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Unilateral Divorce vs. Child Custody and Child Support in the U.S.

González-Val, Rafael and Marcén, Miriam (2010): Unilateral Divorce vs. Child Custody and Child Support in the U.S.

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Abstract

This paper explores the response of the divorce rate to law reform introducing unilateral divorce after controlling for law reforms concerning the aftermath of divorce, which are omitted from most previous works. We introduce two main policy changes that have swept the U.S. 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 omission might obscure the impact of unilateral divorce reforms on divorce rates. Our results suggest that what has driven the decline in the divorce rate since the 1980s are law reforms concerning the aftermath of divorce rather than a reverse response of divorce rates to the adoption of unilateral divorce laws. Supplemental analysis, developed to examine the frequency of permanent shocks in U.S. divorce rates, indicates that the positive permanent changes in divorce rates can be associated with the implementation of unilateral divorce, and that the negative permanent changes can be related to the law reforms concerning living arrangement in aftermath of divorce. This seems to confirm the important role of those policies in the evolution of divorce rates.

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