June 13, 2020 08:29
With around 110,000 couples divorcing each year in Korea, court are increasingly inclined to award custody of the children to one or the other spouse rather than both.
The Supreme Court ruled recently that joint custody must be "decided cautiously" and sent back a ruling by a lower court that awarded the shared arrangement. The top court also ruled that divorcing couples seeking joint custody must live close to their children, both offer similar living conditions and obtain the consent of their kids.
The ruling sparked an intense debate in legal circles. One judge said, "This reflects changing times when the traditional family unit is being dismantled and the roles of parents are shifting."
Among the concerns voiced by the Supreme Court about shared custody was the constant need for children to move from one house to another and potential confusion among their parents' values. It said the negatives outweigh the positives in such arrangements.
But Jeju district judge Jang Chang-guk wrote on the judicial intranet, "We must not automatically conclude that joint custody goes against the desires of children. There are cases when joint custody is essential from their perspective." Jang cited a case he handled where he asked the child if constantly packing and shuttling from one parent to another was cumbersome. The child responded, "That's okay. I love both my mom and dad."
Lawyer Bae In-koo said the Supreme Court's latest ruling will trigger a serious debate on the issue, especially amid a growing trend of fathers gaining custody.
In 2016, a study by the Seoul Family Court showed that only 8.6 percent of divorces ended with the father gaining sole custody of children under six, but that rose to 18.5 percent for kids in elementary school and to 30.4 percent for older children. Divorced fathers were given custody of young children if grandparents or other caretakers were at hand.
In the U.S., courts took a dim view of joint custody until the 1970s, but now 16 U.S. states including Florida require joint custody to be the first priority.
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