Keeping up with the times

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Keeping up with the times

The government will propose to recognize unmarried cohabitation as a form of family in the Health and Family Basic Act next year to reflect the realities of the time. The decision establishes non-conventional couples as a legal form of marriage in a country that faces a demographic cliff as an increasingly large number of young people shun getting married. But in order to institutionalize cohabitation, a number of legal changes need to be made.

In a report on the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s plans for 2019 that was given to the president, Minister Jin Sun-mee said the government will identify couples living together as a legitimate form of family. A law proposing the revision has already been motioned by a ruling party lawmaker. The revision adds unmarried cohabitation, the official definition of a family. “Unmarried” status has been included in the category of family to provide a more broad and detailed definition.

The legal definition will bring about a significant change in the concept of a traditional family in Korea, which consists of a married couple and children. Korea’s common family has evolved from an extended family to a nuclear family and now a single-person household. Aside from the number of people in a family, the types of family will become more diverse. Kim Sook-ja, head of the gender affairs at the ministry, said that the time has come for the government to protect cohabitating families to meet the demands of the time.

If the revision takes place next year as proposed by the ministry, a discriminatory clause asking whether the child is born in or out of wedlock will also disappear. Statistics Korea will have to include cohabiting families in the census starting in 2020.

Even if the definition of family changes, we still have a long way to go. Various adjustments should be made to family relation, civil and inheritance laws. France, Sweden, Germany and other European countries have been providing legal protections and responsibilities for registered partners since the 1990s.

Cohabiting is growing, not just among those in their 20s and 30s, but also for those older than 40 who have lost their spouses through divorce or death. Changes should be respected through social consensus. The Family Ministry, Justice Ministry, and other government offices must fine-tune the related laws to keep abreast of the times.

JoongAng Sunday, Dec. 22-23, Page 34
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