Getting Divorced in Korea as Foreigners: The Ultimate Guide

[Updated on February 10th, 2020] We have been frequently asked about getting divorced in Korea as foreigners.  In this article, we provide you with the most essential information about divorcing in Korea.

Can Foreigners Get a Divorce Decree from the Korean Court?

Yes, Korean divorce law doesn’t treat foreigners differently.  Foreign spouses who married Korean citizens and even foreign spouses who married non-Korean citizens can divorce in Korea.

One thing to note is the Korean courts’ rule of jurisdiction which applies to international divorce.  Generally speaking, the Korean court will accept a divorce filing when the other spouse, i.e. the respondent, resides in Korea.

There is an exception to this.  In certain situations, the foreign spouse can get a divorce decree from the Korean court even when the other spouse does not reside in Korea.

The nationality of the respondent or whether the marriage was registered in Korea does not matter for the Korean court to exercise its jurisdiction.

If you want to know more about the Korean rules of divorce jurisdiction, please click here.

Do I Have to Reside in Korea to Get a Divorce Decree from the Korean Court?

No, you don’t have to reside in Korea when getting divorced in Korea as foreigners.  As we explained above, the residence of the petitioner doesn’t matter.  We have represented numerous foreign clients who reside out of Korea in connection with the divorce case against spouses in Korea.

We are not saying that the residency and nationality of the petitioner have no meaning in divorce in Korea.  They are related to another issue which is called a governing law.  We will elaborate on that later in this article.

I Don’t Know Whereabouts of My Spouse. How Can I Get Divorced in Korea?

If you don’t know whereabouts of the spouse, you may consider filing for divorce ex parte.  The Korean divorce court will review whether the petition tried his/her best efforts to locate the spouse.  And when it is reasonably confirmed, the court renders a divorce decree ex parte, which means without serving nor hearing back from the respondent.

This kind of divorce is being used quite often as a way of getting divorced in Korea as foreigners.  The relationship deteriorates and the spouse leaves Korea.  And they lost contacts.  In such a case, it is against the human right to insist on the basic rule that the defendant must reside in Korea in order to get divorced.  

The Korean court also takes care of the right of the missing spouse.  When the missing party finds a divorce decree was rendered without his or her participation, the party can choose to file an appeal with the Korean court.  The appeal must be filed within 14 days.

When Is Divorce Granted in Korea?

Under Korean law, there are 2 types of divorce.  One is a divorce by agreement and the other one is a divorce by court order.

When both parties agree to divorce, they can get a divorce decree from the Korean Family Court.  The court doesn’t question the reason for divorce.  There will be no judicial review on the divorce.  What the court does is to verify the genuine intent of divorce from both parties.

In general, the parties must appear at the court.  The parties, however, may hire a Korean divorce attorney so that they don’t be bothered to appear at the court.

When both parties can’t make an agreement, the party who wants divorce should file a divorce petition against the other party.  This is called a judicial divorce in Korea.  The judge will review whether the divorce claim should be granted.  Basically, this is a trial.  Thus, both parties should make arguments and present evidence to the presiding judge.  Many cases, however, are settled during the court trials.

Can’t I Divorce Unless My Spouse Agrees to Divorce?

You can divorce even if your spouse disagrees with the divorce, as we explained above.  Of course, as your case may lead to a divorce trial, you and your divorce lawyer should persuade the Korean judge to render a divorce decree on your favor.

What Are the Legal Requirements for Judicial Divorce?

In case of a divorce by agreement, there are almost no legal requirements other than the existence of agreement of divorce.

When, however, people get divorced in Korea as foreigners through a judicial divorce, your divorce claim should meet the divorce requirements under the relevant law.

Then what are the legal requirements of divorce in Korea?  Most foreigners seem to believe that the Korean divorce law would apply to their divorce suits.  But that is not the case when it comes to international divorce.

In an international divorce, the Korean court will first have to decide which country’s law shall govern the case.  In the court of Korea, the divorce case shall be governed in the following order:

  1. the same law of nationality of both spouses
  2. the same law of the habitual residence of both spouses
  3. the law of the place where is most closely connected with both spouses.

This means when a U.S. citizen files for divorce with the Korean court, there could be a case where the U.S. divorce shall apply at the Korean court.  If you want to know more about which country’s divorce law shall apply to you, please check this article and this.

What is the Divorce Ground under Korean Divorce Law?

Korean divorce law does not recognize no-fault divorce.  Thus, when your spouse contests your divorce and the Korean divorce law becomes the governing law of your judicial divorce case, you should prove that you have just cause of divorce.  The just causes of divorce under Koren law are described in Article 840 of the Civil Code as follows:

1. If the other spouse has committed an act of unchastity.
2. If one spouse has been maliciously deserted by the other spouse
3. If one spouse has been extremely maltreated by the other spouse or his or her lineal ascendants
4. If one spouse’s linear ascendants have been extremely maltreated by the other spouse
5. If the death or life of the other spouse has been unknown for 3 years; or
6. If there exists any other serious cause for making it difficult to continue the marriage.

Interestingly enough, the most frequently referred divorce cause in the Korean court is Section 6 of Article 840.  As we have explained above, South Korea is not the state of no-fault divorce.  However, many Korean judges grant a divorce when the relationship is irretrievably broken for some reason.  That is when Section 6 comes into play.  This ‘irretrievably broken’ can be a financial issue, a difference of personality or anything which makes it reasonably impossible to sustain normal marriage life.  

Of course, if your spouse does not object to your divorce claim, the judge will grant the divorce without questioning the existence of justifiable divorce grounds.  That is why many divorce lawsuits are being settled at the  Korean divorce courts.

Can a Cheating Spouse Get a Divorce Decree?

We would not say it is impossible, but it would be very difficult for a cheating spouse to get a divorce decree under the Korean divorce law.  That is because it is repeatedly confirmed by the courts that the spouse who is responsible for the breakdown of a marriage can NOT apply for judicial divorce.

However, there could be some exceptions to this.  For example, the cheating could take place during the period when the marital relationship had already been irretrievably broken down.  In such a case, the Korean court can grant a divorce by the cheating spouse’s filing.  

Also, in a case where the other spouse who is irresponsible for the marriage breakdown also wants a divorce but does not accept the cheating spouse’s request for divorce by reason of mere obstinacy or revenge, the court would exceptionally accept the cheating spouse’s claim for a divorce.

What Subject Matters Are Involved in Divorce?

Like in other countries, when you get divorced in Korea as foreigners, you need to carefully review some other subsequent legal matters.  Those will include a property division, child custody, child support, visitation and consolation money.

Under Korean divorce law, the court will divide the marital assets when the parties cannot reach an agreement.  Korea is not a state of community property.  The Korean law divides the marital assets fairly according to the contribution of each spouse.  You can find more detail in our article on property division under Korean law.

How Fast Can I Divorce in Korea?

Court proceedings take time.  However, when the parties agree to divorce, the divorce could be finalized within a month.

In case of a contested divorce, it usually takes 5 to 9 months to get the ruling from the Korean court

Can I Stay in Korea with My Spouse Visa (F-6) after Divorce?

When you get divorced in Korea as foreigners, one thing you should be careful about is your Korean spouse visa.  Usually, your Korean spouse visa F-6 becomes void when you are divorced.  There is, however, one exception to this.  You can stay in Korea even after the divorce when the Korean spouse is liable for the divorce.

Many foreign spouses simply sign a divorce paper in the hope that it would be the best way to get out of the marriage without causing any further stress.  However, if the foreign spouse has a plan to stay in Korea further and they divorce by reason of the Korean spouse’s fault, it is not a good idea to do a divorce by agreement.  That s because the divorce by agreement doesn’t clarify the important fact that the Korean spouse is liable for divorce.

That said, we always advise our foreign clients to do a divorce mediation or a divorce trial.  By doing so, the foreign spouse can get a court decree which certifies the Korean spouse is the liable party.  The Korean immigration office grants the extension of an F-6 when this court paper is submitted.  The foreign spouse can even apply for a permanent visa when other requirements are met.

Will My Korean Divorce Be Recognized in My Home Country?

You should consult with your local lawyers regarding how your county is dealing with the recognition of foreign divorce.  It is known that the duly made divorce decree by the Korean court is recognized in many countries.  For example, the U.S.A., Canada, Japan are all recognizing the Korean divorce decree.  This means that the Korean divorce decree is valid in your country so that you don’t need to file for divorce in your country all over again.

The Korean court also recognizes foreign divorce decree under certain conditions.  The Korean court had previously recognized and granted the enforcement of the Washington state child support ruling in Korea.  You can find more detail by reading our article on the recognition of U.S. divorce and a child support ruling in Korea.

How about Annulment or Marriage Revocation?

The Korean law recognizes an annulment and marriage revocation.  Please check our anther article titled “(Q&A) I Want to Know about Annulment and Revocation of Marriage under Korean Law“.

If you have any questions about divorce in Korea or any other family law matter, please visit our Legal Consultation center or send your inquiry email by clicking here.  Our Korean licensed divorce lawyers, not a U.S. lawyer residing in Korea, will answer your inquiry.

© 2020 All rights reserved.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein, which may or may not reflect the most current legal development, may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

50 Comments

  1. My Korean wife and I live in Latin America. We were married in Korea. She has been unfaithful and I want a divorce.
    Can I apply for it in an embassy outside of Korea?

    1. No, you cannot. The divorce proceedings through any Korean embassy is allowed when the parties are both Koreans. Thus, you should bring your divorce case to your local court. In a situation where she comes back to Korea, you are able to file a divorce complaint with the Korean Family Court.

  2. Hi im charie .i am filipina married to korean ..i just wondering if i decided .to get a divorced cause im not inlove and happy no more .but my husband doesnt want it to happen just in case i file divorced coz we have 29 months old son and im afamraid he wont let me see him coz he said i may need to go back to Philippines nif we are divorced already since im the one who wanted the divorced

  3. My wife is Korean and she just recently returned and a few weeks back she said she wanted a divorce. I spoke with a family court lawyer here in America, and he stated that America wouldn’t recognize a foreign divorce since we were married here. Is this true?

    1. Marriages are law and should be recognized in any civil country. I can’t believe your lawyer said this. You would have to file in USA which could present a problem with her being present. What do you mean by here? Korea? USA? If you want to get divorced here it is fairly simple if both parties are amiable to it. Just file and wait 30 days.

  4. I am married with Korean man and now I want to divorce. Because he is mentally ill and currently he is at the mental hospital. 3 years ago he was at the mental hospital too and he stayed there 3 months. These 3 months seemed like 3 years to me. I spent very hard time alone at home. But I waited for him. This year it happened again. I dont want to wait this time, because he gave me very hard time. He always fights with me, makes me cry, beats me, pushes me out in the street. Here I dont have any place to go. I always cry with grief. So I have some questions about a divorce.
    1. Can I file for a divorce while he is at the mental hospital?
    2. After a divorce can I stay in Korea legally. Can I prolong my ID card after a divorce?
    3. I have a 18 months daughter. Do I have any right to take my daughter with me?
    4. How long will it take to divorce here in Korea?

  5. Hello, Sir. I am planning to get married in Bangkok, Thailand in January. My fiance is Filipino and has a daughter from a past relationship. I am American. I am currently working and living in South Korea. After we are married, she will live with me in Korea for a year or two before coming to America with me. Neither of us have many assets or much money. I am curious about several things. Mainly:

    1) I don’t wanna be responsible for any kind of alimony if we were to possibly end the marriage before moving to America (1-2 years), or even after.
    2) Would I be trapped if I decided I wanted a divorce within the first year and she didn’t, what would be my options?
    3) Would I be financially responsible for her child if we were divorced in Korea (within 2 years)?
    4) Would any prenup we sign in Thailand be valid in Korea and in the U.S.?

    Thank you for your help.

  6. Question regarding following situation.

    American husband divorced Korean wife last year. Two children. Despite video evidence of Korean wife abusing oldest child the Korean wife was given full custody of both children. The American husband was given visitation rights. The Korean ex-wife has violated the visitation agreement repeatedly and continually. As a result the father/ex-husband rarely sees his children. The Korean ex-wife (who has borderline personality disorder) continues to abuse the ex-husband and has repeatedly threatened to flee with the children to a third country. Further in the divorce action the ex-wife was granted 100% of all property (despite the fact that the ex-husband had brought all the money from the U.S. to build a building and buy an apartment).

  7. I am in a dilemma. I am a foreigner and my Korean girlfriend is pregnant. I am certainly sure and she has admitted to having an affair in about the same time she conceived the baby. Now the baby is due in Sep. and I want to do a DNA check up. My confusion is upon the birth of the baby and its registration somebody had to be the father and I am not sure if I am. If I temporarily put my name as a father, to be withdrawn later, if the DNA result turns out to be negative.

    What is the legal repercussion?

  8. Dear Mr. Chung,
    If an American female is married to a Korean man, does she have the same legal rights as a Korean woman would? More specifically, if a divorce occurs, what are the court’s leanings or preferences in deciding who to give custody to?
    I’ve heard that in the recent past, the father almost always gets child custody, regardless of whatever transgressions ocurred to bring on divorce, or whether or not he is more responsible for splitting up being necessary. What are the most current laws concerning this?
    I also would like to ask, is domestic violence a factor at all in divorce~ as in, does the occurence of it give grounds for divorce?

  9. helow mr. chungwi
    i am a filipina commited with korean, he is 14years older than me.
    but he is married and they have three children.
    we truthfully love each other and we are sincere.
    he promise to divorce his wife, but he is afraid that he cannot see his children anymore after divorcing..

    my question is what is the possible if he will divorce his wife? wat are the conditions?
    according him the divorce in korea is not easy..
    please help me ,i am confused …

    thank you so much in advance..

  10. Mr. Chung.
    I am a foreigner with a younger Korean husband. We have been married for 4 months and been together for a little over a year. His possessiveness and immaturity is the reason I want to get divorced. His behaviors and actions show signs borderline personality disorder and stalker issues. I am scared he might show up, or call, or text.I would like to get out of this relationship ASAP, however he does not want to get divorced. How do I go about this?

  11. Hello Mr. Chung, I need a copy of my Korean Divorce Decree but I’m now living abroad. How do I get a copy? Thank you for your help.

  12. Hello Good morning… I am a Filipina married to a Korean. We were married six months ago and when I came to Korea, after a week he wanted to divorce me because I have not given myself to him. In short, we are under a “sexless” marriage. The decision came from his mother and he followed his mother without even talking to me. I went back to the Philippines with the help of a friend shouldering my ticket because my husband doesn’t want to buy the ticket for me and even wanted me to pay for the divorce. Right now, I’m in the Philippines because they threatened me that they will force me to pay all the expenses they have sent me while I was processing my papers to come to Korea. And now, they said that they will come to the Philippines to make me pay the money they’d sent me.. Do i really have to pay the amount they are asking me? Please…I really need an answer… Thank you…

    1. It seems you used this man. If you had no intention of “giving yourself to him” why did you marry him? In this case it seems you had other motives for marrying him such as obtaining a visa to Korea and you married under fraudulent pretenses. Their demands for return of expenses may well hold in a Court hearing, plus they may succeed in an action for compensation emanating from mental anguish.

  13. hi sir.i just want to ask about the civil case here in korea.we have this family company & i filed a case on my family because they dont want to gave me my share.so i filed it a civil case on them.until how many years i will get the result? the case is still on going without my presence in the court? please reply….thank you.

  14. Dear Mr. Chungwi,
    How difficult is it to get a divorce for a korean wife in Korea if she has been unfaithful to her husband. She hasn’t been unfaithful through adultery meaning sexual act, but through text messages and kissing. She goes through mental anguish in the household and is subject to mental abuse from the husband, and is forced against her will to have sex with her husband. She sleeps and then is awoken to the reality of being forced upon by her overpowering huband. This causes her to be afraid to sleep and be around the husband. Do these conditions fall under the “serious cause for making it diffilcult to continue the marriage?” I ask because the huband would never agree or sign the divorce papers, but the wife wants to pursue the divorce.

    Without sexual contact, I don’t see how it can be ruled as unchastity or adultery. Both husband and wife are Korean citizens but the wife wants out of marriage.

    Thank You

  15. Mr. Chung.

    After a married couple file the intial request for petition for divorce, they have to return 30 days later for a hearing of some type. I believe if one person doesn’t show up for the scheduled hearing, then the court will schedule another meeting date about a week later.

    The question is, if one party (who no longer lives in the matamoninal home) doesn’t show up, is this considered , desertion, if he missed both dates for the hearing, and will the court grant the decree at that time?

  16. I am an American and my wife is Korea. We’ve been married for little over 5 months now and we want a divorce. I make more then she does, I have a property (house) back in the states, and just made a joint account with couple of thousands of dollars in them. How much alimony is she entitled to?

  17. My wife and I are not Korean, but we live in Korea. She has been unfaithful to me. I want a divorce, but she does not want a divorce. Will the judge give a divorce if I want to divorce and she doesn’t want to get divorced?

    1. You have to apply to the court in the province or state that granted the legal marriage.

      If you were married in say seattle, then the
      family law court in seattle would handle it

      1. As both of you live in Korea, you can file a divorce lawsuit to Korean Family Court. The governing law shall be the law of the country where both of you came from or got married.

  18. I want to divorce with husband, but he doesn’t want. We had a communication problem. He don’t have a job right now and I am the one whose working. He cannot use his right hand so nobody want to hire him. We always fighting.. If I divorce him, how much is it cost to me and how long it takes?

    Thanks

  19. Thank you so much for the information..I read the earlier post. And I am so gratefulfor the fast reply. And yes, It helped me a lot. Because of your post, I am confident that I haven’t done aything to worry about this. More power to you..Thanks

  20. Can two foreigners, an American and a Korean-born American citizen, who were married in Korea, get divorced in Korea?

    1. Yes they can, so long as (a) they both live in Korea or (b) the opposing party who does not live in Korea answers to the divorce lawsuit filed in a Korean family court. However, please consult with a U.S. lawyer regarding a divorce judgment in Korea shall be effective in the states. For more information, especially regarding several ways to get divorced in Korea, please email me at any time.

  21. hello, Under Korean Law, will a divorce be granted if the wife requests it based on pictures and actual written evidence of sexual misconduct, including x rated pictures and correspondence between a man divorced already 4 times and woman married only once?

  22. Mr. Chungwi,

    Is this law still in force or it has been amended in 2009? Are you expecting to see some changes in this area of the family law any time soon.

    Thank you and kind regards

    Nancy

  23. Mr. Chungwi:
    Sir, I have the same question as Mark. Could you reply to me as well. I want to divorce my wife and marry someone else. What advice do you have for me. I currently live and work with her. I am not a bad person, in fact we have be living in separate rooms for quite awhile now and without looking met someone wonderful. In Korea this is a dilemna. Thank you for your reply

    1. Mr. Chungwi,

      My wife and I are Koreans. I also have the same problem. I want to divorce my wife. I met a foreigner and I love her so much so I want to marry her. My wife is living with me now but I don’t love her anymore. We haven’t even made love for more than a year. I don’t have any reason to divorce her because she does what a wife does except for the fact that I don’t love her. What is my chance to divorce her? I want my freedom so badly so I can start a new relationship with someone I truly love though I feel sorry for her. (I think I married my wife because I was already in my early 30’s so i rushed getting married). One time I used my friend’s name to get her opinion about divorce and all were negative. She even mentioned she’ll revenge if it happens to her. That is the reason why I haven’t opened this matter to her. Please give me your advice.

  24. Mr. Chung: Do the adultery rules you mention also apply to a foreigner who is attempting to divorce his/her Korean spouse? Assuming the court would apply the same rules as in Article 840, would the adultery have to be proven to the court, for example by pictures or a third party testimony? Or is the accusation (heresay) by the respondent enough for the court to NOT grant a divorce under Article 840? I am unclear about this. Thank you for your reply.

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