Yanta District Civil Affairs Bureau in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on January 5. Photo: VCG

A couple is waiting to submit application outside the divorce registration room at the Yanta District Civil Affairs Bureau in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Photo: VCG

Several marriage registration offices across China told the Global Times on Monday that they've decided to ultimately resume divorce registration services on May 20 - "Chinese Valentines' Day" - after receiving complaints from netizens and local couples who still hope to divorce.

Handling marriage and divorce registrations is the statutory duty of the marriage registration organs, China's Ministry of Civil Affairs Ministry noted on Wednesday, in response to public concern about registration offices making arbitrary decisions over preventing people from registering for divorce on certain days.

The ministry will further strengthen guidance and supervision for marriage registration organs to provide the public with high-quality, convenient and efficient services, it noted.

The marriage registration offices in Pingjiang county of Central China's Hunan Province and Kaili city of Southwest China's Guizhou Province said last week that they will suspend divorce registration services on May 20, to make way for new couples who hope to register they marriage on the day.

But they changed their mind after the decision caused wide anger on Chinese social media over the weekend, staffers with the two offices told the Global Times via phone on Monday.

"Although we don't encourage the couples to [register for] divorce on May 20, we won't refuse their requests if they actually come," said a staffer with the office in Pingjiang surnamed Shan.

At the office in Kaili, a staffer surnamed Xu said the office will keep one of its service windows open for divorce registration services on May 20. The office has five service windows in total; three for marriage registration and two for those looking to divorce, she added.

"We made the decision [to resume divorce registration services on May 20] after seeing some [negative] comments online," Xu told the Global Times.

The reason that the offices initially planned to suspend services on May 20 was to allow more staffers to serve large numbers of marriage-registering "quasi-couples" on the day, explained Shan and Xu.

On May 20 last year, the Pingjiang office saw more than 400 new couples looking to register their marriage, Shan said. "But usually we only serviced around 20," she told the Global Times.

A similar situation was echoed by Xu, who said the number of new couples that the Kaili office served on last year's May 20 was between 300 and 500, "more than 100 times of that on other days," Xu noted.

May 20 is an unofficial holiday due to its pronunciation sounding like "I love you" in Chinese; it is regarded as a Chinese Valentines' Day by many young people, and has become a yearly peak time for new couples to register their marriages, said a statement released by the Pingjiang office on May 10.

"So, we will suspend divorce services on May 20 to ensure the registration office remains orderly and to better serve new couples," said the statement which caused complaints on China's Twitter-like Weibo.

"There are many ways to better serve new couples that day, such as arranging more staffers on duty or extending your working hours," one user wrote. "You can't simply shut out those who want to divorce."

A few users complained that suspending the service was "interfering with the freedom of divorce" and "discriminating against divorced people." "For the sake of fairness, the offices had better also suspend marriage registration for new couples on November 11, China's 'Singles' Day,'" one user joked.

On early Monday morning, Kaili authority announced it would resume its divorce registration services on May 20 on its WeChat account, the Global Times reporter found.

"We deeply apologize for our initial ill-considered arrangement, and the inconveniences and adverse impacts to the public it caused," it said.

Official data showed there were only 296,000 couples in China registering for divorce in the first quarter of 2021, a 70-percent decline compared to the same period in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Demographers and sociologists believe that the 30-day "cooling-off" period policy, which came into effect from January 1, mainly contributed to the plummet.