Do Joint Parenting Laws Make Any Difference?


  • Thanks to Dean Lueck, Richard McAdams, the Midwestern Law and Economics Association Meeting participants, the anonymous referee of this journal for their comments, and to Jason Fernandez, Nathan Brandenberg, and Jamil Gill for tireless research assistance collecting and coding the electronic court files.

Douglas W. Allen, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6. Allen is Burnaby Mountain Professor of Economics; Brinig is Fritz Duda Family Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame.


Using a unique data set on divorcing couples, we analyze the effects of a change in legal entitlement on the outcomes for divorcing couples. In particular, we analyze the 1997 change to custody provisions in the State of Oregon. Prior to 1997, Oregon assigned custody, based on the discretion of the court, in the best interests of the child. This was changed to a “presumption” of joint parenting, which manifests in the courts encouraging and imposing joint (or shared) custody in cases that otherwise would have had sole custody arrangements. We find that the law had several implications for divorce behavior: different custody outcomes (less sole custody to mothers, more sole custody to fathers), more mediation, longer times until the final divorce, and more acrimonious divorces (more abuse actions filed). We find no evidence that spouses attempted to bargain around the change of legal entitlement.