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Rehabilitating Partnership Marriage as a Theory of Wealth Distribution at Divorce: In Recognition of Shared Life

69 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2009 Last revised: 24 Feb 2009

Alicia B. Kelly

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: January 1, 2004


This article offers a critique, a reinvigoration and a reconstruction of partnership marriage theory, a theory that now, at least rhetorically, dominates modern divorce law. Although current constructions in law have distorted the model, I argue that the core substantive values embodied in the partnership marriage model continue to have considerable appeal as the basis for a system of wealth distribution at divorce. Perhaps the greatest virtue of this approach to marriage is that couples themselves commonly understand sharing and joint contribution as defining characteristics of marriage. Infused with an equality norm, partnership marriage also offers hope of advancing the status of women, both in terms of concrete economic outcomes and normatively. In particular, I argue that partnership marriage calls for equal treatment of home and market work. In addition, the theory more broadly recognizes and encourages sharing and commitment-values considered essential in marriage.

I advocate a reconstruction of the model. Contribution in marriage must be broadly understood in the sense that both spouses furnish a range of resources for the benefit of the marital relationship as a whole. Further, the law must recognize that sharing conduct in marriage plays a significant role in causing the respective economic positions the parties find themselves in at the end of the relationship. Collaborative conduct in marriage results in benefits and burdens that, at the brink of divorce, are possessed, but not rightly "owned" by the spouses individually. Partnership marriage calls for a presumption of equal division of traditional property and, in stark contrast to current interpretations, also requires income sharing for a period of time following divorce. Partnership thus provides a unified theoretical basis for all economic entitlements at divorce, bringing together spousal claims to "property" and "alimony" that modern law now artificially separates.

Keywords: marriage, partnership marriage, property, marital property, domestic relations, family law, divorce, gender equality, gender, equality, women, law norms, economics

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Alicia B., Rehabilitating Partnership Marriage as a Theory of Wealth Distribution at Divorce: In Recognition of Shared Life (January 1, 2004). Wisconsin Women's Law Journal, Vol. 19, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Alicia B. Kelly (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States

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