After mother left six years ago, I saw her return for money

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After mother left six years ago, I saw her return for money

This article is written from the perspective of the secretary general of an orphanage in Daegu, where a key part of the story unfolded. — Ed.


I watched as Kyung-hwan’s eyes reddened with rage as the judge read out the ruling last month at a court in Daegu. His birth mother, who recently recovered parental rights over him and his two younger brothers, was ruled ineligible to claim the insurance left behind by his dad, her ex-husband, for the time being.

She was told to wait until a separate trial determines whether or not she could continue being the legal parent over the three boys.

After the father died last September in a car accident, his sons were to receive 600 million won ($548,400), but all three boys were underage, meaning they couldn’t claim the cash without a legal guardian.

Their mother, who left them six years ago and divorced their dad, returned several months ago to tell them she had gained parental rights over them. It was the first time in six years that the boys had ever seen her. They later heard she called the insurance company asking how much her ex-husband had left behind.

Kyung-hwan (not his real name), 18, refused to admit that his birth mother was still their legal guardian on July 13, when he took the case to court refusing to call her his mother. He yelled that he didn’t need a mother and that he would rather live as an orphan. His twin brothers chimed in, and so did their youngest sibling, 11, who fumed with anger.

I tried to console him, saying that a trial seeking his mother’s termination of her parental rights will begin next month. Kyung-hwan urged me to convince the judge to terminate it right away. Never have I seen him so distraught. I first met the boys in 2011, a year after their mom left them. Their mom had packed her bags and ran away while the kids were at school. No explanation. No last goodbyes.

Their father had worked at a construction site, traveling across the country to find work. He would leave the boys alone at home while he was off earning money. They had relatives, but nobody offered to help out.

One day, their father witnessed the boys talking to themselves. He knew they needed some company, and so he brought the boys to our orphanage, explaining he had no other choice.

The man dropped by at least once a month, apologizing and thanking me for looking after them. He gave his boys 100,000 won ($91.56) each in allowance and bought them school supplies. Sometimes they would go into town for samgyeopsal [pork belly] or to a public bath tub for a scrub.

All was well until September 2015, when the father died in a car accident in South Chungcheong. The man who killed him was caught drunk driving. A total of 600 million won came out in insurance. The boys were documented as the legal recipients.

But neither one of them could claim the money because they were all minors. Kyung-hwan is a year shy of 19, Korea’s legal threshold of adulthood. Suddenly, their relatives, who had long stopped making visits to the orphanage, said they would take care of the boys.

Their birth mom shed tears, saying she had “personal issues” to deal with when she ran away in 2010. She pledged to take good care of them. She also promised to keep the insurance money safe and sound until they grew older, and give it all to them when they needed it.

The boys refused to listen. She hadn’t come to their father’s funeral. She was, in their eyes, a traitor.

I contacted the Korea Legal Aid Corporation. A lawyer replied, saying he would do whatever it takes to block the woman from claiming the money.


BY KIM YUN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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