Domestic Violence and Divorce Law: When Divorce Threats Become Credible
This paper investigates whether lowering the cost of divorce can reduce domestic violence. The cost of divorce influences the bargaining position of spouses, and thus, their behavior within the marriage. This study takes advantage of a large and unexpected reform of the divorce regime in Spain, which allowed for unilateral and no-fault divorce, and eliminated the pre-existing 1-year mandatory separation period, to estimate the causal effects. This reform dramatically reduced the cost of exiting a partnership for married couples, but not for unmarried ones, which favors a differencein-differences identification strategy. This study analyzes several measures of spousal conflict, ranging from self-reported spousal abuse and technical definitions of spousal violence based on recorded behavior, to more extreme measures of well-being such as partner homicide. Results suggest a decline of 27-36 percent in spousal conflict and around 30 percent in extreme partner violence as a consequence of the reform. Moreover, spousal violence has been found to decrease among couples who remain married after the legal modification, which suggests an important role for changes in bargaining within the marriage when divorce becomes a more credible (cheaper) option. The results are not driven by selection and are robust to a variety of checks.
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