(Oct. 7, 2010) Two conflicting rulings have been made in South Korean provincial courts on the issue of whether grandparents may adopt their grandchildren. On September 16, 2010, the Family Division (three-judge bench) of Ulsan District Court affirmed the decision by a single-judge bench of the same Court that grandparents may not adopt a grandchild. (Won-Kyu Choi, Adoption Petition by Mother's Parents Rejected by the Court [in Korean], CHOSUN ILBO (Sept. 17, 2010), http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/09/17/2010091700081.html.) The petitioners sought to obtain court permission to adopt their four-year old granddaughter in order to facilitate their daughter's marriage, but the petition was first rejected by the lower-level bench on July 7, 2010. (Ki-Won Lee, Adoption of Daughter's Son: Possible or Not? [in Korean], JOONGANG ILBO (Aug. 10, 2010), http://article.joins.com/article/print.asp?ctg=12&AID=4371846.) In rejecting the petition, the Court reasoned that if the petitioners wanted custodial rights over the grandchild, it is more natural to have the parental rights of the biological parents terminated and to become the guardians rather than to adopt the child. The Court stressed that adoption of a grandchild would cause serious disorder in familial relations by turning the child's mother and grandparents into her sister and parents. Familial order and relations are one of the most cherished traditional values in Korea. (Won-Kyu Choi, supra.)
On the other hand, the Changwon District Court approved a similar petition on August 9, 2010, by allowing the petitioners to adopt their daughter's 12-year-old son. (Ki-Won Lee, supra.) The Court acknowledged that the real motives of the petitioners might be to have their grandson carry on the family line of the petitioners, because they do not have a son themselves, and to make their daughter's life easier, as she planned to marry a man with whom she already has a baby girl. (In-Beom Kang, Court Approved Adoption of Daughter's Son [in Korean], CHOSUN ILBO (Aug. 10, 2010), http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/08/10/2010081000028.html.) Nevertheless, the Court approved the petition, reasoning that the bond between the child and the grandparents, who are the actual caregivers, would be strengthened by adoption and lead to more affection and material support by the grandparents. The finding that the child understood the consequences of adoption and agreed to be adopted was also taken into consideration by the Court. (Ki-Won Lee, supra.) The Court further stated that while the adoption law exists to promote the wellbeing of children and allows them to be adopted by non-relatives, the Court discerned no reason why children related by blood should be excluded from the benefits of the existing law. (Kyung-Guk Kang, Adoption of Daughter's Son – Petition Approved [in Korean], NEWSIS (Aug. 9, 2010), http://www.newsis.com/article/view.htm?cID=&ar_id=NISX20100809_00058
These conflicting decisions have brought about public debate. The Changwon District Court approved the adoption because it had set a higher priority on the interests of the child. On the other hand, the Ulsan District Court placed more emphasis on the traditional value of familial order and relations. Commentators have expressed concern that the Changwon District Court's decision could be used to abuse the adoption system in the future for inheritance or other purposes. (In-Beom Kang, supra.)
Written by Helen Lee, Intern, Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Sayuri Umeda, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.