15 January 2015

Cruelty and commerce in family law

'A History of Cruelty in Australian Divorce' by Colin G. James at the 2006 Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society Conference, Waikato, examines 
the concept of matrimonial cruelty in Australia during the twentieth century. Cruelty was a matrimonial offence in Australian statutes and grounds for judicial separation or divorce until 1975. Most allegations of cruelty were by wives against their husbands. Judges often espoused on men's role as husbands, their use of power and the nature of hierarchy within marriage. I examine the background of matrimonial cruelty as it developed within English common law in the Australian colonies until Federation. While claiming to be doing justice, the courts used the grounds of cruelty in a strategy to preserve hierarchy in the marriage-based family by silencing women and empowering men. The theory was that men were 'naturally' superior to women in ways that were good for the family and ultimately for social stability. Until the 1970s, the Australian man had a legal duty to control his wife as much as a wife had a duty to obey her husband. The legal endorsement of patriarchy over decades reinforced misogynist attitudes in men as much as it provoked ultimately successful feminist demands for reform. Cruelty was abolished with all matrimonial offences by the Family Law Act 1975 however the controlling attitudes remained, to materialise in a new regime of domestic violence.
'Wife Sales' by Peter Boettke, Peter Leeson and Jayme Lemke in (2014) 1 Review of Behavioral Economics 349-379 comments
 For over a century, English husbands sold their wives at auctions. We argue that wife sales were an institutional response to an unusual constellation of property rights in Industrial Revolution-era English law. That constellation simultaneously required most wives to obtain their husbands’ consent to exit their marriages and denied most wives the right to own property. In doing so it precluded direct Coasean divorce bargains between spouses that could dissolve inefficient marriages when wives’ valuation of life outside their marriages was higher than husbands’ valuation of life inside them. To overcome this problem, spouses used wife sales to conduct divorce bargains indirectly. Wifesale auctions achieved this by identifying and leveraging “suitors” — men who valued unhappy wives more than their current husbands, who unhappy wives preferred to their current husbands, and who had the property rights required to buy unhappy wives’ right to exit marriage from their husbands. The resulting transactions enabled unhappy wives in inefficient marriages to exit those marriages where English law otherwise prevented them from doing so.