Getting a Divorce
Korean Civil Law allows for two categories of divorce - uncontested (divorce by agreement) and contested (judicial divorce). There are some conditions regarding who can initiate divorce proceedings. On the whole, the rules apply to marriages between two Korean nationals or between a Korean and foreign national.
UNCONTESTED (mutually agreed-upon) Divorce:
- A written agreement (or court ruling) regarding custody and legal guardianship of any children. This document must detail child support arrangements, designate the custodial parent, and set forth visitation rights & methods thereof.
- A completed application form (obtained from the Seoul Family Court, located at Seoul National University of Education subway station).
- Each party’s Korean ID
- Marriage certificate
- A copy of the Korean spouse’s family registry
- 3 copies of the “divorce report form” (also obtained from the Seoul Family Court)
1. The couple must report together at the family court and state that they wish to get a divorce. They must submit the above-listed documents. The couple may be advised to seek counseling with a certified marriage counselor.
2. Upon completion of step 1, the couple will be given a “guidance on divorce” session.
3. Approximately one (1) month following steps 1 & 2 (3 months if children are involved), the couple will receive the court’s confirmation of their divorce.
4. Within 3 months of receiving this confirmation, the couple must file an attested (notarized) copy of this confirmation with their local gu-office (city or township office).
5. There is a small processing fee involved, please contact the Seoul Family Court Office for the most recent rates: 02-530-2450
CONTESTED (judicial) Divorce:
Each party in a contested divorce is expected to have everything handled by a lawyer (either privately hired or for free via legal aid). Although it's apparently not spelled out in law, Family Court decisions indicate that the 'guilty' spouse is not permitted to initiated divorce proceedings. Part of the explanation lies in the cultural and financial situation of women in Korean society. However, if the wife has implied or stated that she actually wants a divorce but is refusing to initiate to 'punish' her husband, etc. the Court may allow the husband to proceed.
Grounds for Divorce (fault-based)*
Following are some of the grounds for divorce:
- malicious desertion
- abuse by the spouse
- abuse by the spouse's lineal descendent-s or ascendent-s (child, grandchild, parents, etc.)
- if the spouse is missing and it is unknown if s/he is dead or alive for a period of at least 3 years
- other causes that make it difficult to continue in the marriage
*Note: this is just a general information and is not meant to be a legal translation or basis for legal proceedings.
** Until February 2015 when the Constitutional Court struck down the law, adultery was a criminal offense in Korea.
For more information on family law, please check out the Korean Legal Aid website (choose “English” as the language from the main page, go to the Legal Info tab & select Family Law Basics). Or click on this Legal Aid link for divorce.
Seoul Family Court:
Someone who has been trough the process in Seoul reported that the Seoul Family Court has an English-speaking, process & procedure-trained volunteer on hand (supplied by the Gangnam-Gu Office) to assist foreign spouses through the entire process. The volunteer will translate the foreign spouse's statements for the divorce petition, as well as explain the content of all Korean-language documents. When the couple appears before the judge, the volunteer is also present and provides oral interpretation between the judge and the foreign spouse as needed by either party.
If the couple has all of the required documents with them when they report to file for divorce, the entire process can usually be completed in one day. The couple simply needs to file their documents before 14:00. They are then assigned a time to see the judge (usually at 16:00). The couple then reports to the designated office within the Family Court building at the specified time. There will likely be 10-20 other couples scheduled for the same one-hour block. The couples all wait together in a large waiting area and are called in couple-by-couple to see the judge. Upon being called in to see the judge, the contents of the petition are read aloud and each party is asked if they agree with the entire contents, if both say 'yes', the judge declares the couple divorced and the reporting / petitioning process is complete.
As described above, the couple then each receive a copy of the 'divorced' ruling via regular mail. Upon receipt of this document, at least one member of the couple must take the ruling to the nearest Gu-Office and register the divorce, in order for the ruling to take legal effect.
K4E Note: Please note that the Korean legal and judiciary system is continuously changing, or may be affected by a number of different factors including the nationality of each party, where each lives, etc. Therefore, the above information should at best be considered as a rough guideline and very general information. If your experience differs in any way from the above information, please notify us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your experience.
Last Updated on 2020-09-01
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