Book Reviews -- No-Fault Divorce: What Went Wrong? by Allen M. Parkman

Article excerpt

No-Fault Divorce: What Went Wrong? Allen M. Parkman. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 1992. 167 pp. ISBN 0-8133-1433-X. $31.50 cloth.

This volume analyzes the current laws governing the grounds for and financial consequences of divorce from an economist's perspective. Parkman believes that the no-fault statutes enacted in each state during the 1970s and 1980s accomplished the clear public and legislative goal of making divorce easily obtainable. According to his analysis, these laws have resulted in misfortune for many divorced women and their children because lawmakers failed to anticipate the economic consequences of no-fault divorce. The author proposes legal reforms intended to make divorces economically efficient and fair, as well as easy to obtain.

The economic approach to legal topics, such as the family, that are not market-centered is a controversial endeavor. The assumptions made by economists about human behavior tend to ignore or downplay nonfinancial matters that are important in other fields of inquiry. As a result, the economic analysis of marriage and divorce can be discomfiting for many readers. In Parkman's case, the economic approach is also quite helpful in understanding current problems and thinking about potential solutions.

An example of the economist's assumption that may be troubling to readers from other disciplines is the following statement: "Within [marriage] the parties benefit from increased specialization and their welfare is reduced when the law distorts their incentives to specialize" (p. 103). Indeed, Parkman's analysis of the effects of no-fault divorce law focuses exclusively on homemaker marriages, and his proposals for reform are designed to encourage the decision by one spouse to specialize in "household production" and to protect that person at the time of divorce. Parkman's focus on specialization can be criticized for ignoring the noneconomic considerations that influence choices about roles in marriage, as well as the modern economic reality that for many families two incomes are a financial necessity.

Still, No-Fault Divorce: What Went Wrong? provides insights about the circumstances of spouses who have in fact lost individual economic ground during marriage by virtue of the decision to specialize in household production. First, Parkman notes that the prior system of fault divorce provided the homemaker spouse with an important economic bargaining chip that was lost in the transition to no-fault. …