THE DIVORCE REVOLUTION: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America by Lenore J. Weitzman

THE DIVORCE REVOLUTION: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America

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An information-crammed analysis of how no-fault divorce and equal-division-of-property laws are economically devastating to women and children. Weitzman (sociology, Stanford) devoted 10 years to this study, which involved analyses of 2,500 California divorce settlements as well as lengthy interviews with 44 divorce adjudicators, 169 attorneys and 228 recently divorced men and women. In the process, she discovered that, although the new laws indeed reduced the acrimony and costs associated with adversary divorces, the rights and responsibilities of partners within marriage were being redefined to the detriment of the spouse who raises the children after divorce (85% of the time the wife) and whose income was the lesser at the time of the divorce (almost always the wife). Under the new laws, judges tend to assume that divorcing spouses are equally capable of supporting themselves. Gone is the old law's implicit recognition that a woman should be compensated for her years as a home-maker and for her resulting diminished earning capacity. As a result, newly divorced women suffer an average 73% drop in their standards of living while their ex-husbands (down 42%) are better off. The higher the pre-divorce family income, the greater the disparity. Wives who had shared a $30,000-$40,000 income had a post-divorce income amounting to 39% of the prior total. This dropped to 29% when the family income exceeded $40,000. Wives from low-income families actually averaged 71%, with welfare frequently providing a new income source. When there is a 50/50 split of marital property, the family home must frequently be sold to the detriment of children who must be relocated to a new and cheaper neighborhood, often in a different school district. When the wife and children remain in the home, there is almost always a trade-off in the form of lower child-support payments. Weitzman finds it ironic and tragic that laws intended to equalize the status of men and women actually produce bewildered middle-class women in their 50s awarded only two. or three-years' alimony to ""prepare"" them for a job that could never match their previous standard of living; or young ex-wives trying to raise children on meager child-support allotments. To remedy the injustices, she calls for child-support awards based on income-sharing and adjusted for cost of living; and legal recognition that older divorced women have earned the right not only to half the property but also to a standard of living equal to that of their ex-husbands.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan