'Twilight divorce' rates in S. Korea reach record level

SEOUL • Twilight divorces, those which occur after 20 years of marriage, are at a record level in South Korea as the stigma of divorce wears off in a conservative society and court rulings make it financially viable for older women to go it alone.

For 54-year-old Kim Nan Young, who felt trapped in a loveless marriage for more than two decades, divorce was better late than never.

"I put up with my husband's patriarchal and overbearing behaviour for so many years, because I was reluctant to divorce when my children were small," said the mother of two sons, who split up from her husband two years ago.

"Now, I only have myself to take care of, which makes it easier to find work. There are a lot of things women can do for a living," said Ms Kim, who has since started her own small laundry business.

Ms Kim's sons had given her the financial and emotional support she needed to make the break, but it also helped that courts have been ruling increasingly in favour of splitting up matrimonial assets more evenly on divorce.

As many as 33,140 couples split up last year following more than 20 years of marriage, the national statistics bureau said this month, accounting for more than a quarter of all divorces, and a surge of 31 per cent over the last decade.

More women are choosing to walk away from unhappy marriages when their children are grown, as the social stigma attached to divorce dissipates.

The spurt in later-life divorce is in sharp contrast to the drop in overall divorce cases, which stood at 115,510 last year, after having peaked at 166,617 in 2003.

Financial security for divorced women has also improved, as courts seem increasingly willing to award settlements of as much as half the joint property to full-time housewives.

A woman who walked away from 50 years of marriage to an abusive gambler said she was able to start again because the court granted her nearly half the couple's assets, although she had always been a housewife.

"I am in my 70s," said the woman, who asked not to be identified. "Divorcing after such a long period of time means you are really desperate. Now, my son and daughter tell me I should find my own life."

Last year, the country's Supreme Court ruled that divorced women were entitled to part of their former spouses' future pension and severance pay.

Divorced wives of public school teachers, government workers and soldiers will receive half the future pension of their former husbands, after a revised law takes effect next year.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline ''Twilight divorce' rates in S. Korea reach record level'. Print Edition | Subscribe