Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ellman & Braver: "Lay Intuitions About Family Obligations: The Case of Alimony"

Ira Mark Ellman (Arizona State University College of Law) & Sanford Braver (ASU Department of Psychology) have posted "Lay Intuitions About Family Obligations: The Case of Alimony" on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Most people have a sense of obligation to family members that is more powerful than the law in compelling compliance with its demands. When families dissolve, however, the power of such nonlegal norms often dissolves as well. The question then becomes what, if anything, the law should require of people, in their stead. This paper is part of a larger series of studies that have examined this question by uncovering what ordinary people believe the law should should demand. The studies employ lengthy surveys of persons called to jury service in Tucson, Arizona, an excellent random sample of a diverse population. Respondents are asked what they believe the law should require in each of a series of cases in which the facts are systematically varied so as to reveal the implicit principles survey respondents employ in deciding them. Previously reported results in this project have examined studies of the amount of the child support people believe appropriate, and how they believe child custody disputes should be resolved. This study examines lay views about alimony.

Our respondents in general believe that it is appropriate to award alimony when there is a significant disparity in income between separating partners, whether or not the alimony claimant can manage a minimal living standard on her own. Most believe such an award will be appropriate in at least some cases even if the partners were not married, although marriage leads them to favor an award more often. They are particularly likely to make little distinction between married and unmarried couples, in their treatment of alimony claims, when the couple has children who are still young at the time of separation. They are more inclined to allow an alimony award when the relationship is longer, although a six year relationship is long enough for most respondents to allow an award in at least some cases, especially if the couple has young children. They are not especially concerned about compensating the partner who was the primary caretaker of the couple’s now-grown children for the earning capacity loss she may have incurred as a result, but they are very concerned about ensuring an adequate income to the partner who remains the primary caretaker of the couple’s young children at the time of separation. While marital status, the presence of children, and relationship duration all affect the proportion of cases in which our respondents allow an alimony award, they have little effect on the amount of the award when they allow one. Award amounts are determined almost entirely by the partner’s incomes, with higher awards being allowed when the claimant’s income is lower and the disparity between the partner’s incomes is higher.

Demographic information revealed no important differences among our respondents with respect to these patterns, which were equally true of men and women, higher and lower income individuals, conservative and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, those divorced and those not. While women, and older respondents, were somewhat more inclined than others to award alimony overall, the impact of the varying vignette factual patterns on their responses was not different than for other respondents.


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Posted by: fresno family law lawyers | Jan 11, 2011 10:58:02 PM

Alimony is a quirky issue. On the one hand, you want the stay-at-home spouse to continue to receive support so that they do not end up out on the street. On the other hand, if the working spouse has worked hard during the marriage to support the couple, and the non-working spouse has sat on their bottom, not contributing much to the marriage...the working spouse deserves to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Posted by: Tulsa Divorce Attorneys | Jan 12, 2011 5:07:19 PM

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