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Save the Cleavers: Taxation of the Traditional Family

Posted: 7 Mar 2001  

Joel S. Hollingsworth

Tennessee Court of Appeals


This article examines the effect on the traditional family of the joint return and the child care credit and proposes certain modifications. The author utilizes popular familial models to illustrate his points. The Cleavers represent the traditional family; the Huxtables represent the modern, two-earner family; Murphy Brown represents the single parent; and Jerry Seinfeld represents the single individual without young children.

The author begins with an examination of the motivations and consequences of parents' choices to either rear their children themselves or to delegate this responsibility to others. This section leads to the author's conclusion that, because the choice of traditional families to forego additional income in order to raise their children themselves generally results in demonstrable benefits, tax legislators should carefully consider the tax system's effect on those families.

In the next section of the article, the author demonstrates how the joint return results in (1) injury to many modern couples; (2) injury to many traditional families during their non-child-rearing years; and (3) perceived gender bias, specifically, bias against married women. The author proposes (1) replacement of the current system of filing categories with a system based on separate returns; (2) replacement of the current progressive tax with one that is much more proportional; and (3) allowing spouses to allocate their unused standard deductions between themselves.

The author then examines the current child care credit and suggests modification of the Section 21 "applicable percentage" to increase the credit for those single parents and dual-earner families who truly need assistance and to eliminate it for dual-earner families for whom delegation of child care is a choice rather than a necessity.

The article concludes by demonstrating some of the positive effects of combining his proposals.

Suggested Citation

Hollingsworth, Joel S., Save the Cleavers: Taxation of the Traditional Family. Regent University Law Review, Vol. 13, No. 29, 2000. Available at SSRN:

Joel S. Hollingsworth (Contact Author)

Tennessee Court of Appeals ( email )

719 Locust Street
Knoxville, TN 37901
United States

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