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More Middle-Aged Want Divorce after Their Children Get Admitted to College

More Middle-Aged Want Divorce after Their Children Get Admitted to College

Posted August. 13, 2007 07:08,   


A female government worker filed for divorce last January, a few days after her daughter got admitted to a college. The worker, 48, insisted on using the alias of Jeong Mi-suk. Her husband had indulged himself in his alcohol addiction for the past ten years. His addictive life became worse since he quit his job five years ago. Jeong then took the role of the breadwinner, and her paycheck was not enough to cover the family’s living and educational costs. Jeong was barely able to keep the family above the water. She once asked her husband to take rehab courses, but he refused. She recently decided to get a divorce.

But she did not jump to action. She waited for one more year thereafter until her daughter got a college admission acceptance letter. Her daughter’s new life in college meant a new life for Jeong, too.

More and more couples file for divorce upon their children’s admission to college, a “trend” Koreans call “college admission-contingent divorce.”

In the 1990s, the Japanese society watched its married couples part from each other upon husbands’ retirements. The “retirement divorce” trend began in South Korea, starting in 2000.

That “trend” has not shown any sign of waning. Rather, it has taken on a new face: divorce upon children’s admission to college.

What is driving the new divorce trend?

Park Jeong-eun, another Korean woman in her 40s, has initiated a divorce procedure. Her husband had shown his strong disapproval for the past three years of her volunteer works for an organization that takes care of the elderly who are suffering Alzheimer’s disease.

“My husband wants to keep me pent up at home. He always bosses me around, too. Now, my two sons have become grown-ups. I need a new life of my own,” says Park.

Experts explain that middle-aged ladies of twenty or more years’ marriage are dying for a new life when their children reach the “college age.” If their husbands keep trying to dominate them, they recoil and stand up against their partners.

The changes in the job market have also fueled the divorce inclination. More and more job opportunities have become available to women, while men have become less secure at work.

Another lady, Kim Suk-yeong, 45, who has two teenage children, nineteen and seventeen, severed her 20-year marriage recently. She could not tolerate her husband’s womanizing and abusive attitude.

“The divorce was a choice I just had to make. The sooner the better job I can get. I can’t believe my own husband. I cannot rely on my young children. What else could I possibly do?” asked Kim.

Yang Jeong-ja, who is an expert in domestic problems, explains, “In the past, the retirement pension of the husband could enable a woman to live a comfortable life. Now, it’s not the case any longer. Women want to make sure their elderly lives are comfortable. That’s why they want to stand on their own. But their husbands balk at this move, which often leads to an irreparable schism between them. Women then act on their determination when their children go to college.”

According to the statistics released by the Korea National Statistical Office, 125,023 couples got divorced last year, a 2.7 percent drop from the 2005 figures.

The divorce rate has been on a sharp rise from the late 1980s. The increase began to turn negative in 2004, which saw a 16.6 percent drop in divorce cases from the previous year. Especially, the implementation of a mandatory cooling-off period remarkably reduced divorces since March 2005.

Contrary to the general trend, more and more elderly citizens over 65 have decided to stand alone, starting in 2005. Furthermore, divorces among people between their mid-40s and 50s shot up last year.

Divorce cases in other age groups have continuously declined, however.

Female divorcees in their mid to late 40s rose 10.1 percent last year. The increase reached up to 16.9 percent among women in their early to mid fifties.

Most women get married in mid or late 20s. Thus, many middle-aged women have decided to stand alone when their children reach college age.

The Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations (“KLACFR”) confirms that it received a total of 8,460 phone calls last year concerning divorce-related matters. More than half of the calls, or 52.7 percent, involved couples in their 40s and 50s.

KLACFR consultant Cho Gyeong-ae says, “Watching the abusive behaviors and affairs of their fathers, some children urge their mothers to start a new life once they go to college. I have seen a considerable number of such cases.”