Essays on Family Law and the Family
Wong, Ho Po
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Abstract: This dissertation consists of three essays on the effect of changes in family law in the United States since the divorce revolution in the 1970's on household outcomes. Essay 1: "When Homemakers are Compensated: A Study of the Effects of Homemaking Provision in Property Division Following Divorce on Time Allocation of Married Couples" In the first essay I examine the effects of the homemaking provision in family law that gives recognition to the contribution of homemakers in marriage in the division of properties accumulated during marriage. I develop a non-cooperative bargaining framework to analyze the effects of the provision on the time allocation in household public goods of spouses. The model suggests that the law would enhance gender specialization within the family in states under the unilateral divorce regime. The empirical findings are consistent with this hypothesis. Wives are found to increase the amount of housework they performed by more than 150 hours annually at least within the first 10 years under the unilateral divorce regime when the homemaking provision has been introduced. This effect amounts to 10 percent of the sample mean for wives married prior to the reform. Essay 2: "An Assessment of the Impact of Homemaking Provision in Property Division at Divorce on Investment in Household Public Goods, Marital Formation and Dissolution" This chapter goes on to investigate whether the homemaking provision would enhance the marriage institution by assessing the extent to which the law affects marital formation and dissolution as well as households' investment in public goods such as child-rearing and housing. I find evidence that the homemaking provision stimulates marriage but alters the composition of the pool of individuals that marry. This selection effect tends to induce more divorce. On the net, marriage rates have been raised by at least 5.9 percent in states that have implemented the provision for over 26 year. There is also some evidence that the provision stimulates birth rates and home investment. Essay 3: "The Effect of Child Custody Laws on Marriage" Under the tender years doctrine child custody was virtually always awarded to the mother upon divorce. Gender-neutral custody laws introduced beginning in the 1970's provided married fathers, in principle, equal rights to custody. Subsequent marriage-neutral laws extended the rights to unmarried fathers. We develop a theoretical model of the effect of custody regimes on marriage and test the model's predictions using a unique data set that merges custody law data with data from the Current Population Survey and Vital Statistics. We find that, under marriage-and gender non-neutrality, the introduction of gender-neutral laws reduced marriage by at least 7.5 percent. There is no evidence that moving from marriage non-neutrality to marriage- neutrality affected marriage.
- Economics