Current outcomes of legal financial distributions that include both child support and spousal maintenance orders need to be evaluated. Relatively few studies have evaluated spousal maintenance justifications or financial outcomes or given attention to the inequities of the current legal system. Virtually nothing has been done to empirically test and evaluate the fairness of the financial consequences of alternative strategies for dissolving marital economic partnerships, although some have offered ideas for improvement.
Alternative strategies have not been empirically compared with one another, nor have they been incorporated into court decision-making. It is unlikely that current legal practices will change or improve when the evaluation of alternative ways to establish more equitable procedures have not been documented. Research may be able to provide suggestions for improvement as well as provide information regarding the fairness of alternative strategies. Potential Contributions of the Current Study An expected contribution of the current study is the evaluation of alternative strategies for dissolving the economic partnership of marriage.
Comparisons of alternative strategies with actual court decisions may provide a deeper understanding of the discretionary guidelines that are currently used. Further, the possibility to compare alternative strategies with one another, and determine which method provided the most adequate level of living for male and female-headed households, is needed information. It is important to determine the degree to which the alternative strategies produce equitable levels of living between the male and female-headed households.
Further, the analysis will take into account families’ pre-divorce income levels and length of marriage, in order to evaluate how alternative strategies influenced families at different levels of living and explore how the couple’s length of marriage influenced legal financial decisions. Scholars have provided case studies using alternative strategies (Barham, Devlin, & LaCasse, 2000; Collins, 2001; Ertman, 1998; Reilly, 1997; Starnes, 1993; Williams, 1994), but the strategies have not been applied to an empirical study using a large sample.
Using an empirical sample can demonstrate how the strategies affect a wider diversity of marital circumstances, as opposed to an individual case. Since legal scholars have suggested the possibility of widely applying alternative strategies based on numeric formulas to divorce cases in the legal system, considering how the alternative strategies affected greater numbers of families was the next step in exploring possible alternative strategies.
Exploring alternative strategies may reveal different values regarding the meanings of fairness. This comparison may generate public discourse and discussion about principles of distributive justice at divorce, and may provide information to organizations that seek to improve legal practices, such as the Minnesota Supreme Court Gender Fairness Implementation Committee, The Women’s Political Alliance, and The Minnesota Commission on the Economic Status of Women.
These organizations may be able to use results from this study to inform the development and implementation of legal practices that facilitate more equitable levels of living for divorcing families, and assist legal and judicial education aimed at improving procedural and distributive justice in the courts. The current study contributes a distributive justice theory perspective (Cohen, 1987; Deutsch, 1985) as a guide for interpreting results. Distributive justice theory provides multiple ways to consider fairness that are useful when evaluating current legal decisions and alternative strategies, and are a contribution to existing research.