Ruling on marital assets to muddle divorce cases

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Ruling on marital assets to muddle divorce cases

The Supreme Court’s ruling on July 16 that retirement payments and pensions should be included in marital assets subject to division is expected to bring a major shift in divorce cases.

A lawyer, who identified herself as Bae, was peppered with questions by civil servants during a government department meeting Thursday. Most of them had a common thread: “How much of my pension is my spouse entitled to if I was already a civil servant when I got married?”

Bae thinks authorities should come up with a law concerning division of retirement funds or pensions.

“Just like national pensions, there should be a law regarding how to divide pensions for civil servants, private school teachers and soldiers,” she said. “If courts keep making decisions, standards for divisions will remain uncertain.”

In its ruling overturning a 1995 precedent, the nation’s highest court said the actual amount of retirement payments should be included in marital assets to be divided.

For example, if a husband has 200 million won ($194,223) in assets and an expected severance payment of 200 million won, and a wife has 100 million won in assets and a projected severance payment of 100 million won, marital assets would be 600 million won. The court determines the ratio considering each spouse’s contribution, who gets primary custody of the children and other factors.

The Supreme Court applied different rules for the pension being provided to a retiree, saying that the length of marriage and occupations of spouses could be taken into consideration.

“Rulings in lower courts may be inconsistent for a while,” said a judge of the Seoul Family Court, “because it will take time to establish division ratios for each asset.”

Analysts anticipate last week’s ruling will result in an explosion in the number of divorces, especially among those who have been married 20 years or more, because women who have delayed divorces until their husbands receive severance payments are more likely to act to end their marriages.

The number of divorces of couples married 20 years or longer last year was 32,243, already outnumbering divorces of couples married four years or less.

“When women without economic power wanted a divorce, I used to advise them to wait until their husbands receive severance payments if their situations were not extremely bad,” said lawyer Kang Yeon-jae.

Those who divorced two years ago or less can request a division of assets. While there were 44,014 divorce cases in 2012, only 1,647, or 3.7 percent, involved demands for division of assets.


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