One million U. S. marriages have ended in divorce, annually, for approximately the past twenty years (Shehan, Berardo, Owens, & Berardo, 2008), creating significant interest in the economic consequences of divorce. Legal decisions regarding asset division and income distributions directly affect the economic consequences for divorced partners (Ellman, 1999; Singer, 1989). Issues of spousal support have generated noteworthy discourse in law journals, however, despite scholar’s attention, there have been few changes in legal practices.
What is the most equitable way to dissolve the economic partnership of marriage? How can the incomes and assets be distributed most fairly to the two households? What theories should be used to justify a spousal maintenance award? How should the amount and duration of an award be determined? Research is needed to explore these questions because there are important economic implications for fathers, mothers, and children. The current research considered marriage as an economic partnership.
Traditionally, within the economic partnership of marriage, partners provide two types of contributions. Partners contribute time, labor, and skills to market production activities and receive money income (Goldfarb, 1989) and partners contribute time, labor, and skills to household production activities. These contributions are provided to the family to improve the well-being of family members. The goods and services produced in the household would have a dollar value if purchased in the market place, and they improve the well being of family members.
The goods and services resulting from household production enhance labor market earning power, and money from labor market production enhances the household production (Goldfarb, 1989). Both economic contributions, regardless of whether they are from household or market labor, are necessary for the marital dyad (Singer, 1989), and the family unit. Married couples thus form an economic partnership, with joint decision-making about who contributes household versus market labor, or the kinds of balances each will have for household and market work. Significance of the Problem
The consequences of divorce will often advantage spouses who contribute income and assets, as opposed to household labor, because they leave the marriage while maintaining the kind of financial resources they contributed (Blau, Ferber, & Winkler, 1998). This is similar to a business partnership where one person has provided most of the capital and the other partner has provided most of the services. The law favors the financially powerful partner, because this party is entitled to reimbursement of financial capital, but the partner who provided services, that also have a dollar value, typically do not receive reimbursement (Rutheford, 1990).
However, considering a commercial partnership, the value of a business is not based on the size of the financial investment, but on the returns from the money, time, and labor investments (Starnes, 1993). In a marital partnership one investment may bring in more income, however, regardless of the difference in money and in-kind income produced in by both parties, the loss or gain is carried by the partnership rather than by the individuals (Starnes, 1993). The assumption is that each partner should receive an equitable share of the partnership.