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North Koreans pony up bribes for quickie divorces

For just US$100, unhappy couples can pay off a judge to end their marriage

Radio Free Asia

Radio Free Asia

Updated: April 21, 2015 07:10 PM GMT
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North Koreans pony up bribes for quickie divorces

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center) poses with families of soldiers stationed in Jangjae Islet near South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in an undated photo (AFP Photo/KCNA via KNS)

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It’s becoming easier to get a quick divorce in North Korea — if the price is right.

More unhappy North Korean couples are bribing judges up to US$100 for quickie divorces in the reclusive nation even though authorities discourage the dissolution of marriages because they see it as an element of social instability, sources inside the country say.

One source in South Pyongan province north of the capital Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service that the number of North Koreans who get easy divorces by paying bribes has increased.

“The reason the divorce rate is increasing is because North Korean women are becoming self-assertive unlike they were in the past,” the source said. “Above all else, it is because divorce procedures have become easier than ever.”

More women than men are requesting divorces, sources said — an indication that women are becoming more assertive possibly as a result of their involvement in business in markets that have sprung up to provide consumer goods.

In cases where one party wants a divorce but the spouse will not concede, lawyers representing the person seeking the divorce must file the court papers requesting a trial, he said. Then that person can pay a judge a $100 bribe for an easy divorce.

Usually divorce trials are held at the court nearest to the residential district of the person who filed for divorce, the source said.

“If one or the other doesn’t agree to a divorce, the judge will decide by siding with [the] person who offers the higher bribe,” he said.

In cases where both parties consent to a divorce, they only have to pay the judge a bribe of $30-$40, he said.

Moms get the kids

Another source in South Hamgyoung province in the eastern part of the country said courts that issue divorces generally award custody of the children to the mother.

“The father has to pay child support expenses that amount to 10 percent of his monthly wages until his children enter elementary school,” the source said.

But if the child support amounts to less than a dollar, it is meaningless, he pointed out.

Official wages in North Korea are extremely low. Nevertheless, many women who have divorced and live with their children have money to spend, he said.

Paying bribes for divorces is nothing new in North Korea.
Because of the rigid nature of North Korean society, bribes had been necessary at each step along the way to obtain a divorce, according to a December 2012 commentary on the website New Focus International, which provides insights into and analysis of life in North Korea.

But the commentary cited the increasing number of unhappy marriages ending in murder at the time as one of the reasons for divorces to be granted quickly in about three months, rather than several years.

One North Korean defector who resided in Daejeon, South Korea, told New Focus International that it previously had taken him five years — and many bribes — to legalize his divorce.

North Korea’s family law specifies that divorces may be granted only in cases of adultery, but not for irreconcilable differences or evidence of domestic violence, the commentary said.

It also said the most commonly cited reason for divorce in the country had been infertility, and couples could easily obtain “evidence” of infertility by bribing medical workers.

It also used to be impossible for a divorced North Korean to be accepted as a member of the Korean Workers’ Party, the country’s sole governing party, or be employed in an official position, the commentary said.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia ©2015

Original story: North Koreans Pony Up Bribes for Quickie Divorces

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