Ask Korea Law

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[Q&A] Do I Really Have to Give up My Inheritance Share as Other Korean Heirs Claim?

Q) My mother passed away a few months ago. There was no will. She was a Korean citizen and her husband too. All two children live in US. As we understand I have inherited a 2/7 share of my mother’s condominium and some cash in Korea. My stepfather and his Korean lawyer seem to up to no good. They both have sent conflicting and in my opinion false information to me. Especially his lawyer is threatening me that I would not able to sell my share so I had no choice but to give up or transfer my share. The stepfather asked me to sign POA and a Renunciation of Inheritance but I refused. Can you give any advice?

A) As your deceased mother was a Korean, the Korean inheritance law shall be the governing law in Korea.  Under Korean inheritance law, you and other heirs had already become the co-owners of the condominium and the bank assets of the deceased.  You have no reason to give up your share nor transfer the share to the stepfather as he advised.  The stepfather’s lawyer alleged that Continue reading


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[Case Report] Attorney Wonil Chung Wins for Expat’s Korean Severance Entitlement – Foreign Employers Cannot Circumvent Severance Liability through a Contract Manipulation

There are so many foreign expats working in Korea.  As you know well, Korean labor law recognizes a severance liability of all employers in Korea regardless of the size of their business and also the nationality of the employee(check here as to how the the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates).  This also applies to the foreign employers such as Korean branches of foreign companies.  The problem is that some foreign employers are ignorant of their severance liability under the Korean law.  Even further, some foreign employers try to evade from their severance liability.  Sometimes they provide wrong information such as “foreigners are not entitled to the Korean severance” to their staffs, designate a foreign law as the governing law of their labor contracts, and have their staffs in Korea enter into the employment contract with their non-Korean entity such as a head office in the U.S. or a Singapore branch.  Those attempts, however, are all meaningless in a sense that regardless of those, they are still liable for the severance pay.  Actually, we have represented foreign employees for their Korean severance claim against the Korean branch and recently we won the case.

This case involved the expats working as ship inspectors in Ulsan Gorgon project.  We filed the severance suit on behalf of Continue reading


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Introduction to the Korean Inheritance Law

When a person is deceased in Korea, the inheritance comes to fruition immediately.  The Korean inheritance law provides who shall become the inheritor and beneficiary of the property of a deceased person, i.e. estate.  This, however, does not always mean the inheritor shall be given all the property of the decedent.  There are separate rules and restrictions of the distribution of the estate in Korea.

The basic rule of the Korean inheritance law is that the property of a deceased person is distributed according to his or her will.  So, a person who is not categorised as a person who can be an inheritor by law can be a beneficiary of the property by the decedent’s will.  What if there is no valid will?  The Korean inheritance law sets forth the rule of intestate succession.  This rule of intestate succession names the beneficiary and the shares of each beneficiary for a distribution.  The intestate succession rule provides that persons become beneficiaries in the following order:

  1. Direct descendants (children or grandchildren)
  2. Direct ascendants (parents or grandparents)
  3. Siblings
  4. Relative within the 4th degree of collateral consanguinity

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What to Expect When Dismissed by Employer in Korea

It is well known that the Korean labor law provides the employees with generous protections when it comes to the matter of disciplinary measures taken by the employer. Unlike many other foreign legal regimes, Labor Standard Act of Korea (LSA) requires the employer of five or more employees to establish a just cause for a dismissal and any other disciplinary actions.  In other words, the employment is not “at-will” in Korea.  (Note:  There is a legal concept of no fault dismissal based on the managerial hardship under the LSA, which requires very strict requirements to execute.  This will be the subject of our upcoming article) 

This rule of law shall equally apply to the employment contract between Korean employer and Foreign employee in Korea, and vice versa.  More importantly, this is the case even when the employee working in Korea agrees in his employment contract that the Korean labor law does not apply.  That is because the Private International Act of Korea which provides the general principles for the choice of law in Korea enables every Korean and foreign employee working in Korea to enjoy the very protections under the mandatory rules of the Korean labor law. Therefore, it is highly advisable that any foreign employee working in Korea and a multinational which has employees in Korea must understand how the Korean labor law regulates the dismissal and under what situation the dismissal becomes a wrongful termination.

Then What is the Just Cause for Dismissal in Korea?

The LSA does not provide what the just cause exactly means.  It is up to the court’s review and the decision thereafter.  That said, it is firmly established in the Supreme Court’s precedent that Continue reading


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[Q&A: Labor Law] I Work for Korean Branch of U.S. Company. My Employment Contract Provides U.S Law Shall Apply and Severance Pay Is Not Granted. Can I Still Get a Severance Pay Pursuant to Korean Labor Laws?

Question) I am an American citizen working in South Korea.  Originally I was working for a U.S. company incorporated in the state of New York, but 3 year ago I was seconded to the Korean branch of my U.S. company, and have been working for the branch until now.  When I was seconded, my new employment contract provided that the New York state law shall apply to my employment relation in Korea.  Now, my employment contract is expiring and I would like to know whether I am entitled to the severance pay under the Korean labor law.  I know my employment contract and my company’s policy do not provide the right to severance pay.  But, as I have been working in Korea for 3 years, I am wondering if the statutory rights of severance pay under the Korean labor law could be given to me.

Answer) The answer is Yes.  You are entitled to the severance pay under the Korean labor laws.  (check here as to how the the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates)  This answer could be accepted quite surprising considering the fact that the parties had previously agreed (i) the Korean labor should not apply and (ii) the severance pay should not be awarded.  How come the Korean labor law intervenes in the parties’ employment relation which is seemingly irrelevant to the Korean law implications other than the fact that work place of the employee is in Korea?  The answer lies in the provisions of Private International Act of Korea which provide the general principles for the choice of law in Korea.

When a legal relation has certain foreign elements, the court must decide which jurisdiction’s law shall apply to interpret that legal relation.  In Korea, the Private International Act provides the general rules and principles for the governing laws of the various types of legal relations.  Specifically, the Act provides that if the employer and employee agree to their own choice of law, the employment contract is governed by the law chosen by the parties.  But, this does not mean the parties can freely determine which law and regulations apply to their employment relation.  It is true in Korea that the party autonomy is a general principle of governing laws, but party autonomy is subject to limits imposed by the overriding public policy and mandatory rules.  Accordingly, Continue reading


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Attorney Wonil Chung Successfully Obtained a Supreme Court’s Ruling in a High-Profile Overture Sponsored Links Case Reinforcing Unrestricted Access to Internet Network

그림 2In April 2013, attorney Mr. Wonil Chung successfully obtained a Supreme Court’s ruling which overturned lower court’s decision in connection with the sponsored links, Internet keyword advertising services, operated by Overture Services Inc., a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary of Yahoo! Inc.  Before this ruling from the Supreme Court of South Korea, there had been an increased controversy over whether Overture system user’s deployment of an automated program to access to the sponsored links could fall into a crime causing a harm to the Internet network system.  In this case, attorney Mr. Chung argued before the Supreme Court of South Korea that it cannot constitute a statutory crime, otherwise the result would be an over-reaching of Korean criminal statute and cause an excessive chilling effect on the free access to the Internet.  Responding to Mr. Chung’s arguments, the Supreme Court of South Korea held that it does not constitute a statutory crime of interference with stable operation of the Internet network.  With its ruling, the Court struck down the prosecutor’s attempt of excessive criminalization and reinforced online service user’s right of free and unrestricted access to the Continue reading


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[Q&A: Family Law] What Legal Rights Do I Have under the De Facto Marriage in Korea? – Introduction to How the Korean Law Treats De Facto Marriage and Its Resolution

Question) I am a US citizen and have been living with my Korean boy friend for about 3 years in South Korea.  We loved each other and agreed to marry, but we were so busy to have the legal process timely done and most importantly we found no need to do that.  We’ve just thought each other as husband and wife and so do our friends and families. While living together, he ran an Internet business and made a quite large profits from there.  I took care of every housework and sometimes I helped his business work, too. But, recently I found he had cheated on me. I was so shocked and got separated from him.  My concern is whether I have any right to the assets accumulated during our cohabitation, like a property division right between divorcing couple.

Answer) Under Korean law, in order to establish the marital relationship, the parties must report their marriage to the government.  Just having a wedding ceremony is not enough.  If the parties live together considering themselves each other’s spouse without reporting the marriage, it is called a de facto marriage.  A de facto marriage is not a legal marriage.  Thus it is not entitled to the same level of legal protection as the legal marriage.  But, when it comes to the resolution of the de facto marriage relationship, the Korean law applies almost identical protection to the parties.

First, the Korean law grants the right of property division to each party of the de facto marriage.  Each party is entitled to the share of the assets acquired during the relationship pursuant to his or her contribution.  Even if the party is solely responsible for the relationship breakdown, the person is still entitled to.  Second, a party can seek a consolation money against the other party, if the other party is solely responsible for the relationship breakdown.  The amount the party can seek is decided by various Continue reading