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Journal Issue: Children and Divorce Volume 4 Number 1 Spring/Summer 1994

Financial Impact of Divorce on Children and Their Families
Jay D. Teachman Kathleen M. Paasch

Divorce and Property Settlements

One might also consider property settlements as a means by which mothers and children are compensated for losses associated with marital disruption. That is, fathers may use property settlements in lieu of child support or other contributions to ensure the economic well-being of their children; however, the evidence suggests that they do not. Because marital disruption is concentrated among couples with few economic resources, there is often very little in the way of tangible assets to divide when parents part. The concentration of divorces among couples with fewer economic resources is compounded by the fact that most divorces occur relatively soon after marriage, reducing the amount of time for significant accumulation of assets. Seltzer and Garfinkel reported that, in a sample of 1,800 divorce cases in Wisconsin occurring between 1980 and 1984, the median value of tangible assets at disruption was only $7,800, with mothers receiving a little over 50% of these assets.48

Thus, even if mothers received 100% of assets at the time of divorce, the amount in question would be too small to significantly affect the material well-being of either mothers or fathers (although Seltzer and Garfinkel note that the average property settlement is equivalent to one- to two-thirds of the average annual child support award, which speaks more to the low value of child support awards). Other evidence is consistent with these findings.49 Accumulated tangible property is not an answer to alleviating the economic stress associated with marital disruption.