Everything you need to know about marriage in South Korea

18 Feb 2023·16 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in South Korea 01

A marriage in Korea is a union between a man and a woman as well as their families. An average of 200,000 people gets married in South Korea every year. Most couples hold traditional ceremonies after the conclusion of civil registration. In South Korea, a marriage can only be between partners of the opposite sex. Same-sex marriages are not recognized or protected under the law in the country. The consent age to marry in South Korea is 20 years, or 19 years for international people. Males over the age of 18 and females over the age of 16 are allowed to get married provided that parental consent is available. Age limits in the country are based on a person’s lunar calendar, which is usually one to two years older than a person’s solar age. 

According to the law in South Korea, de facto marriages (common-law marriages) are recognized. These are the kinds of marriages where the couples are not legally registered to marry but have already held a public wedding ceremony, made it publicly known that their relationship will lead to marriage soon, or have been cohabiting as if they are married. Engagement rings are not common in South Korea, and they are not required throughout the marriage process. However, some modern couples have adopted the use of engagement rings. Couples are supposed to mutually agree on getting married. Upon agreement, a romantic proposal is to be made. Couples are not obligated to wear wedding rings during or after marriage and the ceremonial rites. In fact, older couples never wore a ring at all.

Families and couples

As stated previously, Koreans are not big on the wearing of wedding rings and there is a different kind of practice. A marriage in Korea is not just between a man and a woman, as it also includes their families. It is meant to bring couples and their families together. Most families meet for the first time in a public place such as a restaurant. Sometimes, the meeting is awkward because both parties are not quite familiar with each other yet. Beforehand, it is very common for both families to check each other out and find out as much as possible about each other to know if they are compatible. Before the two families meet, the couples must have met each other’s parents. 

In many countries, the act of meeting each other’s families before marriage is not such a big deal. The opposite is the case in South Korea. The couples must meet each other’s parents in the early stages of their relationship. This shows that they are serious about each other and plan on getting married. Most Korean wedding ceremonies are held in halls built just for the purpose of marriage. These ceremonies usually last several hours, and the venue is often decorated with flowers and various other ornaments.

Marriage Types

In Korea, marriages are either civil ceremonies or traditional ceremonies. To get married in South Korea, couples are expected to register their marriage at the Gu office. These offices often request a certificate of legal capacity to marry from the couples. The couples must also make a declaration of marital status. If a person who has never been married is making a marriage application, there are certain documents that must be submitted. These are stated below.

An address and its proof of registration 
Proof of Dutch nationality. This could be a Dutch national identity card, a certificate of Dutch nationality, or a Dutch passport. 
A declaration of unmarried status. Both partners have to submit evidence that states they are not currently in any relationship or marriage with another person other than their spouse. A divorce certificate is required from partners that were in any previous marriages.

Everything you need to know about marriage in South Korea 02

Marriage Traditions in South Korea

Korea has some unique customs and traditions that are performed by couples and their families. Since marriages unite not only the partners but their parents too, they all have to be actively involved in it. There are certain customs that are performed before, during, and after the wedding. These are stated below.

Pre-wedding 

In South Korea, traditional marriages are based on traditional Confucian values. The whole organizational process of marriage follows the Confucian structure, from pre-wedding rites to post-celebrations and everything in-between. A marriage between a man and a woman was decided by the bride and the elders in the groom's family. Things were traditionally done this way in a lot of marriages, not just those in South Korea. According to Confucian values, the family and their values or traditions are above everything else, and marriage ceremonies are the important parts of people's lives. 

A wedding involves a union between the couple and their families. These traditions were mostly held by the elites in society who wanted to keep marriages within their circle of higher-class citizens. The families often spent a lot of time planning marriage ceremonies by meeting with each other to make all the necessary arrangements. 

The first step in the pre-wedding ceremonial rites is called "Euihon" (matchmaking), where the families of the bride and groom meet with each other to discuss all the necessary arrangements. There were some factors that were considered by the families, such as academic achievement, personality, appearance, and social status. The matchmaking process determines when the groom sends a letter to the bride and her family stating his intention to marry her. Once this is responded to and agreed upon, they set a date for the ceremony. This is known as "hangul. 

Wedding 

This is the part where the actual ceremony to unite the couple is held. The ceremony usually takes place at the bride’s house. Here, the groom rides on the back of a horse to the bride's house after the ceremony is completed to take her to his parents' house. People were allowed to dress in luxurious clothing, and the bride and groom had official costumes for the ceremonial rites. According to tradition, the groom’s family carried a wedding chest filled with gifts such as clothes and jewelry to the bride's family. 

There were customs that involved the use of animals for symbolic marriage meanings. Cranes were used to symbolize long life; ducks symbolized fidelity, many offspring, and peace; while geese were used to represent a king and a happy marriage. The bride and groom wore unique attire for the marriage ceremony. The woman’s attire was made up of the jeogori and otgoreum, which were a short jacket with long sleeves and two-long ribbons. The men wore a wedding costume called gwanbok, which included a jacket and a pair of trousers with a long overcoat. During the ceremony, the couples profess their love for each other and promise to be faithful to each other for eternity.

Post-wedding

A reception is held shortly afterwards, after the wedding ceremony has concluded. This is held in large halls, and in Korea, there are halls that were built for the purpose of marriage ceremonies only. A wedding motif is the most common decoration used in these halls. In modern Korea, the traditions of receptions in western cultures have been widely accepted. The groom often wears a black tuxedo and the bride wears a white gown during the reception. Some couples still hold a short traditional ceremony afterward. The reception involves a buffet hall where guests get to eat different types of delicious dishes prepared and the wine and dining takes at least 20-30 minutes. 

Guests often give the couple gifts in any form most preferred to them, and the couple may have representatives waiting outside the wedding salon to accept the gifts on behalf of the couples. The family members hold a public ceremony in front of the guests called Pyebaek. Here, the bride goes. She went around to greet the members of her groom’s family. Also, it is customary for the groom to give his mother and wife a piggyback ride as a symbol that he fully accepts his duties to both his wife and mother in the future. Some of the types of foods popularly served in Korean marriages include Gimbap (white sticky rice), mandu, dumplings, carrots, garlic, spinach, clear noodles, etc. Most of the time, marriages between South Korean men and foreign women are arranged by a marriage broker or other international religious groups.

Everything you need to know about marriage in South Korea 03

Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

The Laws and Duties

South Korea has some marriage laws and duties that can be abused by spouses. A common-law marriage, also known as a "de facto marriage," is recognized by law. This holds true when a man and a woman live together as husband and wife without getting a marriage certificate. However, common-law marriages do not hold the same rights and responsibilities as official marriages with civil registration. In South Korea, each spouse is entitled to their own property and is allowed to share or contribute to it in a marriage according to how they deem fit. There is a no-fault dissolution clause under Korean law, which states that either spouse can apply for the marriage to be dissolved without any prior reason. 

The minimum age for marriage in South Korea is 18 years. Minors are also allowed to get married with parental consent. The laws on individual entitlement to assets in separate and joint properties apply unless a prenuptial agreement is signed by the couple which states otherwise. All expenses, such as purchases and the payment of bills, are to be shared by both partners. Same-sex marriage is not legally binding in South Korea. If anyone goes ahead to hold a same-sex union, it will not be protected by law and such partners will not enjoy the rights and benefits available to opposite-sex marriages.

Costs

Marriage ceremonies generally cost about 3 million South Korean won. Couples are allowed to go big or small as preferred by them. Big weddings in South Korea can cost up to 200 million won, with most of the expenses on the planning of the ceremony and transportation, catering, photography, attire, and music. 
South Korean couples are expected to move to their new home after marriage, which they must either buy or rent. Once housing costs and post-wedding rites like the honeymoon vacation come into play, the wedding costs scale up and get more expensive. Couples who do not want to spend a lot on marriages usually hold small-scale ceremonies with a few guests during the reception.

Duties 

A husband and wife have certain duties and obligations to each other as well as the children in their marriage. Traditionally, men are the providers in the family, but this is slowly fading in South Korea. Both the man and the woman can have legal jobs to provide for the family and cater to the needs of their children. The husband and wife are expected to live together or provide comfort for one another. They should provide for their children's financial and educational needs. 

The wife and husband come to mutual agreement on who is responsible for living arrangements as well as maintenance and financials. These duties are often shared between the couple. A husband and wife are expected to respect each other and make all important decisions together. In current times, Korean marriages are all about merging a consensus regarding most of the duties and obligations performed by spouses.

Conclusion 

South Korea has several marriage traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation over several years. Marriages in Korea are intended to be permanent, and anyone entering into a marriage must do so of their own free will. Couples are allowed to hold traditional wedding ceremonies, including receptions and other rites. 
Same-sex marriage is highly frowned upon by the laws of South Korea. Same-sex marriages are not legally binding and are not recognized by all states. The practice of same-sex relationships is perceived as a western norm, but there are still some gay couples in South Korea that hold private marriage ceremonies even though they are not legally binding. This article contains everything you need to know about marriage in South Korea.

 

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