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Michigan Journal of Gender & Law

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Mich. J. Gender & L.





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Did the divorce revolution betray the interests of American women? While there has been considerable disagreement about the impact of divorce reform on women’s standard of living, many agree that judicial practices involving the division of marital property and the allocation of alimony have systematically disadvantaged women. Most often, in the courts and the academy, commentators see these practices as evidence of the need for family law reform.

These conclusions rely on a shared account of the history of divorce reform. According to this account, the transformation of divorce law in the 1970s and 1980s was a “silent revolution,” a reform led by legal experts that produced virtually no public debate or political controversy. Women’s groups and women’s interests did not play a significant role in this debate and did not meaningfully influence no-fault reforms, because feminists were too preoccupied with the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

However, as this Article shows, the conventional historical narrative of the divorce revolution is not so much incorrect as incomplete. Histories of the divorce revolution have focused disproportionately on the introduction of no-fault rules and have correctly concluded that women's groups did not play a central role in the introduction of such laws. However, work on divorce law has not adequately addressed the history of marital-property reform or engaged with scholarship on the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment to the federal Constitution. Putting these two bodies of work in dialogue with one another, the Article provides the first comprehensive history of the role of women, both feminists and antifeminists, in revolutionizing the law of marital property in the United States.


© 2013 Mary Ziegler


First published in Michigan Journal of Gender & Law.

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