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UCLA Law Review

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The high divorce rate, like women's increased labor force participation, reflects and reinforces a sea change in sex roles and family structure. From a feminist perspective, divorce is a particularly intriguing rite of passage. At divorce, a woman changes her relationship not only with an individual man but with a male-dominated society as well. In effect, she exchanges the intimate experience of intrafamilial patriarchy for the social experience of patriarchy without the buffer of wifely status. Divorce law may be understood as the state's mediation of that transition. It deserves our close attention not only as an "index of social relations" between the sexes, but also because it is for the most part an appalling failure for the divorced spouses, their children, and societies increasingly comprised of those whose lives are affected by divorce.

This paper will explore some of the reasons for this predicament. My central thesis is that the glaring inadequacies of divorce laws are less a function of badly devised rules or misconceptions as to the proper role of the state, than of deeply held beliefs about female and male roles. These attitudes cannot be reconciled with the demands of the real world and the real needs of the parties at divorce.



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