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Divorce Laws and the Structure of the American Family


  • Stéphane Mechoulan


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," Working Papers tecipa-245, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:tecipa-245

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. 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.
    3. Grossbard-Shechtman, Shoshana & Lemennicier, Bertrand, 2000. "Marriage contracts and the law-and-economics of marriage: an Austrian perspective," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 28(6), pages 665-690, June.
    4. Jonathan Gruber, 2000. "Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce," NBER Working Papers 7968, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Weiss, Yoram & Willis, Robert J, 1997. "Match Quality, New Information, and Marital Dissolution," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 293-329, January.
    6. Parkman, Allen M, 1992. "Unilateral Divorce and the Labor-Force Participation Rate of Married Women, Revisited," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 671-678, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:ejw:journl:v:15:y:2018:i:1:p:51-66 is not listed on IDEAS
    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. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Alessandra Voena, 2011. "Yours, Mine and Ours: Do Divorce Laws Affect the Intertemporal Behavior of Married Couples?," Discussion Papers 10-022, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    6. Audrey Light & Yoshiaki Omori, 2009. "Economic Incentives and Family Formation," Working Papers 09-08, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
    7. 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.
    8. Martin Halla & Johann Scharler, 2012. "Marriage, Divorce, and Interstate Risk Sharing," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 114(1), pages 55-78, March.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. Hanlon Michael, 2012. "Stealing within Marriage: Differences across Divorce Laws," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 161-179, May.
    14. Cáceres-Delpiano, Julio & Giolito, Eugenio P., 2008. "How Unilateral Divorce Affects Children," IZA Discussion Papers 3342, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    15. Audrey Light & Yoshiaki Omori, 2012. "Can Long-Term Cohabiting and Marital Unions be Incentivized?," Working Papers 12-01, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
    16. 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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    divorce; marriage; law; no-fault; fault; property; grounds; surprise;

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