Better Equity for Elders: Basing Couples’ Economic Relations Law on Sharing and Caring

16 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2012  

Alicia B. Kelly

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: 2012


This essay considers how to achieve better equity in aging through laws governing couples’ economic relations. Focusing on family law’s contributions to economic vulnerabilities among older people, I critique contemporary law for its hyper-individualistic conception of intra-couple relationships and also for its too narrow and marriage-centric approach to regulating couples’ collaborative economic activities. These deficits contribute to inequalities between men and women and between married and unmarried couples. Modern couple’s law frequently disadvantages women by neglecting the value and impacts of sharing and caring behaviors within the family. This helps impoverish women across the life cycle, often acutely affecting older women. Next, because marriage is the central hinge for many economic rights and especially so in old age, cohabitants are sometimes wrongly left out. This disproportionately burdens the poor, minorities, and same-sex couples who are more likely to be unmarried. At the same time, marriage-based laws can be over-inclusive, wrongly sweeping in older married couples. Instead, I suggest a more tailored and more inclusive approach to intimate partner law across the life cycle, and across couple relationships. I recommend that couples’ economic relations law should be based on sharing behavior, broadly and specifically defined, with sharing rules that vary and do not hinge exclusively on the form of the relationship. This approach will help mitigate some of the financial vulnerabilities that are produced by partnering and that especially impact many older people who now face law’s cumulative adverse effects.

Keywords: domstic relations, family law, marriage, couples, elders, aging, elderly, older couples, intimate partners, property law, economic relations

JEL Classification: K19, J12, J14

Suggested Citation

Kelly, Alicia B., Better Equity for Elders: Basing Couples’ Economic Relations Law on Sharing and Caring (2012). Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, p. 387, Spring 2012; Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-35. 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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