Top court rules on pension splits

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Top court rules on pension splits

The Supreme Court for the first time made two rulings yesterday determining the percentage of retirement pension to which a spouse was entitled in divorcing a retired public servant.

The decisions were the first that settled on a specific amount since July, when the full panel in the nation’s highest court set a precedent ruling that retirement pensions and payouts should be included in marital assets subject to division. However, it also mandated that pensions be categorized separately from other assets.

In the first case, the Supreme Court ruled that a 60-year-old wife was entitled to 35 percent of her husband’s monthly public servant pension.

The woman married the retired public servant, now 64, in 1980, and together they had one son and a daughter. Throughout their marriage, the wife did not work, but raised their children and attended to the household.

Citing her husband’s frequent drinking and use of physical force against her, she filed for divorce in 2012. Although the couple agreed to the split, the divorce suit became contentious over the 3.14 million won($2,976) monthly payout her ex-husband received from his public servant pension.

After a lower court ruled that he must hand over 35 percent of his payout to her each month, he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, claiming that the payout shouldn’t be divided with her. He also stated that even in agreeing to split the pension, 35 percent was too high.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected his appeal yesterday, upholding the lower court’s ruling.

It added that the man had been married to his wife for 24 years, which accounted for 92 percent of his 26-year career as a public servant. “Since she received monthly living expenses from him and devoted herself to the household and childrearing, the original ruling is fair,” it stated.

In another case, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the wife was entitled to 50 percent of her husband’s monthly public servant pension following the dissolution of their 31-year marriage.

In this case, the wife’s economic contributions to the family in operating a fashion boutique factored in significantly. After the divorce, the woman was required to pay the tuition for their son to attend school in the United States - an aspect that the court also considered in its calculation.

“The longer your marriage and the more you contribute to the household economy, the more you can get from your spouse’s pension,” said lawyer Lim Chae-woong, from Bae, Kim and Lee LLC.

Family law experts said a public servant’s pension has now became a permanent part of divorce suits, in a direct turnaround from the past. And many spouses who once gave up on the possibility that they could claim a share of that pension are increasingly filing lawsuits.

Since the July precedent, 144 petitions have been filed over the past two months.

“In the past, many clients felt bitter because they could not receive a part of their spouses’ retirement pensions,” said lawyer Lee Myeong-suk. “But more have filed lawsuits since the precedent was made.”

In another recent case overseen by the Changwon District Court, the unemployed ex-wife was given 50 percent of her husband’s pension, taking into account that the two had been married for nearly 40 years while he was working as a public servant.

The court also acknowledged that it would have been impossible for him to work as a government employee had she not taken charge of the housework and childrearing.

In an analysis of the seven divorce cases - the two ruled on by the Supreme Court yesterday as well as five ruled on by the lower courts - on the division of the public servants’ pensions, six retired government workers were ordered to pay their ex-wives installments of their monthly payouts.



BY PARK MIN-JE [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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