Divorcing in Korea as Foreigners: The Ultimate Guide

We have been frequently asked about how to get divorced in Korea as foreigners.  In this article, our Korean divorce lawyer explains the most essential information about Korean divorce law and practices.

Can Foreigners Get a Divorce Decree from the Korean Court?

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 if 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 jurisdiction in the case of international divorce, please click here.

Do I Have to Reside in Korea to Divorce?

No, you don’t have to reside in Korea to get a divorce decree from the Korean court.  As we explained above, the residence of the petitioner doesn’t matter.  We have successfully represented numerous foreign clients who reside out of Korea in getting a divorce decree against their spouses living in Korea or, sometimes spouses who were missing.

We do not say that the residency and nationality of the petitioner have no relevance in divorce in Korea.  They matter in 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. Can I Still Divorce in Korea?

If you don’t know the 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 missing spouse.

This kind of divorce is used quite often among international couples in Korea.  The relationship in Korea deteriorates and the spouse returns back to his/her home country.  And they lost contacts.  In such a case, the Korean court regards it as against the human right to not accept a divorce filing by the left-behind spouse in Korea.

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

Which Country’s Law Shall Apply?

Choice of Law

Most foreigners seem to believe that the Korean divorce law would apply to their divorce in Korea.  But that is not the case.

In the court of Korea, the divorce case shall be governed in the following order:

  1. the law of Korea, if one spouse has a Korean national having a habitual residence in Korea
  2. the same law of nationality of both spouses
  3. the same law of the habitual residence of both spouses
  4. the law of the place where is most closely connected with both spouses.

For example, if a British husband files for divorce against a Korean wife living in Korea, the Korean divorce law shall apply.  If a Japanese couple divorces in Korea, the Japanese divoce law shall apply.  If a Canadian husband files for divorce against a British wife, and they both live in Korea, the Korean divorce law shall apply.

Renvoi

Also, it should be noted that Korea recognizes renvoi. Renvoi is a subset of the choice of law rules.  If the above rules designate the law of a certain foreign country, and that foreign country’s choice of law rules designate back the law of Korea, eventually the Korean divorce law becomes the governing law.

This is particularly relevant to American couples.  In the United States, the law of the forum applies to divorce cases.  Thus, when a U.S. couple divorces in Korea, although their law of common nationality is the law of the U.S., the Korean divorce law shall apply.

If you want to know more about which country’s divorce law shall apply to you, please check this article and this.

Types of Divorce under Korean Law

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.

Divorce by Agreement

In case of a divorce by agreement, the court doesn’t question the reason for divorce.  There will be no judicial review of the divorce.  What the court does is verify the genuine intent of divorce from both parties. 

It should be noted that, however, when both parties are foreigners, they can’t use a divorce by agreement.  They should go through a divorce by court order.

Also, some countries do not recognize a non-judicial divorce from a foreign country.  So, even when a foreigner married a Korean national, we recommend a divorce by the court order.

Divorce by court order

When both parties can’t agree, the party who wants divorce should file a divorce petition against the other party.  This is a judicial divorce.  

The judge will review whether the divorce claim should be granted.  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.

As discussed already, international couples who already agreed to divorce can use this judicial divorce process.  As they do not contest the divorce, the procedures become very simple.  Even better is, that if the foreign spouse hires a Korean divorce lawyer, they both do not need to appear in the Korean court.  It usually takes 1 to 2 months to get the decree.    

Can’t I Divorce Unless My Spouse Agrees?

You can divorce even if your spouse disagrees with the divorce.  You have to file for judicial divorce.  You and your Korean divorce lawyer should persuade the Korean judge to render a divorce decree in your favor.

What Legal Grounds Are Required for Judicial Divorce?

Korean divorce law does not recognize no-fault divorce.  Thus, when your spouse contests your divorce and the Korean divorce is the governing law, you should prove that you have just cause for 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 descendants
  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.  As explained above, South Korea is not a state of no-fault divorce.  Many Korean judges, however, 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 contest 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 marriage breakdown is not qualified to apply for judicial divorce.

However, there could be some exceptions to this.  For example, the cheating could take place after the marital relationship had been irretrievably broken down.  In such a case, the Korean court can grant a divorce per the cheating spouse’s petition.  

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 only because 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 divorce in Korea as a foreigner, you need to carefully review some other subsequent legal matters.  Those include a property division, child custody, child support, visitation, and consolation money.

Read More: How Do the Korean Courts Determine the Child Support Amount?

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.  Korean law divides marital assets fairly according to the contribution of each spouse.  You can find more detail in our article on property division under Korean law.

Read More: An Overview of Claim for Division of Property under Korean Divorce Law

You may consider entering into a prenuptial agreement before the marriage to separate and protect your assets from the spouse’s potential claim of property division.  The prenuptial agreement, however, has limited legal effect in Korea.  So, you should better consult with a Korean divorce lawyer before doing it.

Read More: Prenuptial Agreement 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 or two.

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

Can I Stay in Korea under Korean Spouse Visa (F-6) after Divorce?

When you get divorced in Korea as a foreigner, one thing you should be careful about is its impact on your Korean spouse’s visa.  

Usually, a Korean spouse visa F-6 becomes void when you are divorced.  There is, however, one exception.  You can stay in Korea with F-6 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 after the divorce and they divorce due to the Korean spouse’s fault, it is not a good idea to do a divorce by agreement.  That is because the divorce by agreement doesn’t clarify the important fact that the Korean spouse is liable for divorce, which the Korean immigration office requires at the time of visa renewal.

That said, our Korean divorce lawyers 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 a Korean Divorce Be Recognized in My Home Country?

You should consult with your domestic lawyers regarding how your country deals with the recognition of foreign divorce.  It is known that the duly made divorce decree by the Korean court is recognized in many countries including the United States, Canada, and Japan.

For example, divorce decrees from Korean Family Courts are accorded nearly equal recognition in the US state courts, based on the concept of comity. This means that the Korean divorce decree is valid in your country so you don’t need to file for divorce in your country all over again.

The Korean court also recognizes foreign divorce decrees under certain conditions met.  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.

Read More: [Q&A: Family Law] Is Canadian or U.S. Divorce Decree Including Alimony and Child Support Order Enforceable in Korea?

How about Annulment and Marriage Revocation?

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

 

If you have any questions about Korean divorce matters and want to speak directly with our Korean-qualified English-speaking lawyer, please click the contact button below.  A real Korean lawyer, not a U.S. attorney hired by a Korean lawyer nor just an English-speaking staff, will help you competently.

Also, you can find a stack of legal information and articles on Korean family law, written by a Korean licensed lawyer, by clicking here.


© 2022 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.

51 Comments

  1. I was sceptical at first. Especially when I had to sent personal information and wire transfer the fee to another country. I wasted a lot of money in California to get a divorce and whished to have the research done earlier to pick this law firm. My previous California lawyer did not get me anywhere and after 9-month my divorce was still stuck in the California court system. Your law firm promissed me a timeline, kept the timeline, and I am divorced in the timeline you promissed. Thanks!
    Note: Highly encourage to use this law firm if you want results—not fake promisses!

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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).

  8. 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?

  9. Dear Chung & Partners
    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?

  10. helow
    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..

  11. Chung & Partners.
    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?

  12. Hello, 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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?

  17. 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?

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. Chung & Partners

    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

  24. 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. Chung & Partners

      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.

  25. 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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