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.  In this article, we explain what protection is given to foreign employees in the area of termination and other disciplinary actions.

Employment Is Not “At-Will” in Korea

Unlike many other foreign legal regimes, Labor Standard Act of Korea (LSA) requires the employer having five or more employees to establish a just cause in order to exercise dismissal and any other disciplinary actions.  In other words, 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) 

Foreign Employees Can Be Protected By the Korean Labor Law Even If the Labor Contract  Says Korean Labor Doesn’t Apply

This rule of labor laws shall equally apply to the employment contract between Korean employers and Foreign employees 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 enables every Korean and foreign employee working in Korea to enjoy the 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.

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 interpretation.  In this regard, it is firmly established in the Supreme Court’s precedent that (more…)

Question) I am an American expat working in South Korea.  Originally I was working for a U.S. company incorporated in the state of New York, but 3 years 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.  Expats are entitled to severance pay under the Korean labor laws.  (check here as to how the severance pay under Korean law is recognized and operates)

This answer could sound 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?  The answer lies in the provisions of the Private International Act of Korea which provides 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, 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, (more…)

Q) I filed for divorce in Ontario, Canada.  My husband lived in Canada and he was duly served with the court’s documents.  I will have a final divorce ruling from the Canadian court including child support and alimony order soon.  But the issue is he will probably leave Canada and head to South Korea after the ruling is issued.  Will the Korean Courts recognize the Canadian court order in order to enforce his performance of child support and alimony payment?

A) There is a case where the Korean Supreme Court recognized and approved the Canadian court’s divorce/asset distribution/child support/alimony order.  That order was issued from the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario.

As a matter of law, the Korean court recognizes a foreign ruling pursuant to the rules of foreign judgment recognition: (i) the foreign court has jurisdiction over the case in perspective of Korean law, (ii) the defendant was duly served, (iii) the ruling of the foreign court does not violate the social order of South Korea and (iv) there exists a mutual guaranty for recognition of rulings between the two jurisdictions.

For the last element, the Korean Supreme Court clearly declared that South Korea and Ontario have a mutual guaranty.

What is more important in this ruling is that the Supreme Court recognized the foreign court’s alimony order.  Under Korean divorce law, there is no legal concept of alimony in a divorce.  Therefore, some may argue that as the alimony is not the legal right established in Korea, recognizing the foreign court’s alimony ruling in Korea would violate the social order of  South Korea.  But, (more…)

Q) I wish to file a divorce from my wife.  Our relationship ended in practice earlier this year and she returned to Korea in August. We were married in Korea. I wonder how can I file for our divorce as she is in Korea but I am not living in Korea. I would prefer uncontested but would go with a contested divorce if necessary. But I am living in the UK. Can you tell me what process I should pursue?

A) At the outset, as your wife lives in Korea, you can file for divorce to a Korean Family Court.  Even if your wife does not have a Korean nationality, it is still the same. But you probably need to hire a Korean legal counsel who can represent you in the court, as you are not living in Korea and more importantly you might not be familiar with how the divorce works in Korea. With that said, if you hire a Korean divorce attorney, you are not required to come to Korea nor to attend the court.  Your Korean divorce attorney will handle everything for you.

The next issue will be which nation’s divorce law will govern your case, when you file for divorce in Korea.  If your wife is a Korean, then the Korean divorce law shall be the governing law.  If your wife is a UK citizen, then the divorce law of the UK shall apply.

When the Korean divorce law becomes the governing law, in order to get a divorce decree, you have to show some types of justifiable causes for divorce under Korean law such as domestic violence, unchastity, etc.  Not surprisingly, the Korean court quite often issues a divorce ruling when it founds the marriage was irretrievably broken.  Common grounds (more…)

Recently we got a question about whether the Korean court permits a divorce filing even when both parties are foreign nationals. The questioner was in a situation where she lived in Korea but the spouse did not. Here is a short and general answer.

In principle, the Korean court accepts international divorce filing only when the defendant has a residence in Korea, even though there could be some excepts to this rule of thumb. The Supreme Court of South Korea, however, held that as an exception to this general rule the court should accept the divorce filing when (i) the plaintiff fails to locate the defendant or (ii) the defendant who has no residence in Korea answers the lawsuit filed in a Korean court.

Thus, if you do not know where the spouse currently lives but still need to get divorced, you can file a divorce lawsuit to a Korean family court. This is quite helpful to the foreign people who had been married to Korean persons but moved back to their home countries with the marriage not working well. Or a foreign person living in Korea whose spouse, who is also a foreigner, left Korea permanently can benefit from this judicial policy of Korean family court. In this regard, our office had represented a Canadian male and successfully got a divorce decree from

(more…)

We’ve published a new article on a private adoption under the most recently amended Korean law.  Please check here.

[Disclaimer: Please note that recently there has been an amendment of the laws and regulations regarding the adoption in Korea. The amended laws will be effective soon. That said, the below article has not yet been updated pursuant to the new laws. Therefore, anyone who plans a private adoption in Korea is highly recommended to contact lawyers in advance with respect to the new laws and regulations. 2012/03/22]

Recently our office took an international adoption case in which U.S. parents living in the states want to adopt Korean kids here in South Korea. That was a private adoption case. After completing the adoption successfully, I wrote a short article on private adoption under Korean law to be published in a foreign magazine. I hope this to be of help to anyone interested in Korean adoption.

[Comments in Korean: 아래 글은 외국인이 한국에 거주하는 한국 아동을 입양하는 것에 관한 글입니다. 주지하다시피 우리나라 법상 입양은 원칙적으로 민법에 의하는 것으로 되어 있고, 예외적으로 시설(고아원 등)에서 보호되고 있는 아동(요보호아동)의 입양에 대하여는 “입양촉진및절차에관한특례법”이 적용되고 있습니다. 아래 글은 이 중 민법에 의한 입양(즉, 사적입양. 특례법에 다른 요보호아동의 입양은 ‘시설입양’이라고 하겠음)에 대한 것입니다. 민법은 양부모의 요건을 “한국인”으로 한정하고 있지 않고, 외국인에게도 동일하게 적용됩니다. 즉, 요보호아동이 아니라면 민법에 의한 해외 입양이 가능하다는 것이지요. 아래 글은 저희 사무소에서 한국인 부모가 사적입양방식으로 아이를 미국으로 입양시킨 사례에 바탕을 두었습니다. 아무쪼록 아래 글이 해외입양을 생각하는 아이 엄마, 아빠들과 입양을 간절히 원하는 외국인 부모들에게 유익한 정보가 되기를 기원해 봅니다(2008년 2월)] 

Private Adoption under Korean Law: Overview

There are two kinds of adoptions available under Korean law: an orphanage adoption (or institutional adoption) and a private adoption. The orphanage adoption process is better known to many foreign citizens who want to adopt Korean children. It is literally adopting an orphan accommodated in public assistance facilities or any authorized adoption organization. The Act on Special Cases Concerning the Promotion and Procedures of Adoption (the “ASCCPPA”) regulates the orphanage adoption in Korea. The ASCCPPA, however, requires some strict criteria for being adoptive parents, and this often hinders many foreigners from adopting Korean children. In such a case, the private adoption should seriously be considered. The private adoption is basically adopting non-orphan child in Korea under the Civil Act of Korea. In this article, authors will briefly discuss the private adoption procedure and requirements under the Civil Act of Korea. It should be noted that this article will not discuss with the further U.S. immigration requirements that must be undertaken to obtain relevant visa for the adopted child.

Under the Civil Act, any person can adopt a child by: (a) entering into an adoption agreement with the child and his parents; and (b) reporting the adoption to the relevant public office. If the child to be adopted is under fifteen years of age, his or her parents must assent to the adoption on his or her behalf.

This same requirement applies to any foreigner who wants to adopt a Korean child regardless of his or her nationality and whether he or she is living in Korea. Furthermore, the eligibility requirements under the Civil Act are less strict than those of orphanage adoption. The adoptive person is just required to be over 20 years of age and older than the child to be adopted. Also, single mother or father can adopt a child. (more…)