Dissolving the Relationship Between Divorce Law and Divorce Rates
Ira Mark Ellman
Arizona State University College of Law; Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Psychology; Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley Law, University of California, Berkeley
Arizona State University
International Review of Law & Economics, Vol. 18, p. 341, 1998
It is well known that associations can be shown between many things that have no causal link. The inclination to attribute causal connections is nonetheless often strong, particularly in areas of social concern. Surely, most people believe it would be a good thing if marriages were, on average, more durable. The hope that a relatively simple change in the law could bring about such a worthwhile result tempts judgment. But the hope does not survive a careful examination of the data.
This article demonstrates that in almost all states divorce rates began increasing before legal changes to no-fault divorce. Those changes sometimes yielded a short-term increase in the divorce rate of a year or two, but there is no evidence of any long-term effect. It is far more plausible to conclude that divorce rates and divorce laws share causal influences. In the 1960s and 1970s, when changing cultural factors yielded more marital instability, pressures also rose to amend divorce laws to make divorce more accessible. In the 1980s and 1990s, the social pendulum began its return arc. Divorce rates leveled off, then fell, and those who make and comment upon social policy now find restrictive divorce laws more appealing than did their older brothers and sisters. Although the proponents of more restrictive laws hope to bring about societal change, the truth is that, like their predecessors, the change they seek has already begun, and their policy preference may well be its consequence rather than its cause.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 19
Keywords: Family Law, Divorce, Fault Rules
Date posted: September 1, 2009
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