In August 2012, a new adoption law passed in Korea, creating several changes to the country’s international adoption process — including a requirement for all families to appear before the family court in Korea. Here, Holt’s director of programs for Korea reflects on the first court appearances for Holt families, which occurred on May 31st of this year.
by Paul Kim, Director of Programs, Korea and Mongolia
There was an air of great anticipation and a bit of dread at the main office of Holt Children’s Services of Korea that Thursday morning. As I walked to the elevator that would take me to the Overseas Section office, I passed a gentleman pacing the lobby, a person I presumed to be an adoptive parent. That day, the first five families from Holt International would be standing before a judge in a courtroom of the Korean Family Court, to answer questions about themselves, their adoption journey, and about the child they were hoping to bring home to be a part of their families. Three families would be appearing in the morning, and the remaining two that afternoon.
In August of 2012, the new adoption law in Korea went into effect, adding a court hearing to the international adoption process. For the first time, all families would be required to travel to Korea to appear before the family court to receive court approval to complete their adoptions. It was something completely new for adoptions from Korea, and one that created a great deal of uncertainty for the families — as well as for all of us in the USA and in Korea. The thought of going before a judge, even to a local court at home, is not something that any of us would look forward to, let alone in a foreign country where a decision would be made as to whether the child that you had fallen in love with would become a part of your family forever.
So it was with a great deal of apprehension that we all gathered in the waiting area of the Korean Family Court on Friday, May 31, including families from Holt International, Bethany, Wide Horizons, Verdens Barn (Norway), and AIAE (Luxembourg), and staff persons and adoptive families from each of the Korean adoption agencies. The sense of camaraderie was remarkable, with families quickly getting to know each other and sharing stories of their journeys to this particular place and time, and the Korean staff huddling together and comparing notes. There was some pacing, some quiet whispers shared between spouses, many words of encouragement, and more than a few nervous glances. I was happy to be there, and tried my best to reassure the families. The cases were to be heard by two separate judges.
Soon it was time, and our first Holt family was called into the court room. Sneaking a peek inside, I could see the judge seated at a table, with court officers sitting alongside. Our first family sat before the judge, accompanied by DJ You and a staff person from the processing department. Then the door closed, and we all waited. The hearing itself took much less time than I had anticipated, lasting around 20 minutes. Our family come out, relief visible in their faces. Most importantly, they were smiling and happy. As each family went in turn, a comment echoed by all as they completed the hearing was, “The judge was so nice!” On this occasion, one judge was an older man, and the other was a younger female judge, both of whom were very kind. While there was no “definitive list” of the questions that the judges asked the families, for the most part they were all what we expected (no surprises).
Both judges expressed their gratitude to the families for adopting the children. To give you an idea of how kind they were, the judge for one family asked at the end if they had anything that they wanted to tell the court. The adoptive mother told the judge that they felt blessed to be adopting their son. The judge replied, “As you are blessed to have him, he is equally blessed to have you.” Just amazing. The judges told the families that they will do their best to have the initial judgments issued as soon as possible, and expressed their regret that the families had waited so long to bring their children home. One judge that day even took time during his lunch break to write up all of his judgments so that they could be issued that day. The other judge told us they would be ready very soon. All in all, our families were treated by the courts with much kindness and care, and indeed it turned out that it was a day to be celebrated after all.
After the shared anticipation (and fear), all of the families bonded together, and many shared contact info. We all went to a nearby Burger King (sometimes we need our comfort food), and had lunch. Afterwards, we took some pictures, and for the families the day was done. After a long wait, it was another (huge) step forwards, and one step closer to bringing home a much awaited child.