Cash in on divorce? Homeowners bet wrong

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Hunched in his wheelchair, 70-year-old Chen was helped by his grandson into a local Civil Affair Bureau on Monday to register his divorce. Sitting next to him was his gray-haired wife, married for half a century and mother of two sons and two daughters.

A frame grab shows lines of divorce-applying couples at the Civil Affair Bureau in Jiangning District of East China's Nanjing city. []

 A frame grab shows lines of divorce-applying couples at the Civil Affair Bureau in Jiangning District of East China's Nanjing city. []

So why now after so long? Not their problems, Chen said to the local Xiandai Kuaibao newspaper.

"Our village is going to be demolished; if we get divorced, we will get more compensation for the extra household," Chen said, referring to the Kylin Sci-tech Zone in East China's Nanjing city that would compensate residents resettled due to the project.

The mentality is shared by 68-year-old Zhang. What adds to the irony is, despite Zhang having lived with his wife for over 30 years, he has yet to register as being married officially on record before applying for a divorce. His son helped secure the dual procedures, in three minutes.

On Monday, when the resettlement notice was unveiled, a mind-boggling 128 couples filed for divorce in Nanjing's Jiangning District, where the Sci-tech Zone would be located. It was rumored that divorces after the day of the public notice would not result in more payments.

However, previously, there were only 10 to 20 divorce cases each day, the Yangzi Evening News reported.

The problem appears to be the chaotic interpretations of the resettlement compensation. The rules vary by different regions in China. But, it generally follows that each household is entitled to a new home proportional in size to the demolished one, along with cash payments or fee charges to settle the difference between owners of large and small house.

Here is the ruse: a divorced couple doubles the household number, so they are entitled to an extra home, or at least more compensation. Since property prices are already sky-high across the country and real estate is virtually worshiped as a symbol of social stature, it should come as no surprise that residents would get separated just to secure a windfall.

The bizarre event, far from being an isolated case in China, has already caught the attention of local government, which summoned an emergency meeting on Tuesday to stipulate that "shell divorces" won't work. An open letter has been issued to local residents, in an attempt to dispel the rumors.

News reports said local authorities also pledged to investigate and punish the "divorce swindlers." Resettlement deals would be annulled if there was any hoax. However, a column in the Huaxi Metro Daily cautions that residents should not be held responsible for a loophole in the rules made by the administration.

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