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Divorce Laws and the Structure of the American Family

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  • Stéphane Mechoulan

Abstract

This paper investigates the impact of no-fault divorce laws on marriage and divorce in the United States. I propose a theory that captures the key stylized facts of the rising then declining divorce rates and the apparent convergence of divorce rates across the different divorce regimes. The empirical results suggest that a shift from fault to no-fault divorce increased the odds of divorcing for those couples who married before the shift. The analysis further suggests that those couples who marry after the shift to a no-fault regime, in turn, sort themselves better upon marriage, which offsets the direct effect of the law on divorce rates. Consistent with that selectivity argument, after a switch to a no-fault divorce regime, women get married later in life. These results hold for the law that governs property division and spousal support. The law that governs divorce grounds does not seem to matter significantly.

Suggested Citation

  • Stéphane Mechoulan, 2006. "Divorce Laws and the Structure of the American Family," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(1), pages 143-174, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:35:y:2006:p:143-174
    DOI: 10.1086/498832
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    1. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2002. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 730-770, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Shelly Lundberg & Aloysius Siow, 2017. "Canadian contributions to family economics," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 50(5), pages 1304-1323, December.
    2. Éric Langlais, 2010. "On unilateral divorce and the “selection of marriages” hypothesis," Recherches économiques de Louvain, De Boeck Université, vol. 76(3), pages 229-256.
    3. Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1802-1820, December.
    4. Alessandra Voena, 2015. "Yours, Mine, and Ours: Do Divorce Laws Affect the Intertemporal Behavior of Married Couples?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(8), pages 2295-2332, August.
    5. Audrey Light & Yoshiaki Omori, 2009. "Economic Incentives and Family Formation," Working Papers 09-08, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
    6. Chung, Yiyoon, 2011. "Children's exposure to paternal imprisonment: Incidence, evolution, and correlates among young nonmarital children," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 575-587, May.
    7. Martin Halla & Johann Scharler, 2012. "Marriage, Divorce, and Interstate Risk Sharing," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 114(1), pages 55-78, March.
    8. Tianxu Chen, 2019. "Health Insurance Coverage and Marriage Behavior: Is There Evidence of Marriage Lock?," Working papers 2019-09, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    9. Vicky Barham & Rose Anne Devlin & Jie Yang, 2006. "Public Policies and Private Decisions: The Effect of Child Support Measures on Marriage and Divorce," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(2), pages 441-474, June.
    10. González-Val, Rafael & Marcén, Miriam, 2012. "Unilateral divorce versus child custody and child support in the U.S," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 613-643.
    11. Julio Cáceres-Delpiano & Eugenio Giolito, 2012. "The Impact of Unilateral Divorce on Crime," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 215-248.
    12. Audrey Light & Yoshiaki Omori, 2012. "Can Long-Term Cohabiting and Marital Unions be Incentivized?," Research in Labor Economics, in: Solomon W. Polachek & Konstantinos Tatsiramos (ed.),Research in Labor Economics, volume 36, pages 241-283, Emerald Publishing Ltd.
    13. Langlais, Eric, 2009. "On unilateral divorce and the "selection of marriages" hypothesis," MPRA Paper 14368, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Carlisle E. Moody & Thomas B. Marvell, 2018. "The Impact of Right-to-Carry Laws: A Critique of the 2014 Version of Aneja, Donohue, and Zhang," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 15(1), pages 1-51–66, January.
    15. Fisher, H., 2011. "Divorce Property Division and the Decision to Marry or Cohabit," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1101, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    16. Shen, Danqing, 2018. "Marriage, Divorce and Sorting: A Reassessment of Unilateral Divorce Laws," MPRA Paper 92848, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Bac, Mehmet, 2016. "The expectation effect of a fall in divorce costs," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 41-47.
    18. Hanlon Michael, 2012. "Stealing within Marriage: Differences across Divorce Laws," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 161-179, May.
    19. Cáceres-Delpiano, Julio & Giolito, Eugenio, 2008. "How Unilateral Divorce Affects Children," IZA Discussion Papers 3342, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    20. Niko Matouschek & Imran Rasul, 2008. "The Economics of the Marriage Contract: Theories and Evidence," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 51(1), pages 59-110, February.

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