Getting a Divorce in Korea
The procedures to get a divorce in Korea are pretty straight-forward, and certainly not much different from any other country. Naturally, the end of each marriage has its own set of circumstances but the legal procedures involved aren’t too tricky.
Divorce can be loosely placed in two brackets – contested and uncontested. First let’s look at divorce in the case of a Korean and non-Korean. It is less common for two non-Koreans to get a divorce here (due mainly to circumstances), but it does happen.
à Note: The Seoul Global Center offers free advice for legal matters including divorce. They offer services in English too. See the article about Seoul Global Centers for a list of services and locations so that you can seek legal counseling.
Korean/Non-Korean Uncontested Divorce
An uncontested divorce is where both parties have agreed totally on who will get what. This means the specifics of money, custody and visitation, property, possessions etc. have all been satisfactorily agreed on in the estimation of both parties. When all this has been decided upon, both parties must attend the Seoul Family Court (or the local family court in their region). Apparently the family court has an English speaking volunteer who can help in explaining the procedure to you.
Couples should bring:
à Note: If for whatever reason your marriage certificate is not written in Hangeul you will need to get it translated and then notarized. Only then can it be used by the family court.
Korean/Non-Korean Contested Divorce
Contested divorces are by far the more common way for marriages to end. In Korea, as with everywhere, this means more time and much more money. Hiring a lawyer to negotiate the terms of the divorce will be costly and this will delay any chance of getting a court hearing by up to a year or more. Once conditions have been agreed on and a court date set, the divorce can be granted.
Finding a lawyer
For non-Koreans, the most frightening aspect of the process may be confusion due to the language barrier. Also, legal matters and the jargon that goes with them can be confusing at the best of times. For a list of lawyers in South Korea that understand English, check the following:
How will the divorce affect your visa status?
For F5 visa holders there will be no change. F5 visas are for landed immigrants and are therefore granted for life. However, F6 visas (formerly F2) -marriage visas- are different in that the visa lasts up until the expiry date. After that, the foreign visa holder will need to switch a legal working visa to remain in the country. However, there are some exceptions.
If you have been married for 2 years, and you can prove the divorce is not your fault or if you have a child as a result of the marriage, you can apply for F5 status at the time of the divorce. You will be able to stay in the country as a landed immigration under those conditions. If those do not apply, you will need to find a working visa once your F6 expires or leave the country. Please learn more about The F-Series Visas in Korea.
Divorce Between Two Non-Koreans
In the case of two foreigners, marriages can be terminated under Korean law. In a lot of cases the couple will return home to get a divorce, however non-Korean couples of two different nationalities aren’t able to do this. For couples who wish to get an uncontested divorce, things are fairly simple. Assuming there are no children involved, a divorce can be finalized quickly by the Seoul family court in much the same way that a Korean/non-Korean is marriage is terminated. You will both need to prove your eligibility to live in Korea (Alien Registration Card) but provided that can be done then you are eligible for divorce. Again, you will be required to present a marriage certificate written in Hangeul for it to be recognized by the family court. If this is a translated copy it will need to be notarized too.
In the case of contested divorce between two non-Koreans, both parties need to get a lawyer and then negotiating can begin. Still, though, once an agreement has been reached, the couple will be free to divorce.