Movie director Hong Sang-soo lost a divorce suit against his wife on Friday because it was he who deserted her to shack up with a much younger actress.
Hong filed for divorce against his wife of 34 years in 2016 after falling in love with actress Kim Min-hee (37), while filming "Right Now, Wrong Then" together in 2015. They publicly admitted their relationship in 2017.
But Seoul Family Court judge Kim Sung-jin said Hong's divorce filing cannot be granted because he "is mainly responsible for the destruction of the marriage".
The court ruled Hong must stay married to his wife even though the couple had been living apart for years before he took up with Kim.
The director sought to negotiate terms with his wife before filing the suit, but she simply refused to end their marriage. Even after Hong and Kim's repeated public avowals of their relationship, Hong's wife said in an interview, "I believe my husband will return and I will wait for him".
The ruling was not unexpected since the Supreme Court has ruled against divorce filings brought by cheating spouses since 1965 and lower courts have stuck to it.
The court at the time reasoned that granting divorces filed by cheating spouses would place the blameless party in an unfair position. Exceptions are sometimes made if the guilty party has shown exceptional consideration for their spouse and children.
The same rule has been applied in the epic struggle of SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won to divorce his wife, who is digging in her heels although he has been living publicly with a new partner for years.
Some legal experts believe the courts could eventually favor Chey because he has been paying for the upkeep of his wife and children throughout.
There are hopes that the antiquated rule may finally be for the chop. The last time the Supreme Court upheld it, in 2015, it was by a slim majority of 7:6. The dissenting minority argued that it is unreasonable to force a couple to stay married if the marriage is to all intents and purposes dead and exists only on paper.
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