Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Lloyd R. Cohen and Joshua D. Wright
Chapter 5: The State’s Choice of Divorce Law
Michael Hanlon* 1. INTRODUCTION In this study, I model a state’s choice of divorce law. Theoretically, I predict states in which marriage-market competition was the most intense for males should have adopted “liberal” divorce laws, such as unilateral divorce and no-fault property settlements. Empirically, I estimate the relationship between a state’s divorce law and the male-female ratio for the marriage-age population. Consistent with the theory, I find that higher maleto-female ratios are strongly associated with liberal divorce laws. From 1969 to 1985, most jurisdictions in the United States altered their laws governing divorce. Prior to this “no-fault revolution,” nearly every state employed some form of consent and/or fault-based divorce. In consent states, spouses effectively had to agree on divorce. In fault states, one spouse had to bear the cost to establish legal fault. By 1974, a majority of states had adopted some form of unilateral divorce, in which one spouse could terminate the marriage without the other’s consent. Moreover, most states dropped the requirement of legal fault. Crucially, states varied in how intensely divorce laws were liberalized, and the current variation in divorce laws across states is significant. Some states still retain consent, fault-based divorce, while others employ unilateral divorce in which fault is irrelevant to property settlements. The objective of this study is to understand this variation. In some respects, this analysis follows Allen (1998), who examined the cause and consequences of no-fault divorce in Canada. When transaction costs exist within the household, inefficiencies are inevitable.1 Allen assumed states...
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