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The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America by Lenore J. Weitzman (The Free Press: $19.95; 504 pp.)

November 17, 1985|James A. Cook | Cook, president of The Joint Custody Assn., has also been actively promoting family law changes in most American states and several countries of Western Europe. and

During the '70s, couples learned to talk about sex. During the '80s, couples must learn to communicate about economics.

Lenore J. Weitzman's "The Divorce Revolution" is a partisan shot in this decade's enactment of the war between the imperial sexes. For her, however, the coin of the realm is economic consequences. Her book's subtitle, "The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America," forewarns the reader of the partisan character of her exposition. As an instructor to lawyers representing clients, and as a professor, formerly at UCLA, and now at Stanford, Weitzman states the case and justifications convincingly--at least until we hear from the other side. The book is a convenient compilation of the author's views and opinions, published and spoken, during the past decade.

Her presentation begs for authorship of a counter view on "unexpected consequences for men and children in America." Recently, both sexes have recruited the "best interests" of children to their side, much as battlefield competitors used to claim God as a compatriot. The plain fact is that Weitzman is a good deal more interested in the interests of women, her side, than in those of children.

That the number of women taking the initiative to file for divorce is increasing seems, superficially at least, to be at odds with Weitzman's most basic contention; namely, that divorce has not been economically beneficial for most women. During the former "fault" era, filings for divorce were about equally divided between men and women, sometimes as a courtesy for each to sidestep the implications of "fault." But by the end of the '70s, during which many of the Weitzman statistics were compiled, as "no fault" blanketed America and as the etiquette of who filed became in consequence less courtesy and more intent, 63% of the filings for divorce nationwide were by women, according to the World Almanac. The prospect, as Weitzman sees it, of an economically grim future for divorced women does not seem to be deterring soon-to-be-divorced women from filing or inducing them to wait until improvements can be legislated or decreed. Or are the marriages these women are leaving simply so much worse than the consequences of divorce that Weitzman describes?

Those consequences do appear to be grave. "The Divorce Revolution" is a sober, disheartening revelation of the economic plight for most women who divorce. The book could conceivably inhibit a recourse to divorce as an easy solution for an unhappy marriage by reminding women that in most cases divorce has not been remunerative. However, the book's intent is not to inhibit recourse to divorce. The intent is rather to encourage changes in statute law and case precedent that will make the immediate and long-range consequences of divorce that women are financially benefited and secure.

Non-Californians may be distressed by the repeated reference to California's family laws. One of California's major exports, affecting other divorced couples' "balance of payments," is legislated family law change. As one of the few states with a legislature meeting nearly full time every year, California debates hundreds of family law proposals each session. In effect, this state has rewritten the marital contract out from under most couples, packaged the promotional research, and peddled the combination to activists in other states.

Legislative debate is one means for the democracy to evolve standards and norms that influence personal conduct. Divorcing couples will usually take advantage of what they perceive the law will permit or allow. Meanwhile, busy citizens, struggling to survive economically, have little time to monitor the details of these legislative changes although the ultimate outcome will determine what they can preserve of their financial resources if divorce strikes. The proposal, and follow-through, of legislated family law changes is a blossoming cottage-busting industry in California and elsewhere. For that purpose, "The Divorce Revolution" will be a manual to follow, or combat, depending on one's expectations upon divorce.

Redistribution of wealth is the intent many readers will discern. "Redistribution of post-divorce income" is the author's more precise term.

Once upon a time, women were encouraged to wait for the death of a spouse to inherit property. Nowadays, however, more property and funds are transferred upon divorce in America than by will or probate. The implication is that toleration of a spouse isn't necessary. You can have it now, rather than later. Divorce is the procedure. The legal profession is the transfer agent.

"The Divorce Revolution" represents a likely battle plan that could be of special usefulness in focusing and unifying the antagonisms of feminist activists and of women who are displeased with the consequences of their divorces.

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