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Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers
The Quarterly Journal of Economics
Vol. 121, No. 1 (Feb., 2006), pp. 267-288
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25098790
Page Count: 22
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Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress
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Abstract

This paper exploits the variation occurring from the different timing of divorce law reforms across the United States to evaluate how unilateral divorce changed family violence and whether the option provided by unilateral divorce reduced suicide and spousal homicide. Unilateral divorce both potentially increases the likelihood that a domestic violence relationship ends and acts to transfer bargaining power toward the abused, thereby potentially stopping the abuse in extant relationships. In states that introduced unilateral divorce we find a 8-16 percent decline in female suicide, roughly a 30 percent decline in domestic violence for both men and women, and a 10 percent decline in females murdered by their partners.

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