Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law
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Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law

Edited by Lloyd R. Cohen and Joshua D. Wright

The Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law gives us a series of original essays by distinguished scholars in economics, law or both. The essays represent a variety of approaches to the field. Many contain extensive surveys of the literature with respect to the particular question they address. Some employ empirical economics, others are more narrowly legal. They have in common one thing: each scholar employs a core economic tool or insight to shed light on some aspect of family law and social institutions broadly understood. Topics covered include: divorce, child support, infant feeding, abortion access, prostitution, the decline in marriage, birth control and incentives for partnering.
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Chapter 5: The State’s Choice of Divorce Law

Michael Hanlon


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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