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U.S. News Archive
November 08 - November 14, 1999





This page contains news for the period Monday, November 08, 1999 through Sunday, November 14, 1999.





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Sunday, November 14, 1999

GM modernizes worker policies for unmarried couples, working mothers, people with disabilities

A story published today in the Detroit News reports that General Motors Corp. is poised to become more sensitive to its employees who are unmarried, disabled or a working mother.

Some of the changes, which will start in January, include:

  • a revision of GM's "escort" policy, which covers expenses for spouses at events like dealer trips and other business functions. Beginning in 2000, that policy include not only unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex, but anyone whom the employee wants to bring on corporate events.
  • GM will also debut a new "mobility center" at its Warren Technical Center. it would focus on the needs of the disabled and aging population, relating both to GM's products and facilities.
  • To ease the burden on working mothers -- and fathers -- GM will set up day-care facilities at its RenCen headquarters and at the Tech Center.

As a related issue, GM will undertake the biggest employee "attitude survey" in its history in 2000. The company will survey all of its 391,000 workers worldwide to gauge sentiments on a range of issues, from product to management.


Friday, November 12, 1999

TV embraces reality of single motherhood

An article published today in the Los Angeles Times says that the recent spate of television story plots involving single moms reflects changes in American society.

For example, on the new CBS drama "Family Law," 40-ish attorney Lynn Holt juggles a sick son, a nanny with the flu, an important trial and a soon-to-be ex-husband too busy to get involved. Meanwhile, on NBC's sophomore sitcom "Jesse," the title character's young single mom is so exhausted from running between nursing school and a job that she forgets to pick up her 11-year-old from school.

Or consider that as the just-divorcing Judge Amy Gray of CBS' "Judging Amy," puts it in a telling conversation with her young daughter: "I know you want a normal family, but the trouble is, nobody knows what that is."

The article points out that the range of plots driven by single moms travels across drama and comedy, veteran shows and new. ABC's first-year drama "Once and Again," for example, is essentially the story of a single mother who finds a second chance at love, and on TV's top-rated long-running "ER," Nurse Hathaway will bear twins during November sweeps--without the presence of father-to-be George Clooney.

Or take the case of the Lifetime sitcom "Oh Baby," where the show is built around Tracy's decision to become a mother with the help of a sperm bank. Last season's pregnancy has evolved into this season's single motherhood. As Tracy coos over her newborn on Saturday nights, a loyal audience of fans has returned to see how mom and baby fare on their own.

The story notes that, for a while, TV's fascination was focused on single dads--from the long-running "Full House" to last season's "Two of a Kind" and "Brother's Keeper," all of which have since departed the prime-time scene.

Producers and network executives say that the emergence of shows built around single mothers is a reflection of what is happening in society at large.

According to USC sociology professor Judith Stacey, who notes that 85% of all single-parent homes are run by women. "The fact is, these programs are playing to a reality," says Stacey, who has also written a book on the evolution of family values.

Bill aims to ease HMO rate bite on single parent families

A story published today in the Boston Globe reports that a bill has been introduced into the Massachusetts Legislature that would require all HMOs in Massachusetts to offer separate rates for nongroup subscribers who are single heads of households with three dependents or fewer.

According to the 1990 census, there are 271,000 single heads of households with dependents under 18 in Massachusetts.

The bill responds to the fact that a single parent with children often pays the same family health-insurance premiums as a two-parent household, even though the single parent's policy covers one fewer adult.

The article says that Meredith Keane of Brockton doesn't think that's fair.

Keane is a part-time telemarketer and student with two college-age children. Because Keane's work is part time, she has to pay nongroup insurance out of pocket, all by herself.

Last December, Keane's monthly premium at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care increased from $512 to $766, a jump of about 49 percent, under the family plan. This Dec. 1, her rate will increase again to $927.

Keane has an option, which she will take advantage of. Blue Cross, Blue Shield offers nongroup insurance with a single-parent category, but it is the only one among the 18 organizations offering nongroup insurance in the state that does so. For Keane and her children, the cost for HMO Blue will be $473, a $454 savings each month.

''I don't want to switch, but I have to,'' said Keane, who has been with Harvard Pilgrim for many years and hopes she will not have to change physicians.

''People who pay their own nongroup premiums are usually the ones that can least afford to,'' Keane said. ''If I have to bear 100 percent of the premium, at least recognize me as one adult.''

The article says that the HMO industry sees one major flaw in Keane's approach: if one category pays less, another pays more.

According to Alan Raymond, a spokesman for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a separate rate category is possible, but that ''by creating a new category for a single parent with not more than three dependents, there would be a substantial increase in the two-parent family premium.''

Raymond told the Globe that the current categories have been established for simplicity. ''What is the fairest way to distribute premium costs? It has nothing to do with value judgments for what an appropriate family should constitute. It has to do with a distribution of costs.''

But Raymond acknowledged that Harvard Pilgrim and other insurers have had a category for single-parent households in Rhode Island and Maine.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield spokeswoman Susan Leahy said HMO Blue's category of single parents with dependents is three years old. She told the Globe that of Blue Cross-Blue Shield's 17,000 nongroup members in Massachusetts, 300 of them are in the Adult with Dependents category.

''It was a business decision. We felt that there was a market,'' Leahy said. She said the company had heard anecdotally from some single parents who did not have health insurance that they wanted coverage for their families.

Alan Sager, professor of health policy at Boston University School of Public Health, said the new bill is fair and reasonable ''since single-parent families have less money.''

But Becky Derby, senior policy analyst at Health Care for All, said that if a new class is created, then bigger families will bear the brunt of the change in rates. Derby, who said she sympathizes with Keane, wants the state to provide a subsidy for nongroup subscribers with lower incomes, similar to a subsidy offered to small-group subscribers, which include employers with fewer than 50 employees and the self-employed.

Arkansas Governor declares 'marital emergency'

A story published by MSNBC today reports that Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has declared a "marital emergency" and a goal of cutting the divorce rate in half by 2010.

The proclamation was issued in response to Census data released this week showing that Arkansas has the third worst divorce rate of any state in the nation. Government statistics show that Arkansas had 6.1 divorces last year for every 1,000 residents. That’s worse than every state except Tennessee and Nevada.

And it’s well above the national average of 4.2 divorces per 1,000 residents.

Huckabee is encouraging pastors to form community pacts requiring a certain amount of marital counseling before weddings.

New Hampshire blames its high divorce rate on Massachusetts residents

An article published today in Fosters Online reports that New Hampshire’s high divorce rate may be skewed by an influx of marital refugees from Massachusetts.

Government figures released yesterday show New Hampshire had 5.9 divorces per 1,000 residents in 1998, compared to the national average of 4.2 and Massachusetts rate of 2.7.

The story says that New Hampshire has the sixth highest divorce rate in the country, while Massachusetts had the second lowest. The only states higher than New Hampshire were No. 1 Nevada — home of drive-through weddings and divorces — and four Bible Belt states where people often marry young.

But Bedford lawyer Karen Heller told reporters that some of the divorces attributed to New Hampshire may stem from broken Massachusetts marriages. Heller believes that in some cases, one spouse moves from Massachusetts to New Hampshire where divorces are processed more quickly.

"If you have everything all done and the paperwork together and file a joint petition ... it’s done and it’s quick," Heller said. "There are very few hurdles here."

Franklin Law School professor Ellen Musinsky, who handles divorces as head of the school’s civil practice clinic, said divorces can take fewer than 30 days in New Hampshire. "What we have is pure, no-fault" divorce, she said.

In Massachusetts and many other states that don’t have pure no-fault, the wait can be as long as a year even when there are no significant disagreements, she said.

Oklahoma goes on offensive against high divorce rate

A story published today in Fosters Online reports that aside from the quickie-divorce mecca of Nevada, no region of the United States has a higher divorce rate than the Bible Belt.

Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma round out the Top Five in frequency of divorce. In a country where nearly half of all marriages break up, the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average.

The article says that no state has been more embarrassed by the divorce problem — or more willing to confront it — than Oklahoma. The state’s civic leaders, so often outspoken in promoting family values, see an irony in the statistics but find no easy explanations.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating has been pushing the issue high onto the public agenda, enlisting clergymen, academics, lawyers and psychologists in a high-profile campaign to reduce the divorce rate by a third within 10 years.

When the state’s high divorce rate first made the news a few years ago, "It hit me like a ton of bricks," says Anthony Jordan, executive director of Oklahoma’s branch of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Jordan, whose denomination is the largest in the state, is now trying to mobilize his pastors and clergy of other faiths to marry in their churches only those couples who first take a marriage preparation course. According to state estimates, about three-fourths of weddings In Oklahoma now take place in church.

Nationally, there were about 4.2 divorces for every thousand people in 1998, according to federal figures. The rate was 8.5 per thousand in Nevada, 6.4 in Tennessee, 6.1 in Arkansas, 6.0 in Alabama and Oklahoma, but less than 3.0 in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. Of all southeastern states, only South Carolina’s rate of 3.8 was below the national average.

Why so many divorces in the Bible Belt? Experts say that low household incomes (Oklahoma ranks 46th and Arkansas 47th) and a tendency for couples to marry at a younger age than in many other states account for this phenomenon.

Some Oklahomans suggest the very nature of Bible Belt fundamentalism may contribute to marriage problems, by offering guidelines that might not be useful for a troubled couple.

Fundamentalist churchgoers are often exposed to "fairytale conceptions of marriage," says the Rev. Robin Meyers, a Congregational minister in Oklahoma City. He describes himself as one of the few liberal clergymen in the nation’s most conservative state.

"They have that whole dogma of ‘This is right, this is wrong’ and nothing in between," Meyers says. "They don’t have the mental dexterity to make the adjustments to a less than perfect marriage."

The story says that due in part to Oklahoma’s conservative religious values, relatively few young couples live together before marriage.

"There is very strong pressure: If you’re going to have an intimate relationship, it has got to be in marriage," says Dr. Stewart Beasley, president of the Oklahoma Psychological Association. "When you get that pushed down your throat, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of options."

One option is early marriages, says Beasley, "and the younger they are, the less likely they’ll make a success of it."

The story says that churches will spearhead the Oklahoma initiative with their effort to promote marriage preparation, but the government will consider steps of its own. Among the possibilities: encouraging couples to accept mediation before considering divorce, and offering courses in public schools that would deal with values and relationships.

Like most states, Oklahoma sets up few legal barriers to divorce. District Judge Niles Jackson, a veteran of family court cases, focuses on the other end of the process.

"I don’t think it’s too easy to get a divorce," he says. "It’s too easy to get married. All you need is $20 and a blood test. We marry anyone who wants to."

Jackson advocates premarital counseling for secular as well as church marriages, if only to ensure that couples have considered potentially divisive matters such as finances.

Bible Belt folks marry for sex and so divorce rate is high there

A story published today in the Philadelphia News attempts to analyze why the national divorce rate bulges in the Bible Belt. From the land of family values and Baptist preachers, eight Deep South states rank in the top 20 when it comes to divorce.

Why so many divorces in the Bible Belt?

"It's the same reason in country songs so many people get married. There's pressure to get married to have sex because you can't get away with living together as well in these parts," said Jim Cobb, a history professor at the University of Georgia, and past president of the Southern Historical Society.

In Gatlinburg, Tenn., a glut of marriage chapels churns about $15 million annually into the local economy. Nearly 40,000 marriages a year take place in that slice of the Great Smoky Mountains.

"People are not equally matched when they come here," said Eddie Taylor, proprietor of Gatlinburg's first commercial wedding chapel.

"They come here overnight and fall in lust, not love," said Taylor, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. "They come to the area and in five minutes, they show a driver's license. You could have three or four living wives at the same time. Nobody checks. They've slept together and then tomorrow is a new day."

There's no waiting period and no blood test required in Tennessee.


Thursday, November 11, 1999

New website focuses on insurance concerns for single parents

A story published today by PR Newswire observes that families are being redefined, and as that happens, children of divorced and single-parent families encounter unique insurance needs.

Since many children move back and forth between mom and dad's house, making sure they're covered while visiting doctors or driving the family car is a big job. For parents with questions, insure.com ( www.insure.com) has answers.

Insure.com's new feature, "Insurance concerns for single parents," offers advice on how you can save money by wisely buying only the necessary insurance for children who split time between two households.

For example, does your child need to be covered under both you and your ex's health insurance policies? Some insurers provide nationwide coverage while others offer only local plans. In some cases, you can save money by purchasing individual health care policies that cover only your children and not you. Insure.com takes a look at these policies and who sells them.

When deciding to buy health insurance tailored to your situation, consider such things as: how many children you have and their ages; their existing health problems; if you and your ex-spouse live in the same state; and where your children spend most of their time.

Raising children through bumps, bruises, and broken bones is harrowing, but the ante goes up when they get behind the wheel. Did you know that some auto insurance policies cover everyone in the household, while other companies require adding or excluding particular drivers?


Wednesday, November 10, 1999

Many middle-aged women in Oregon choose motherhood without a husband

An article published today in the Oregonian reports that the unwed birth rate is up in Oregon and that more single women in their 30s and 40s are choosing to have children without getting married.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that for the first time, the majority of women becoming pregnant or giving birth to their first child are not married.

The story says that over the past two decades, the percentage of births to unmarried women has more than doubled in Oregon and across the nation. In 1997, 29 percent of all Oregon births were to unmarried women, the Oregon Health Division reports. And one in three births to unmarried mothers were to women 25 and older, the Oregon report showed.

Experts say the news is not shocking, but it does show that more women are moving ahead with their life plans regardless of marriage.

"Many professional women have not made a relationship their No. 1 priority," said Bill Winkler, a licensed clinical psychologist in Southwest Portland. "They're reaching their late 30s and early 40s and feeling their biological clocks saying that it's time, and they don't want (having a child) to be dependent on having a relationship."

House Passes Bill to Persuade Low-Income Single Fathers to Marry

A story released today by Reuters reports that the United States House of Representatives passed the "Fathers Count Act" yesterday.

Backers of the bill noted that the number of children living in homes without a father had tripled in the past 40 years, to about 23 million. Forty percent of the children of divorced couples have not seen their father in a year.

The grant program will allocate $140 million over two years to fatherhood programs. These range from programs promoting marriage or helping with child support payments to ones offering employment training and assistance.

Scripps News Service released a similar story which was published today in the Philadelphia News. That article reported that the bill was but it's drawing fire from civil liberties organizations, women's rights groups, and some advocates for the poor.

Absent fathers are a major reason many mothers receive welfare, supporters of the bill contend. If fathers are encouraged to marry the mother of their children - or if men are encouraged not to have children until they are married - then they are likely to be better fathers and better able to support their families without government assistance, supporters reason.

But opponents of the bill say that it conditions government services for the poor on the acceptance of a moral message, it is probably unconstitutional because it allows overtly religious organizations to receive government grants, and it may harm victims of domestic violence by encouraging their abuser to marry, remarry or move in with them.

Nearly half of women who receive welfare have been victims of domestic violence, said Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women.

"This bill completely ignores that reality in its apparent determination to pursue the promotion of marriage as a goal," Gandy said.

The bill authorizes $140 million in federal funds to be distributed by states to programs that do three things - encourage low-income fathers to marry, teach parenting skills and provide job placement assistance.

An additional $5 million is earmarked for a grant to conduct a national media campaign and establish a resource center to promote the importance of marriage in the rearing of, well-adjusted children.

Two more grants of $5 million each are earmarked for national fatherhood groups to conduct multi-city projects and another $6 million to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

"If you are a great program that promotes positive parenting or that does job training or placement you are still not eligible for funds unless you promote marriage. There is no exception for domestic-violence cases. In fact, they specifically mean for those cases to be included," Gandy said.

Because of the way the bill is worded, the group most likely to receive the $5 million for a national media campaign is the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit group in suburban Washington, D.C., that has strong ties to the religious right and GOP leaders in Congress.

Expenses per month for working single parent families in California

The Los Angeles Times published an article today about a report just released by the California Budget Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the financial needs of working families.

According to the report, a two-parent family of four needs at least $44,880 to make ends meet in California.

The report estimates that a worker who heads a single-parent family of four needs $36,828 to barely get by in California.  That figure includes the following essential costs:

Housing/utilities $608
Child care $926
Transportation $244
Food $382
Health care $216
Miscellaneous $311
Taxes $382

Tuesday, November 09, 1999

States ranked for divorce rates

The Associated Press released statistics today in which states were ranked according to the rate of divorce for 1998, which is calculated according to the number of divorces per 1,000 people in the state that year.  The sources of the information   were the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The average rate of divorce in the nation was 4.2 divorces per 1,000 residents.   Nevada, which is notorious for its "quickie" divorces, ranked number one.   California, Colorado, Indiana, and Louisiana are not included in the tally because these states refuse to release their divorce statistics to the federal government.

1. Nevada 8.5 2. Tennessee 6.4
3. Arkansas 6.1 4. Alabama 6.0
5. Oklahoma 6.0 6. New Hampshire 5.9
7. Wyoming 5.9 8. Idaho 5.7
9. Kentucky 5.7 10. Arizona 5.5
11. Florida 5.4 12. Alaska 5.2
13. West Virginia 5.1 14. Washington 5.1
15. Texas 4.9 16. North Carolina 4.9
17. Missouri 4.7 18. Mississippi 4.7
19. Georgia 4.7 20. Oregon 4.6
21. New Mexico 4.6 22. Delaware 4.5
23. Virginia 4.4 24. Vermont 4.3
25. Utah 4.2 26. Maine 4.1
27. Ohio 4.1 28. Kansas 4.1
29. Hawaii 4.0 30. Michigan 4.0
31. Nebraska 3.8 32. South Carolina 3.8
33. Montana 3.8 34. South Dakota 3.5
35. Wisconsin 3.4 36. Illinois 3.4
37. Iowa 3.3 38. North Dakota 3.3
39. Minnesota 3.2 40. Pennsylvania 3.2
41. Rhode Island 3.2 42. Maryland 3.2
43. New Jersey 3.1 44. Connecticut 2.9
45. Massachusetts 2.7 46. New York 2.5

Newspaper editorial empathizes with 'beanie baby' divorce court judge

An editorial published today in the Las Vegas Sun sided with a judge who was so frustrated with a divorcing couple who could not agree on how to divide their beanie babies that the judge invited the press to attend the courtroom hearing where the matter was resolved.

The paper observed that divorce can be the most emotionally wrenching time in an individual's life. The breakup can lead to words and deeds which, in the heat of the moment, would never be made under normal circumstances. Agreements over a child's custody and how to equitably split property and assets can be hard to reach -- often they must be decided by a judge if the couple can't reach a decision on their own.

The editorial noted that in his seven years as a Family Court judge, Gerald Hardcastle has seen his share of bitterness in divorce cases. Normally the public doesn't hear much about what goes on in Family Court since the hearings often are closed to the public. But, according to the paper, Hardcastle was so frustrated with a particular case that he invited the media to attend a hearing on Friday.

What had exasperated Hardcastle? A couple who had divorced four months ago still couldn't agree on how to divide their Beanie Babies collection, prompting the ex-husband to file a motion to get his share.

"I'd just had enough," Hardcastle told the Sun's Stacy Willis. "We spend a lot of time dealing with some simply unreasonable issues. They are time-consuming, expensive issues. A lot of our calendar is made up of just this kind of nonsense."

The judge's solution was straightforward. He had the Beanie Babies placed on the floor of the courtroom, and Hardcastle had each ex-spouse pick a collectible, alternating the selection until each Beanie Baby had been picked.

The paper felt the process must have been humiliating for the couple, but said the episode should serve important purposes. First, it might help another couple unfortunately mired in a divorce proceeding; maybe they will remember what can seem so important to them at the moment also can appear to be petty to an unbiased outsider. Second, it helps the public understand better the difficulties that judges face.

Bishop's plan will benefit divorced Catholics in Michigan

An article published today in the Detroit Free Press reports that Saginaw Catholic Bishop Kenneth Untener has a New Year's gift for thousands of divorced Catholics.

The story says that reconciliation is a worldwide theme in the Catholic church for the year 2000 -- and Untener wants to start by tackling one of the biggest problems faced by Catholic families after marriages break up. The bishop is preparing to streamline the difficult and time consuming procedure for obtaining an annulment.

"This is the year when we should find every way possible for people to get right with their church," said Untener. "And one of the main reasons people don't don't feel right about the church is the problems they have with divorce. I want people to find healing in the church."

The story says that the Catholic church teaches that a valid marriage lasts a lifetime. The church does not recognize the validity of civil divorce, which leaves a dilemma for divorced Catholics who want to remarry in the church.

Under church law, they first must submit to the cumbersome and often expensive process of having their first marriage investigated by church officials to see if it can be declared null and void. Only after a first marriage is declared invalid may Catholics marry again. If they marry a second time without having the first marriage annulled, the Church considers the new marriage as adultery which is a mortal sin.

The article says that Untener's dream is to have thousands of divorced Catholics reconcile their marital status with the church next year. However, the unprecedented program is open only to Catholics within his 11-county Diocese of Saginaw, which stretches from Lake Huron to Mt. Pleasant and covers most of Michigan's Thumb.

At weekend masses on Dec. 4 and 5, Untener will explain the plan in all of the 111 parishes in his diocese with a taped message about the spirit of Christmas and the religious season of Advent that precedes it.

"In the Diocese of Saginaw, nudged along by the spirit of the year 2000, we have simplified the procedures for this," his tape says. "We have trained laypeople who can personally walk through it with each person. We have also eliminated all fees or contributions associated with this journey. It's a free trip home."

Untener knows that he is sticking his neck out because, over the years, Vatican officials have criticized dioceses in the United States for issuing more annulments than any other country. But the bishop stresses that he is not breaking any rules -- only making sure that church laws are used to benefit as many Catholics as possible.

The story says that in streamlining the process, Untener's first step was to follow the example of the Archdiocese of Detroit and start providing annulments as a free service. Until now, Saginaw has asked for $300.

Untener's next big move, which appears to be unprecedented, involves his promise that people seeking an annulment won't have to fill out lengthy questionnaires about their past marriage by themselves.

Rather, Untener's staff is training 40 laypeople as annulment advocates who will meet applicants at the parish closest to their home. The lay advocates will interview the applicants and fill out the necessary paperwork for them.

Near the end of Untener's taped message, the bishop concludes, "There is a golden opportunity here to do a work of mercy, and the year 2000 is a fine time to do it."

Detroit Archdiocese sets a world record in marriage annulments

A story published today in the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit holds an unusual world record. The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit surpasses dioceses around the world in handling marriage annulments.

"Over the last several years, we did process more nullity cases in the United States than other dioceses," said the Rev. George Miller, who for 17 years has presided over annulment cases at the archdiocese's Marriage Tribunal. "We have a larger annual caseload than any other tribunal in the world."

The story says that during the 1990s, the archdiocese's caseload has ranged from 1,300 cases in 1992 to about 1,000 formal cases in recent years. That is more than larger dioceses such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Detroit's record is due mainly to Cardinal Edmund Szoka, Detroit's archbishop in 1982. Szoka quietly streamlined the local annulment process and abolished the $300 processing fee. New York and Chicago, for example, charge $800, although dioceses often reduce or waive the fees for those who can't afford them.

For years, U.S. Catholic bishops have been secretive about the rate of annulments, fearing criticism from the Vatican. A small but growing number of dioceses, such as Detroit and Saginaw, have streamlined the process to reach out to divorced Catholics and keep them coming to church.

The article notes that most other Christian faiths recognize civil divorce, allowing remarriage in church ceremonies.

Szoka said he was uncomfortable asking for the money and didn't want to foster the perception that annulments could be bought. So when he became the bishop of the Gaylord diocese, he abolished its annulment fee in 1972.

"I really hated to ask people for that fee," Szoka said from his office as president of the Vatican City State. "They came with a very personal problem, and I didn't want them to think they had to pay for the help. And we wanted to treat everybody equally, rich or poor."

As Archbishop of Detroit in 1982, he faced a five-year backlog of annulments, which he handled by adding more staff and by using computers. Now, annulments are processed in less than a year.

The story says that officials estimate that less than 10 percent of divorced Catholics go through the annulment process. In many national surveys, the majority of Catholics have said they want their church to recognize civil divorce. The Vatican opposes this idea.

The result is a confusing concept to most Catholics, let alone non-Catholics.   The article poses the following questions people often have: Why does the Vatican insist that civil divorce does not end a marriage? And, how can the church deem a marriage annulled when a couple was together for 20-plus years and reared six children?

American dioceses process about 60,000 annulment cases a year -- accounting for 75 percent of such cases worldwide. According to the story, as recently as 1968, there were about 400 cases in the United States. Nowadays, that number of cases is handled by the Diocese of Lansing in a typical year.

About four out of five people nationally who apply for Catholic annulments receive them, Vatican statistics show. Detroit officials declined to give the Free Press the exact statistics on how many annulments are granted in the seven-county archdiocese.

Szoka defended the archdiocese's annulment practices before a 1983 gathering of bishops at the Vatican, who wondered about Detroit's large caseload. Szoka told them the archdiocese abided by church laws, but used computers and a better trained staff to help divorced Catholics. And he invited the critical bishops to come to Detroit and check it out for themselves.

"When you have a divorce and people get married again outside the church, very often, the whole family is lost to the church," Szoka said.

According to the Free Press, six years ago, Vatican canon-law expert Archbishop Vincenzo Fagiolo blasted American bishops for "extraordinary" increases in annulments. Fagiolo called it a "grave scandal" that calls into question the church's traditional teaching that marriage is permanent.

Cardinal Adam Maida said last week he's "very proud" of the archdiocese's efforts.

"It's something very dear to my heart. I feel individuals in the church have rights, and sometimes they don't know what those rights are and how to pursue them.

"We are doing everything according to the law, what the church allows," said Maida. Anytime a marriage breaks up, the Catholic church requires an inquiry to determine whether the people can remarry in a Catholic ceremony.

The article says there ere are two kinds of annulments. Some are automatically granted, so-called "lack-of-form" annulments which apply to divorced Catholics who were married by judges, mayors or non-Catholic clergy. Detroit handles about 600 such "lack-of-form" annulments in addition to the 1,000 formal annulments a year.

More complicated and intimidating is the formal annulment, required of a Catholic married in the church, who is now divorced and wishes to remarry in a Catholic ceremony.

"A declaration of nullity is not going back and saying the marriage never happened," explained the tribunal's Miller. "It's a statement in hindsight that an essential element was lacking when the marriage took place."

The story explains that some of the essential elements are maturity, emotional health, a commitment to fidelity and to bear children, and a  past free of verbal, emotional or physical abuse.

The marriage can be declared null if one partner did not intend to have children, or expected to have sex outside marriage, or even figured divorce could be an easy way out if problems developed.

Money and divorce: Nobody wins

The November issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance carried a story about new research which concluded that men and women both suffer, in roughly equal but slightly different financial terms, after they divorce.

According to the article, when psychology professor Sanford Braver set out to track the finances of nearly 400 divorced couples over an eight-year period, even he was startled by the findings: Men and women have comparable standards of living after the marriage ends, and both suffer a decline.

The story says that Braver's conclusion is at odds with 20 years of previous research -- and conventional wisdom -- that says moms, who usually have custody of the kids, suffer a steep drop in their standard of living, while dads see an uptake in theirs. Divorce is thought to be harder on moms in part because they generally earn less.

But Braver, a professor at Arizona State University and author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, claims that the economic scales balance if you factor in taxes. He says that mothers with custody don't pay income tax on the child support they receive, are taxed at a lower rate because of their head-of-household status, take exemptions for their dependents and get tax credits for child care.  Dads, however, have lost the exemptions and deductions they had when they were married but they are still paying for the children. And Braver points out that dads may even be paying twice: first with child-support dollars, and then to feed and care for the kids when they visit.

But others content that it is still unclear whether the tax breaks mothers receive are enough to offset caring for the kids most of the time. "Mothers usually pay for the housing, utilities, food and school supplies that kids need on a daily basis," says Judye Foy of Parents Without Partners. Often, "the child support just isn't enough."

Percent of children born to unmarried parents is higher

An Associated Press story published today in the Washington Post reports that the portion of babies born to unwed parents has increased fivefold since the 1930s, according to a new Census report that documents the trend.

The article observes that politicians and policy makers alike worry about children born to unmarried parents, who are more likely to be poor and face other socioeconomic problems.

The Census report, being released today, looks at the first births to women ages 15 to 29.

It found that in 1990-94, 41 percent of these births were to unmarried parents.   That's a five-fold increase since 1930-34, when just 8 percent of these children were born out of wedlock.

The report also looks at marriages after a baby is conceived – but before the child is born.

It says that until the 1960s, about 50 percent to 60 percent of couples married after discovering the woman was pregnant. But that dropped to 29 percent in the early 1980s.

The report notes that, during the intervening years, women were more likely to be educated and abortion laws were relaxed.

"Declines in the propensity to marry to avoid an out-of-wedlock birth by this generation of women may also reflect the questionable stability of a forced marriage, especially if the father of the child may not be able to maintain the family after marriage," the report states.

The report's focus ends in 1994.  The story says that in recent years, the out-of-wedlock birth rate hasn't changed much. About one in three of all babies born to unwed mothers, including mothers of all ages.

According to the article, the overall rate peaked in 1994 at 32.6 percent and has been relatively stable since, after climbing dramatically through the late 1980s and early '90s.


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