The South Korean Supreme Court has issued details of its implementation of the new family registration law, which will take effect on January 1, 2008. The new system will replace the traditional “hoju” system, which the Constitutional Court in Korea declared unconstitutional as violating the right to gender equality.
The current hoju system places only a male member as the legal head of the family with all family members listed under the hoju. The status of each family member is defined in terms of his or her relationship to the hoju. When a husband dies, he is usually succeeded by his first son, not by his wife. When a daughter gets married, she is removed from her father's hojeok - family register - and transferred to her husband's. Children are automatically added to the father's hojeok. Even when a couple divorces and the mother retains custody of children, the children keep the father's surname and remain in his hojeok unless he gives permission to transfer. A family without a son naturally means the end of a lineage.
Under the new system, the core concept of a hoju will be discarded, as will the hojeok. Every family member will be registered under his or her own new individual record book, which will contain information on the person's birth, death, marriage and adoption, along with basic information on his or her spouse, parents and children. The new registration system will allow offspring to use the name of the mother with the mutual agreement of both parents at the time of marriage registration. It also will enable a child to change his or her surname in accordance with the stepfather and with court permission, even without agreement from the biological father. Also, extramarital offspring registered under the mother with the mother's family name will no longer be obliged to move to the father's registration or change his or her surname in accordance with the father.
Until now, adopted children and stepchildren had no rights to inheritance and certain rituals, called jesa, of honoring deceased parents. Upon the effective date of the new law, stepchildren will have the same legal rights as the stepfather's biological children, following the family name of the legal father and registered as such, when the mother and father are married for over one year. A person adopted by a couple married for over three years will also have the same legal rights on condition that the biological parents agree. Anyone under the age of 15 will be eligible.
While the new system is expected to greatly enhance the right of Korean females, the public is bracing for confusion as it will have far-reaching influence on both family life and the nation's concept of a family.