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What Foreign Nationals Should Know About International Divorce in Korean Courts

International marriages unite people from different cultural backgrounds. However, those differences can sometimes lead to conflict. In fact, divorce rates for international marriages in Korea tend to be higher than typical marriages due to cross-cultural gaps and divergent values. 

This article explains what you need to know if you are a foreign national considering divorce from your Korean spouse in the Korean legal system.

1. Can a Foreign National File for Divorce in a Korean Court? (Jurisdiction)

Jurisdiction is a critical issue in international divorce cases, representing the key difference from typical domestic divorce proceedings. 

Jurisdiction determines which country's courts can adjudicate a divorce. Generally, Korean courts have international jurisdiction over a case if "Korea has a substantive connection to the parties or the subject matter of the dispute."

In the most common scenario of "a foreign national married to a Korean citizen and residing in Korea," Korean courts would have jurisdictional authority

However, divorce jurisdiction under private international law depends on factors like the nationalities of the spouses and their habitual residence. Refer to our separate legal guidance on jurisdictional rules for your specific situation.

International Divorce Jurisdiction in Korea

2. Service of Divorce Complaint for International Marriages  

For the Korean spouse, serving divorce papers is another key difference in international cases compared to domestic divorces where the other party's whereabouts are typically known. International divorce service is complicated because (1) the foreign spouse may have fled, or (2) already returned to their home country.

In contrast, serving a Korean spouse is relatively straightforward for the foreign national, similar to any domestic case.

Nevertheless, when the defendant's location is unknown or they intentionally avoid service, Korean courts have procedures for (1) ordinary service, (2) special service, and (3) public notification to ensure the case can proceed. With a divorce lawyer's guidance, divorce can still be achieved even if the other party cannot be reached directly.

3. Subsequent Divorce Proceedings in Korean Courts

Once the defendant has been served the divorce complaint, the divorce litigation formally begins. The subsequent procedures in Korean courts do not differ much from a regular domestic divorce case:

① Defendant's Answer 

② Arguments and Evidence Examination

- The court holds hearings to review each party's claims and evidence.

- If needed, a family court investigator can be appointed to review facts.

③ Mandatory Mediation  

- Divorce cases in Korea require court-led mediation before a judgement.

- If mediation succeeds, a mediation record finalizes the divorce.

④ Judgement 

⑤ Appeal or Finalization

- Dissatisfied parties can appeal the judgement.

- After the appeals period, the judgement is finalized and divorce is complete.

For more details on divorce litigation in Korean courts, please see the link below.

Everything About Divorce Litigation In Korea

3. Can I Return to My Home Country During the Divorce Proceedings?

Yes, you can. If you engage a Korean attorney to represent you, the case can proceed without your personal attendance. You can remain in your home country throughout the divorce process.

4. What is Public Notification Service in Korean Divorce Cases?

Public notification service is a method used by courts when regular service methods are insufficient to deliver legal documents to the other party. It is the last resort under the Civil Procedure Act, typically used when the other party's address is unknown or they are intentionally avoiding service.

In divorce cases where a spouse has fled or gone missing, public notification allows the divorce to still proceed through the courts. However, permission is required, and the petitioning party must demonstrate reasonable prior efforts to locate the other spouse's address before requesting public notification.

The public notification process is:

① The petitioner submits evidence that the other party's address is unknown or service is impossible, officially requesting public notification. 

② The court decides whether to grant permission.

③ If granted, the court retains the legal documents and publicly announces the reason via court bulletin, official gazette, public notices or newspapers.

④ Two to four weeks after publication, service is deemed complete and the case proceeds.

5. Can the Foreign Spouse Remain in Korea After Divorce?

Generally, a foreign national who entered Korea on a marriage immigrant (F-6) visa cannot continue residing in Korea after divorce. However, deportation is not automatic - if the divorce was due to misconduct by the Korean spouse rather than the foreign national, they may be able to maintain legal residency status.

6. Why Should I, as a Foreign National, File for Divorce in Korean Courts?

If you resided in Korea with your Korean spouse during the marriage, it's likely that most marital assets were accumulated in Korea.

While a foreign divorce decree can be recognized in Korea if it meets certain requirements to legally terminate the marriage itself, foreign judgments do not have binding power over assets located in Korea.

To divide marital property in Korea based on a foreign divorce decree, you would still need to obtain a separate enforcement judgment from a Korean court. In other words, you'd have to re-litigate the case in Korea.

Therefore, if the majority of your marital assets are in Korea and you wish to use the court's enforcement powers to divide Korean assets, it is advisable to initiate divorce proceedings directly in the Korean legal system.

Pursuing the divorce in Korean courts allows one case to encompass both the dissolution of the marriage and the division of assets under Korean jurisdiction. This avoids the need for additional court actions to enforce a foreign judgment over your Korean property.

7. Which divorce attorney in Korea should you consult with?

The attorney that other lawyers trust to handle their own divorce cases. 

The attorney that opposing lawyers refer their own familys to.

This is what Law Office Haeon is.

1) The Lawyers' Family Law attorney – Haeon

The fact that lawyers in Korea entrust their own or their family’s cases to Haeon is proof of our expertise. Even lawyers with no prior personal connection often come to us based on our established reputation within the legal community. We are the lawyers' family law attorney.

2) All Our Attorneys are Seasoned Professionals

Haeon's family law team consists entirely of senior attorneys who passed the bar exam between 2010-2012 and have years of experience practicing family law. This ensures our attorneys have the necessary expertise.

3) In-House CPA for Sophisticated Asset Valuation 

Properly valuing a spouse's business interests is crucial in property division cases. However, only a handful of major law offices in Korea have in-house CPAs specializing in business valuation and forensic accounting - services that can cost millions or even tens of millions of won when retained separately.

Haeon has a consulting CPA who previously worked at a top-3 conglomerate of Korea and KPMG Accounting Firm. Our CPA partner provides sophisticated valuation, fraud investigation and transaction advisory services at a reasonable cost to protect our clients' interests.

4) English Interpreter Ready

At Haeon, we have an in-house interpreter who previously served as an English interpreter for the ROK Army and U.S. Army, working alongside them on joint operations. Even if your Korean language skills are limited, making it difficult to fully explain your situation, our interpreter ensures you can communicate seamlessly during your consultation. We bridge the language gap so you can get the legal guidance you need.

In times of crisis, everyone claims to be the best. But the truly superior attorney proves it through results. Haeon has the sophisticated expertise to deliver what you need.

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