Ihon (이혼) – divorce – is our KDrama word for today. Ihon is the common Romanization, but remember that the Korean letter Romanized as “i” is pronounced “ee,” so eehon would be a better English spelling for it. Like 사랑 (love) and 결혼 (marriage), 이혼 becomes a hada verb: 이혼하다 (ihonhada), “to do divorce.”
You may notice the words for marriage and divorce both include the syllable 혼 (hon). As a standalone word, 혼 means “Soul.” We know this because it was the Korean title of Lee Seo Jin’s striking 2009 horror drama. Does it carry the same meaning within the words for marriage and divorce? Don’t know, but that would make sense.
You can find a huge range of statistics for Korean divorce, many of them badly outdated. Non-Koreans living in Korea contribute to this, reporting divorce as extremely rare, because it is not necessarily talked about. However, the statistics show a different story. Although there is still a strong cultural value to keep families together, especially where there are children, Korean divorce has been steadily rising for more than a decade. Until recently, divorced people rarely remarried (probably because they were not seen as desirable mates), but this too has started to change.
One reason for the change is probably that courts have become a little more sympathetic to Korean women. The prevalence of rural Korean men marrying women from outside of Korea with no preparation for cultural differences is also a factor. Divorce is most common among people over 40. Extreme abuse from or of “lineal ascendants” (i.e., parents or grandparents) of a spouse is listed twice in the six grounds for divorce, but abuse of children is not specifically mentioned. Presumably it would be covered under a catchall item.
Couples can divorce by mutual agreement, or take the divorce to court if they cannot agree on terms. There is a division of property acquired or sustained during the marriage, and child support, but no alimony. Child custody is far more likely to be awarded to the father. There is also common-law-marriage in Korea, which does give spouses some economic rights, but no inheritance rights.
Check out this example divorce case.
Want more KDrama Word of the Day posts?