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U.S. News Archive
January 01 - January 09, 2000

 

 

 

 

This page contains news for the period Saturday, January 01, 2000 through Sunday, January 09, 2000.

 

 

 

 

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Sunday, January 09, 2000


Married or unmarried, more Michigan parents are using day care for kids

A story published today in the Grand Rapids Press reports that more than 350,000 children in Michigan are spending time in licensed day care facilities.

The decision to use child care is one facing more families and one that has put child care on the forefront of America's consciousness.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a family who has not had some experience with child care," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Family and Work Institute based in New York.

Perhaps that's why, even at the dawn of a new century, the nation is left grappling with one of the most contentious issues born in the last century: Who's minding the kids?

The story notes that parents struggle to find quality care. Employers are affected when child care is not dependable and workers have to stay home. Even the discussion of traffic snarls from the closing of the S-curve is tinged with talk about late fees at day care centers. When state licensing changes were proposed last fall to increase adult-child ratios at centers, hundreds of residents marched to town meetings across Michigan to object.

According to the Child Care Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 10 million children younger than age 5 in this country have mothers who work outside the home. More than half of those are receiving care from adults other than their parents. Some reasons for the increase include more dual-income families and more single-parent families.

"This issue cuts across age, locale and income," said Meredith Wagner, senior vice president of public affairs for Lifetime Television, which launched a campaign about 18 months ago asking viewers to write in with their child care stories.

"Even grandparents are concerned for their children, seeking child care for grandchildren," Wagner said.

If Galinsky has her way, discussions about child care will no longer be whether it's a good idea or if mothers should stay home. The discussion needs to center on the care of the children, she said, no matter who provides that care.

The new millennium is as good of a time as any to talk about the real issues in child care, which should be to provide the highest quality care possible, she said.

"All of us get millennium fever to a certain extent," Galinsky said. "As with all the changes in society, including blurred boundaries between home and work and an increase in divorce and single parents, the millennium causes us to figure out how we think about the world."

Like it or not, Galinsky said, that world of the future is going to include child care, and "a lot of children are going to be in it."


Marriage rates dropping nationwide

A story published today by the Associated Press says that have to listen pretty hard to hear wedding bells in New York these days.

The number of new marriages in the city is at its lowest point since the 1970s, pushed down by a decline in the number of people in their 20s, an end to the taboo on living together outside of wedlock and financial incentives that can make it more appealing to stay single.

But even though New York City has long been a haven for singles, the decline in marriage rates appears to mirror a national trend.

''The baby boomers basically have all had their initial marriage by now,'' says Tom Smith, who runs the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. ''And we have a relatively small pool of people in the prime ready-to-get-married age now.''

That age is generally around 25. Those in their mid- to late 20s are underrepresented in the general population, since the number of births in the United States declined 16% between 1965 and 1975.

The story says that in New York, the total number of new marriages fell 30% between 1997 and 1999. The 1997 figure was thought to be artificially high, though, since changes in federal immigration laws prompted many immigrants to marry quickly.

In the last several years, city marriage rates have been at the lowest levels since the late 1970s. In 1999, the marriage rate in New York was 7.6 per 1,000, down from 9.1 per 1,000 in 1997.

Marriage rates are also dropping nationally. In 1998, 8.3 per 1,000 Americans married, the lowest rate since 1958.

Among the causes cited by sociologists for this change is a greater acceptance of living together outside marriage. Financial incentives may also play a role. Some low-wage workers lose tax credits when they marry and the so-called ''marriage penalty'' affects some double-income couples.

''I will never be married,'' said Ben Speth, 36, who lives in Brooklyn with his girlfriend. ''I don't need the state's imprimatur. It is enough for me to love and be loved.''

 

Wednesday, January 05, 2000


Rosie O'Donnell adopts third child

An article published today in USA Today reports that talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell has adopted her third child, a boy born Dec. 5 and named Blake Christopher. He went home with O'Donnell for Christmas in Florida, along with son Parker, 4, and daughter Chelsea, 2.

Blake was born a month early but is healthy. O'Donnell, who is 37 and unmarried, didn't announce the adoption; it leaked out Tuesday and was confirmed.

The story says Blake is ''half-Italian.'' O'Donnell favors last names for boys and wanted to call him Keaton, but that was nixed by friends and his siblings.

An interview with O'Donnell will appear in the February edition of Redbook, in which she talks of ''the father question.''

''I tell them that all families are different, and that we don't have a daddy. That works for them. They have a very clear understanding about who the people are in their family, and they both have very strong male influences. My brothers are around frequently, as is my friend Marcos.''


Minnesota to consider "covenant marriage" bill making divorce more difficult

A story published today in the Star Tribune reports that the Minnesota Legislature will be asked to approve an optional set of marriage vows -- sometimes called "super vows" -- for couples who want to express an extra measure of commitment to their marriage by making it harder for them to divorce.

Among the additional restrictions would be for such "covenant marriages" would be a two-year waiting period between the time they decided to divorce and the time they were legally allowed to do so.

The story says that Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, and Rep. Elaine Harder, R-Jackson, will announce their plans to introduce the bill today.

The idea was borrowed from Louisiana where it originated two years ago. Covenant marriages are a new cause among groups that want to lower the nation's 50-percent divorce rate. In addition to the waiting period before a divorce, the covenant marriage concept also reverses some of the nation's 20-year march to no-fault divorce.

The story says that some blame the trend toward no-fault divorces for disrupting families and others credit it with easing the acrimony that used to linger because one spouse had to accuse the other of harm.

Covenant marriage bills were introduced in 17 state legislatures last year, including Minnesota's. While all but Arizona rejected them, observers of the trend said policymakers in nearly half the states were considering the change as of last summer.

"It . . . appears that we are on the front end of a covenant marriage boom that could sweep across the nation," said Steven Nock, a University of Virginia sociology professor who will spend the next five years tracking the phenomenon for the National Science Foundation.

The story says that many of the states that rejected covenant marriages did approve less sweeping measures to curb divorce. Dille and Harder would do that, too, sponsoring another measure that would allow couples who go through premarital counseling to pay only $20 for their marriage license instead of the usual $70.

Conservative religious groups say covenant marriages can help prevent some divorces by slowing down a process that now proceeds too fast and too often. They say the price of divorce -- it cuts U.S. women's standard of living an average of 30 percent and is the single most common act to send children into poverty -- makes it an issue that reaches beyond the home and into public policy.

Opponents and skeptics, including feminists, say there's no evidence that making divorce harder saves marriages, and that in fact covenant marriage laws can backfire and make some divorces messier. They worry that women will be more reluctant to leave abusive marriages. And they wonder how many couples will choose the special marriage, anyway; in Louisiana, for example, only 3 percent have.

According to the article, Minnesota's covenant marriage bill would set up two options for couples: standard marriage or covenant marriage. Covenant couples would agree to premarital education and to marriage counseling if they later were considering divorce. They also would agree to a two-year waiting period for a divorce, except in cases involving abuse, abandonment or adultery.

One Eden Prairie couple who plan to be married on Feb. 12 after being together 14 years said the covenant option would not appeal to them. Their trust and commitment to one another wouldn't be affected by tinkering with the marriage law, Deann Andera said.

"It's not the signature on a piece of paper that makes us committed," Andera said.

Her fiancée, Rick Lindgren, said he finds the notion intrusive. "I think this sounds like 'Big Brother' is just getting even more involved where he doesn't need to be," he said.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, also had objections to the new plan. "The general feeling was that it tended to imply that one kind of marriage is better than another," Berglin said.

"I'm not saying and nobody who's part of this is saying that this should be for everybody," said Bill Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of family social science and family therapist who supports the covenant marriage bill. "And I do think that some divorces are necessary; some divorces are exactly the right thing to do.

"But I believe there are many divorces that are unnecessary because people did not prepare for the marriage adequately [or] did not get help in time to salvage the marriage," he said.

The story says that the issue has divided people in expected and unexpected ways. Across the country, covenant marriage advocates include conservative religious groups, convinced that no-fault divorce has fueled the demise of many marriages. Opponents include feminists and divorce attorneys, who worry that women would be confused or frightened into staying in harmful marriages.

But some conservatives object to sanctioning any new kind of marriage for fear that it will open the door to other kinds that they don't want, including marriages for gay couples.

 

Tuesday, January 04, 2000


Florida county uses creative approaches to solving post-divorce parental disputes

A story published today by the Naples Daily News outlined several innovative procedures being used by a court system in Collier County to resolve disputes that continue to arise after a couple divorces.

The latest program, known as "pay-or-appear" requires participants who who are overdue in child support either make an installment on Fridays or appear for a hearing Monday afternoons, where they are subject to arrest.

"We know the program is working when no one has shown up," said Jodi Figueroa, of the Clerk of Court's Office.

Members of the divorce support group hope to make more changes in how divorce is handled.

"We're making a transition from adversarial divorces to a collaborative divorce," said Naples attorney Victoria Ho, a board member of a "divorce support group" which consists of lawyers and other professionals who have been working together to devise the new procedures.

A year after its inception, the divorce support group has created a half dozen programs that are helping change the face of divorce in Collier County.

First, there was the pay-or-appear, an effort to collect overdue child support. Then came a parent-coordinator program. A mental-health professional acts as mediator for visitation and custody disputes. If parents can't settle the dispute, the coordinator makes a recommendation to the court.

"This has worked tremendously well," said County Judge Dan Monaco, a board member of the divorce support group. "Sometimes people are so contentious in court ... I didn't think they could work it out."

Through a coordinator, they do.

According to the story, a third initiative begins next week.

The visitation rights protection program aims to correct weekend visitation problems. Parents will exchange children at the child protection team office on Friday evenings. If a parent is more than 30 minutes late, the court is notified by a telephone call through a hotline. The parent is then ordered to court on Monday.

"This avoids one parent using the child to get back at their former spouse," said Jay Cross, of the Clerk of Courts Office.

Families in transition, a fourth program developed by the divorce support group, focuses on communication in divorced families. Children ages 5 to 14 attend the mandatory program with their parents.

There is also a general master program, in which a skilled attorney oversees hearings about visitation and support problems. This frees up Monaco's time to address more cases and gives the participants a more immediate resolution.

The story suggests that one of the most important programs started this year is the brief evaluation.

Dr. Mary Ellen Frazier, a Naples mental-health professional, modeled the program after one used in Massachusetts. Frazier meets with each member of the family independently and then studies their interaction during a group activity, such as drawing a picture of a family outing, to determine family dynamics.

Frazier then prepares a three-page report for Monaco, which helps him determine a temporary solution to the family crisis until a more permanent solution can be determined at a later court date.

The report can also benefit the family. Most of the parents who read the reports are in conflict and "get a taste of what it's like to have a stranger come into their life and make a decision," Frazier said.

"They may not like the decision and that can encourage them to make a decision together in the future," she added.

When that happens, the family-law professionals are meeting their goals. "We're trying to dissolve marriages without dissolving the family," Cross said.


Supreme court confronts parents' rights vs. children's rights

A story published today in the Austin American Statesmen reports that on January 12, 2000, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that pits parents' rights against the rights of children and others interested in their welfare.

The issue involves whether grandparents, other relatives and certain nonrelatives should be able to gain a court-ordered right to visit with children over the parents' objection.

The story notes that in recent years, all 50 states have adopted grandparents' rights laws, permitting grandparents, and sometimes others, to seek court-ordered visitation under various circumstances.

Before the nation's high court is a Washington state law that permits anyone -- without any defined relationship to the child -- to petition for visiting rights and to succeed if the family court concludes that visitation would be in the child's best interest.

The Washington Supreme Court concluded in a 1998 decision that the law violated "a parent's constitutionally protected right to rear his or her children without state interference." In the absence of any indication that visitation was necessary to prevent harm to the child, the parents' rights were "fundamental" and should not be overridden, the state court said, adding that "the parents should be the ones to choose whether to expose their children to certain people or ideas."

The story says that the case has galvanized a wide spectrum of organizations and interest groups that saw implications -- for good or ill -- in the state court's categorical assessment of parental rights. Dozens of organizations have filed or joined briefs in Troxel vs. Granville, making it one of the high-visibility cases in a Supreme Court term already packed with potential landmarks.

Briefs representing the interests of the older generation, including one filed on the grandparents' behalf by the AARP, note that the number of children whose primary caretakers are their grandparents is growing rapidly in the face of nuclear family dissolution; for 1.4 million children today, their grandparents are their functional parents.

Briefs representing the Christian right, filed on the parents' behalf, hold up "the traditional family, consisting of married parents and their children" and "inextricably linked to the union of husband and wife" -- in the words of a brief filed by the American Center for Law and Justice -- as society's essential building-block.

Gay-rights groups, groups advocating parental choice in education, organizations concerned with families struggling in poverty, all have come into the case in an effort to make sure the justices at least understand the implications of a ruling one way or another.

For example, according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay-rights legal organization, neither side's position is sufficiently protective of the needs of children being raised in nontraditional families where a functional parent may have neither biological nor legal ties to the child. Courts should consider "the quality and security of the relationship between individual children and adults rather than blood ties or labels," the Lambda brief said.


Settlement in North Dakota discrimination case

A story published today in the Bismarck Tribune reports that the North Dakota Fair Housing Council and six Bismarck residents have reached a $125,000 settlement in a 1998 housing discrimination case against a Bismarck landlord, possibly the largest settlement in the state's history.

The lawsuit was brought against John and Tillie Haider, who allegedly discriminated against people in their selection of tenants. Among those the Haiders were charged with discriminating against in their rental practices were unmarried couples, single mothers, families with children, Native Americans, those on public assistance and young people.

"We hope that a case of this magnitude may deter individuals who may be discriminating now so that they change their practices so they don't discriminate," said Amy Schauer Nelson, executive director of the North Dakota Fair Housing Council.

 

Monday, January 03, 2000


Adoption policies set for debate in Utah Legislature

A story published today in the Desert News reports that Utah could become one of only two states to have a law prohibiting same-sex couples and unmarried straight couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents of children in state custody.

According to the article, the Legislature will likely consider turning the state's controversial adoption and foster-care policies into statutes when it convenes this month. At least one state representative and two state senators are drafting legislation that restricts specific segments of the population from adopting children or being foster parents.

"I think it gives it more power if you put it that way. I think it supports the Division of Child and Family Services in what it's doing. They can say, 'This is what the law says,'" said Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset, who will sponsor one of the bills.

Any proposed legislation is sure to generate vehement opposition not only locally but nationally as it did in several other states this past year. Utah already is among three states being sued over its foster-care and adoption policies. Florida is the only state that statutorily forbids gay and lesbian adoptions.

In 1999 the state-appointed DCFS board, which sets policy for the child welfare agency, approved a rule forbidding adults living under one roof who are not related by legal marriage, blood or adoption from adopting children. The policy precludes lesbian and gay couples, unmarried heterosexual couples and polygamists from adopting. It does not apply to single-parent adoptions.

The board followed that with a proposed policy that keeps unmarried, unrelated couples from providing state-sponsored foster care. The guideline is set to go into effect after the board's January meeting.

Utah Children, a statewide child advocacy group, sued the state over the adoption policy in October, saying it shuts out an entire group of adoptive families, instead of judging applicants on a case-by-case basis to determine what's in the best interest of the child. The ACLU in November filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of two gay men and a lesbian woman who believe the policy is discriminatory.


Most gays in California don't want same-sex marriage

According to recent polls conducted by supports and opponents of Proposition 22 -- the anti-gay-marriage initiative scheduled for a vote in March in California -- most lesbians and gays do not want same-gender marriages.

Both sides said their polls found a clear majority of homosexuals did not favor gay marriage. But they do want other rights, including many of the legal benefits and responsibilities of married couples.

Some Prop. 22 opponents are against gay marriage because, they say, society isn't ready for it and it would attract a hateful backlash. Others are unimpressed with the institution of marriage.

"Sometimes lesbians see the institution of marriage as patriarchal," said Tricia Aynes, spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Center of Orange County. "And some (gays) see it strictly as a heterosexual institution."

A significant portion of Prop. 22 opponents, including Congressman Tom Campbell, say the issue of marriage should be left up to the church.

Last year, the California Legislature approved a domestic-partners registry for gay couples, allowing registrants to have hospital-visitation rights and permitting state and local government workers to obtain health coverage for gay partners over 18 and heterosexual unmarried couples over 62. Many gay activists are seeking to expand domestic-partner benefits to the equivalent of benefits enjoyed by married couples.

 

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