Korean Law Demystified!

Recent Divorce Cases 4

[Example Situation]


In 1973, Mr. Lee marries Ms. Cho. They have 3 kids together, but the marriage is not a happy one. In 1984, Mr. Lee leaves home. In the mid 90s, Mr. Lee starts living with his old girlfriend (from before marriage). And in 2015, Mr. Lee (now age 70) unilaterally files for divorce from his wife. (Ever since leaving home in 1984, Mr. Lee has not kept in touch at all with his wife and 3 kids…)

How is a Korean court likely to decide?

I. The (Supreme Court) Ruling

The above example is similar to a case reported here in Korea.

In December 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed an appellate court decision which had rejected Mr. Lee’s plea for divorce.

II. Reasoning

Yes, it’s true that their marriage is practically in shambles, but Mr. Lee is primarily to blame for that. His wife is not at fault.

1. Early in their marriage, he drank and slept outside a lot…

2. He abandoned his family + failed to keep in touch for 30 years!

3. He never supported his wife/kids financially. His wife raised all 3 kids by herself + looked after Mr. Lee’s parents all those years.

Also, there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Lee’s wife was refusing divorce simply out of spite or “feelings of retaliation.”

III. Explanation

1. In order to unilaterally file for divorce in Korea, your spouse has to be primarily at fault for having ruined the marriage. The mere fact that your marriage is in shambles is not enough.

2. The exception is that your spouse is refusing divorce simply out of spite or “feelings of retaliation.” But you need proof.

DID YOU KNOW? Up until 1997, Koreans with the same surname + same ancestral origin (동성동본) could not marry each other. This, of course, was absurd because some surnames (e.g., Gimhae Kim, Jeonju Lee, Miryang Park) numbered in the millions!

DID YOU ALSO KNOW? Same-sex marriage is currently not recognized in South Korea.

Thanks for reading!

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