Being Too Litigious Can Break Up Families

      April 01, 2009 10:58

      Placing Restraining Orders on Family Members Enters the Realm of the Ridiculous

      A Seoul district court authorized a widow's application to place a restraining order on her parents-in-law, imposing a W1 million (US$1=W1,380) fine each time they get within 50 m of her. The woman's husband died in a car accident in 1997. She sought a restraining order after her parents-in-law came to her home and work place, assaulting her and accusing her of being spiritually responsible for her husband's death. It was the first case in Korea where a restraining order has been placed on a certain individual.

      Formerly prevalent only in foreign countries, restraining orders are becoming more commonplace in Korea. They are usually imposed on stalkers or loan sharks. But last year, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon succeeded in getting a court to place a 100 m restraining order on a group of evicted tenants who regularly protested in front of his residence. In 2006, Seoul National University President Chung Un-chan won a court restraining order on a group of protesters who supported disgraced stem cell expert Hwang Woo-suk.

      Apart from seeking a civil suit, people can also apply to have restraining orders placed on abusive spouses, in accordance with Korean laws preventing domestic abuse. When police receive an application from a victim in a family, the request is passed on to a court via a prosecutor and issued. Such restraining orders can be effective for up to two months, while a distance of less than 100 m is set. That distance means the offender usually has to leave the house, since very few houses are 100 m in width or length. Late last year, one father ended up hitting his daughter as she tried to break up her parents' fight. He ended up receiving a 6 m restraining order. He was thus allowed to stay home, but prohibited from going near to his daughter's room.

      A few days ago, a housewife called the police and applied for a restraining order on her unemployed husband, who was drinking at home and ended up hitting his son in the face. Last week, a female university senior applied for a 100 m restraining order on her mother, who she accused of pushing her and shooting rubber bands at her. The situation arose after the daughter began idling away at home after failing to pass a civil service exam last year. Police did not pass her restraining order request to the court.

      The number of restraining orders stemming from domestic disputes rose from 422 cases in 2007 to 461 last year. And last year, 67 percent or 313 restraining orders were granted. Many of them concerned domestic disputes involving couples. But recently, there has been a reported rise in the number of restraining orders involving parents and their children. The measure may be useful as a means to prevent domestic violence and abuse, but the legislation is also being abused as a means for children to kick their parents out of their own homes. A mother hitting her daughter on her hand with a rubber band is regarded an act of censure and cannot be treated as domestic violence. For a child to seek a restraining order under such circumstances shows us that, sometimes, being overly litigious is not for the best.

      By Chosun Ilbo's columnist Kim Hong-jin
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