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Unilateral divorce versus child custody and child support in the U.S

Rafael González-Val () and Miriam Marcén

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2012, vol. 81, issue 2, 613-643

Abstract: This paper explores the response of the divorce rate to law reforms introducing unilateral divorce after controlling for law reforms concerning the aftermath of divorce, which are omitted from most previous studies. We introduce two main policy changes that have swept the US since the late 1970s: the approval of the joint custody regime and the Child Support Enforcement program. Because those reforms affect divorce decisions by counteracting the reallocation of property rights generated by the unilateral divorce procedure and by increasing the expected financial costs of divorce, it is arguable that their omissions might obscure the impact of unilateral divorce reforms on divorce rates. After allowing for changes in laws concerning the aftermath of divorce, we find that the positive impact of unilateral divorce reforms on divorce rates does not vanish over time, suggesting that the Coase theorem may not apply to changes in divorce laws. Supplemental analysis, developed to examine the frequency of permanent shocks in US divorce rates, indicates that the positive permanent changes in divorce rates can be associated with the implementation of unilateral divorce reforms and that the negative permanent changes can be related to the law reforms concerning living arrangements in the aftermath of divorce. This seems to confirm the important role of these policies in the evolution of divorce rates.

Keywords: Divorce rate; Child support; Joint custody; Unilateral divorce; Unit root; Structural break (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C12 C22 J12 J18 K36 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:81:y:2012:i:2:p:613-643