Tag Archives: divorce

Divorce in Korea: Resources and an Overview of the Process

You do not need to report your divorce to our office.  However, if you have filed an immigrant visa petition for your spouse to immigrate to the U.S., you should report your divorce to the U.S. DHS – Citizen and Immigration Services Office (CIS-Seoul.Inquiries@dhs.gov) or the U.S. Embassy’s Immigration Visa Unit (support-korea@ustraveldocs.com).

Obtaining a divorce in Korea is a complicated process for foreigners.  The information we provide here is only a general outline. You should obtain qualified legal counsel for questions regarding divorce.   The U.S. Embassy is prohibited from advising citizens on particular legal matters, however, we maintain a list attorneys to assist American citizens in locating an attorney. The list is not meant to be an exhaustive one, or to be construed as the U.S. Embassy’s endorsement or recommendation for any particular attorney. Please consult an attorney for specific guidance on this matter.

Jurisdiction: The first step in pursuing a divorce in Korea is establishing jurisdiction.  Usually Korean courts will accept the case if at least one of the parties involved in the divorce has habitual residence in Korea or if there are other substantial grounds for the divorce to be handled in Korea.  If both parties have habitual residence outside of Korea and the marriage was performed outside of Korea, ROK courts may not accept jurisdiction.  A legal professional can help you determine if it is appropriate to file for divorce in Korea.  If a Korean court accepts jurisdiction and one or both parties in the divorce have non-Korean nationality then the court may consider the laws of the other country during divorce proceedings.

Types and timing: Korean divorce proceedings are categorized into two types- consensual and judicial. Consensual divorce occurs when the parties are able to work out arrangements between themselves and only require a judge to witness their signature.  Judicial divorce occurs when the parties need the assistance of the court to come to an arrangement. The normal processing time for consensual divorce is one month, when no minor children are involved, and three months for cases involving a minor child.  For judicial divorce, the time required by the court to reach a decision varies depending on the complexity of the case, ranging from three months to two years for final processing.

Child Custody: In Korean divorce cases where a minor child is involved, the child’s best interests are always at the forefront of a custody decision and habitual residence of the parents and child play a significant role in the decision making.

When a divorce is consensual, the parties typically work out a mutually agreeable custody arrangement.  However, if an agreement is not made the case becomes a judicial divorce and the court makes a decision based on the best interest of the child.  In Korea, the police do not have authority to enforce visitation orders, whether domestic or international.  However, Korean law allows local courts to recognize foreign court orders in some cases.  A parent wishing to file a complaint about non-compliance of domestic visitation agreements should contact the family court in their district. If a parent violates visitation orders, the family court may impose a fine and/or temporary imprisonment.

Please note that Korean divorce decrees filed at the Seoul Family Court in Korea are kept for only one year.  Therefore, since foreigners do not have family census registries, we urge you to make duplicate copies as soon as you obtain the original document.  If the divorce decree is to be submitted to the U.S. Government, you must also provide an English translation which the Family Court will not do.  You may make arrangements through the office of your attorney to have a translation done for you.

Legal Services: In addition to the attorneys who have informed the U.S. Embassy of their interest in serving Americans, we are aware of the following pro-bono or discounted legal services which are available for those in need.

  • Seoul Global Center for Foreigners: Free legal services are available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-5 pm. E-mail: hotline@seoul.go.kr  or call 02-2075-4130 ext 1 with inquiries or to schedule an appointment prior to your visit by calling 02-2075-4180.
  • KBA Legal Aid Foundation which was founded by the Korean Bar Association.  To apply for pro-bono services, you need to submit a statement regarding your situation along with an ID. The application is available on their website. It should take about two weeks for them to review the documents. If they determine that you are eligible for the free service, an English speaking lawyer will be appointed.
  • If you are in need of a translation service, we suggest that you contact Before Babel Brigade (BBB), a Korean networking organization that offers a free translation service. 24 hours/7 days.  Tel: 1588-5644