May 27, 2000
Slow going for divorced dads' movement
A story published today in the Los Angeles Times
reports that even though many divorced dads have formed groups to fight for their rights,
their fledging movement has yet to catch on fire.
Thousands of divorced fathers nationwide say they are convinced the
courts and government agencies are biased against men in matters of child custody and
support. While some of these men nurse their grievances privately, others have enlisted in
what is loosely known as the "fathers' rights movement."
The story points out that this crusade is often distinguished by
lack of cohesion. There are scores of state and national groups which sometimes bicker
over tactics or ideology. Some have paid lobbyists and long membership lists, others have
little more than a Web site spouting anger and venom,
Some activists estimate the movement's strength at anywhere from
150,000 to 500,000. High turnover in many of the groups makes a precise count impossible.
This spring, the movement welcomed the reunion of Elian Gonzalez
with his divorced father from Cuba. "There is hope," said Bob Hirschfeld, a
founder of the National Coalition of Fathers and Children.
Some modest progress have been made in state legislatures;
Mississippi enacted a child custody law in April that bans judges from presuming a woman
would be a better parent. And next month, a Father's Day protest march is planned in
But compared to the women's rights movement, the divorced dads
remain a relatively ineffective lobby, partly because of the angry tone of much of their
agenda and their presentation.
"These dads are a group of folks that needs to be heard,"
said Kay Cullen, spokeswoman for the National Child Support Enforcement Association.
"But their anger may very well deafen the ears of those who might need to hear
Dianna Durham-McLoud, president of the National Child Support
Enforcement Association and former head of Illinois' support enforcement agency, believes
divorced fathers deserve fair treatment. But some men undermine their cause with overly
broad counterattacks, she said.
"Some of these folks have gotten a really raw deal. If it's a
quirk in their state law, deal with that. But I've heard of child-support workers referred
to as 'black-booted Nazis,' " she said. "That's poppycock. You don't villainize
everyone associated with the system."
Abuses seems to be occurring nationwide states scramble to comply
with stricter federal mandates to collect more child support. Men in arrears--many with
modest-paid jobs--are losing their drivers' licenses, finding their cars immobilized by
"boots," and having their bank accounts seized.
"We believe these agencies are rife with error," said
Dianna Thompson, a second wife and fathers' rights activist in California, who helps run
one of the biggest groups, the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. "I can
give you case after case of people who are completely current in support and all of a
sudden get these huge bills saying they owe thousands."
Tougher penalties for false allegations of abuse is a major goal of
many fathers' rights groups. Another is to ensure that custodial parents--usually
mothers--honor the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent. The chief goal, however,
is to promote joint child custody as the general rule in divorce cases.
"Children thrive when you have the maximum involvement of both
parents," said Stuart Miller, lobbyist for the American Fathers Coalition and veteran
of a two-year battle to secure the right to see his own young son.
"The government is starting to take baby steps in the right
direction. But is there wholesale support for it? Not yet," he said. "I think
people are afraid to offend women."
The first fathers' rights groups surfaced in the 1970s, as some
divorced men felt the family court system went too far in accommodating demands from
The story says that tension between women's rights and athers'
rights groups persists: The National Organization for Women last fall described the
fathers' rights movement as "a wolf in sheep's clothing," with an agenda that
could harm divorced and single mothers.
If there is a bible for the fathers' movement, it would be
"Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths," a 1998 book by Arizona State University
psychology professor Sanford Braver, based on lengthy study of 1,000 divorced couples.
"Virtually every aspect of what I call the 'bad divorced dad'
image has turned out to be a myth, an inaccurate and damaging stereotype," wrote
Braver. He concluded that most divorced fathers pay child support without fail and want
close ties with their children.
Braver, in an interview with the Times reporter, expressed
disappointment that his book has not helped push divorced fathers' grievances to the
political forefront. "I choose to believe that policy-makers want to do the right
thing. . . but for some reason, this issue just hasn't penetrated their horizons," he
said. "The right buttons haven't been pushed, and I don't know what the buttons
He advises fathers' rights advocates to be patient and persistent.
"Be a responsible father. And don't let your anger at the
system, even if it may be justified, overwhelm your good judgment," he said.
The story says that divisions within the movement complicate that
task. In Michigan, for example, a state chapter of Dads Against Discrimination split last
year over legislative goals and membership dues.
"Men just don't join together and unite," said Murray
Davis, executive director of a faction renamed DADS of Michigan. "I take my hat off
to women. With guys, it's like pulling teeth. We get what we deserve."
Davis describes his activism as "part of my therapy" after
the wrenching discovery in 1996 that two of the children he raised were, in fact, fathered
by his former best friend.
Post-divorce investigations established that man's paternity, but
Davis was ordered to shoulder half of the child-support payments if he wanted to retain
the right to visit the two children.
Majority of active military
personnel are married
A story published today by the Associated Press
reports that the military is trying to become more "family friendly" now that a
majority of active duty personnel are married.
One example is a Family Readiness emergency center at Fort Collins
which is one-half "Home Improvement," one-half "Divorce Court."
The center was set up to help families cope with separations during
a six-month stint in Bosnia for 2,600 Fort Carson soldiers. Spouses are counseled on
domestic crises, and linked to their far-off mates by e-mail and video-teleconferencing.
"We hear some tough conversations," said Staff Sgt. Frank
Barnwell, who helps run the round-the-clock operation. He compiled a list with terse
examples: Spouse wanting divorce. Broken water pipe in home. Spouse cannot handle kids.
At Fort Carson and bases worldwide, support for U.S. military
families is more extensive and attentive than ever. Struggling to meet manpower goals
during the economic boom, the Pentagon is taking ambitious, costly steps to improve
quality of life enough to attract and retain married soldiers.
New, privatized family housing is planned at Fort Carson and other
bases where existing homes are in disrepair. The Army's child-care program is winning
praise as a model for state governments. A new health care program, TRICARE, is
experiencing glitches, but the Pentagon promises improvements. Most big bases offer
marriage counseling, parenting classes, financial planning, domestic-violence prevention
programs, and perks for spouses ranging from job placement to personal fitness trainers.
"The Army must move into the mindset that family readiness is
as important as soldier readiness," David White, chief of the Army Family Liaison
Office, said in a recent policy statement. "Crafting our families for the future must
be as deliberate and well planned as soldier training."
Battling attrition, the military is recruiting young parents even
though the pay for junior enlisted ranks is not tailored to support a family. A recent
military-wide 4.8 percent pay raise, the biggest since 1981, will help. But thousands of
service families rely on food stamps and other assistance programs, and most spouses of
enlisted soldiers work to earn crucial extra income.
"We run into families that come into the Army too big for a
military salary," said Patricia Randle, director of Fort Carson's financial readiness
program. A private first class with several children earns roughly $1,200 a month, she
noted: "a salary built to take care of one person living in a barracks."
Some veteran officers contend the pro-family program is going too
far, gradually moving away from the kind of fighting force that would be most effective in
a future high-casualty war.
"They're into this warm-and-fuzzy concept, trying to make these
potential killers into good fathers," said Roger Charles, a retired Marine colonel
from Alexandria, Va. "You want this 18-year-old guy to be an aggressive infantryman
during the week, yelling 'Kill' during bayonet drill, and then switch that off when he
Charles and like-minded former officers say the best step,
militarily, would be to form some combat-ready units restricted to single soldiers, but
they doubt the political climate would permit this. A former Marine Corps commandant, Gen.
Carl Mundy, was rebuked by higher-ups in 1993 when he suggested prohibiting marriage
during a Marine's first years.
In any case, the post-Vietnam military has become dependent on
married personnel: As of last year, 55 percent of the 1.37 million on active duty were
married, and there were more than 1.2 million military children.
Fort Carson has a bigger ratio of families than the military as a
whole; about 63 percent of its 14,650 soldiers are married. Its family support program is
getting its first major test: The Bosnia deployment that began in February is the base's
biggest overseas mission since Vietnam.
Joyce Raezer, who lobbies Congress for the National Military Family
Association, finds it "scary" that recruiters woo struggling young parents so
"The U.S. military is the only organization I know that is
hiring teenagers with families and then sending those teenagers to the other side of the
world," she said. "There are consequences when you do that."
Long-serving soldiers and civilian officials at Fort Carson recite
two mantras that illustrate the changing view of families. Not long ago, the attitude
toward marriage was, "If we wanted you to have a wife, we'd have issued you
one." The new slogan, passed down from top Pentagon commanders: "We recruit the
soldier. We retain the family."
Sgt. Maj. Craig Daniels, in charge of Fort Carson's retention
program, now finds it essential to include the spouse in deliberations when he tries to
persuade a soldier to re-enlist rather than seek higher pay out of uniform.
"With the new generation of kids, it isn't just the 'duty,
honor, country' that it used to be. It's 'What can you give me?'" he said. "To
be successful, you have to focus on the family."
Colorado Governor signed gay marriage ban
A story published today by the Denver Rocky Mountain
News reports that Colorado on Friday became the 33rd state to ban same-sex marriages.
Gov. Bill Owens signed into a law a bill that recognizes marriage
only as a union between one man and one woman no matter what other states decide in
ongoing battles over same-sex marriages.
States that have banned same-sex marriages have done it two ways,
either by ballot initiatives or laws passed by state legislatures.
Vermont is the only state that allows same-sex couples the rights
and benefits of married partners, including the right to inherit and make medical
decisions. Although gays can't legally marry, the state recognizes what it calls
Same-sex marriage bans are pending in Nebraska, Nevada,
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Ohio. Girvan said the Nebraska ballot initiative
is particularly restrictive.
South Dakota, California and West Virginia adopted similar measures
Federal court strikes down
Wisconsin marriage program law
A story published today by the Deluth News Tribune
reports that a new state law that finances a program to help develop standards for
marriage violates the First Amendment because it only gives money to the clergy and not
others, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge John Shabaz ruled Thursday that the law passed
within the 1999-2001 state budget violates the Constitution because it doesn't give money
to others who also are able to marry people, such as judges and court commissioners.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation challenged the law in U.S.
District Court, arguing that it violates the separation of church and state.
Attorney General Jim Doyle had refused to defend the law, which
Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen inserted in the state budget bill last year, saying it is
unconstitutional and indefensible. Attorney Dan Kelly was hired to defend the state after
Gov. Tommy Thompson said he was obligated to defend all state laws.
The law requires the state to hire a person, using federal money, to
help "local members of the clergy develop community wide standards for marriages
solemnized in this state by members of the clergy.''
Because the new law has been declared unconstitutional, it cannot
be-implemented unless a new version of the law is passed by the state Legislature with
changes that would broaden its impact to include anyone authorized to perform marriage
ceremonies in Wisconsin.
May 26, 2000
Divorce court rewards husband who did housework
A story published today by the Associated
Press reports that a man who was employed and who also did much of the work around the
house was entitled to get more in a divorce settlement than his wife, the highest court in
Massachusetts has ruled.
Upholding a lower court's decision in the case of Donna
Williams and Donald Massa, the high court said Thursday that state law provides that, in a
divorce case, the parties should get a fair, but not necessarily equal, share of the
''The judge properly considered the factors ... and
concluded that the husband contributed more to the financial side of the marriage, as well
as to the family home,'' the high court said.
The judge had awarded the husband about $3.2 million. The
wife was awarded about $1.4 million, though the husband was also ordered to pay her $6,700
a month in alimony and child support.
The lower court judge had found that Massa, during the
18-year marriage, was the major breadwinner as president and chief executive of his
The court also concluded that the husband ''assisted in
substantial ways as a homemaker and with child care,'' making lunch and dinner daily,
doing virtually all the food shopping, cleaning up after dinner and helping the children
with their homework. He also did the heavy cleaning, routine yard-work, took the trash to
the dump and fed his wife's many cats.
The wife was primarily responsible for child care during
the children's early years, but as they grew older, the husband became increasingly
May 25, 2000
House panel votes to repeal death
A story published today by Reuters reports
that the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday voted to phase out estate
and gift taxes.
Three Democrats joined the Republican majority to vote for
the bill that would phase out the estate tax over the next decade. The committee voted
down a substitute offered by Rep. Charles Rangel, the top Democrat on the committee, that
would have reduced the estate tax across the board but not repealed it.
The New York Democrat opposed complete repeal of the estate
tax saying it would benefit only the ealthiest Americans at a cost of $50 billion a year
to the federal treasury when fully phased out. He urged committee Chairman Bill Archer, a
Republican from Texas, to work with Democrats on the committee to pass a bill the
president would sign into law.
Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and White House Chief
of Staff John Podesta told committee members in a letter that Clinton would veto the bill
passed by the Ways and Means Committee.
"While the administration supports appropriately
targeted estate tax relief for small business and family farms, most of the tax relief
provided under this measure does not accrue to these important sectors of our economy,''
Under current law, a married person may leave millions of
assets to a surviving spouse without paying one penny in federal estate taxes. An
unmarried person, however, who has an estate of more than $675,000 must pay estate taxes
on any bequest to anyone, including relatives or a domestic partner. Depending on the size
of the estate, up to 60% of the estate is taken by the federal government in taxes.
May 22, 2000
ACLU challenging sodomy law in
The ACLU issued a press release today announcing its plans to
press forward with a constitutional challenge to Puerto Rico's sodomy laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union has asked an appeals court
to reconsider its ruling dismissing a massive legal challenge to Puerto Rico's anti-gay
"crime against nature" law.
ACLU attorneys said they would "take whatever steps
necessary" to eliminate the law, vowing to appeal the case to the Puerto Rico Supreme
Court if the lower court does not reverse itself.
"From time to time, we see deeply misguided decisions
like this. In this particular case, the court's decision isn't just conservative
interpretation of the law n it's legally inaccurate and incorrect," said Michael
Adams, the lead attorney in the case.
"We will take whatever steps necessary to repeal this
law, but first we want to give the appellate court another chance to look at it."
In a split decision, the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals
dismissed the ACLU's challenge to the sodomy law, saying no citizens could show that they
are directly impacted by it. The 2-1 majority decision also said citizens' constitutional
rights are not jeopardized by Puerto Rico's sodomy law.
In addition to Puerto Rico, 18 states have sodomy laws. The
specific natures of the laws vary, as do punishments. Under Puerto Rico's law, private,
consensual sexual intercourse between people of the same sex -- as well as private,
consensual anal sex, regardless of whether it is homosexual or heterosexual -- is a
felony, punishable by up to $1,000 or 10 years in prison.
Puerto Rico's sodomy law violates the commonwealth and
federal constitutions by criminalizing private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy
between adults, the ACLU lawsuit contends. This ACLU argument has proven successful in
court challenges to sodomy laws in several states in recent years, including those in
Maryland, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Last month, the ACLU urged the Louisiana Supreme Court to
overturn that state's sodomy law. A decision in that case (Smith v. Louisiana) is expected
soon. This summer, the ACLU will file a lawsuit seeking to overturn Minnesota's sodomy
law, which criminalizes private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy for heterosexual and
The Puerto Rico case is Sanchez, et al. v. Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico. In addition to Adams, Charles Hey Maestre and Nora Vargas Acosta, both of San
Juan, are attorneys in the case.
Schwab offers brochures to help people who lose a spouse
A story released today by PR Newswire
reports that Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., one
of the nation's leading financial services firms, has introduced the first two brochure
guides in a new series designed to provide a compass for navigating through transitional
"Before and After Divorce" and
"Loss of a Spouse" each call attention to the personal, financial, and legal
details a person may wish to consider, and offer guidance for taking the next steps.
"We know that life events like
divorce and death trigger the need for financial help for a lot of people," said
Carrie Schwab Pomerantz, vice president of consumer education and daughter of company
founder, Chairman, and Co-CEO Charles Schwab. "While death and divorce are difficult
for men and women alike, these events can have a particularly devastating impact on
women," she added. "Too often, women find themselves in a position where they
have to take control of the family finances -- and they're just not prepared. It's our
goal to help ease the burden of some of these events by providing information, support,
and objective advice."
Although the guides are available to
anyone, Pomerantz expects that the majority of requests will come from women. According to
studies by the National Center for Women and Retirement Research, approximately half of
all new marriages in the United States end in divorce, and, for those marriages that do
last, the average age of widowhood is only 56. Eleven out of 12 individuals who have lost
a spouse are women.
For further information, contact Sarah Bulgatz of Charles Schwab
& Co., Inc., 415-636-5940, or firstname.lastname@example.org
AASP leaders to speak at ACLU meeting
The most recent issue of "Open Forum" has announced
that leaders of the American Association for Single People will be the guest speakers at
the June meeting of the Singles chapter of the ACLU.
Open Forum is the official newsletter of the ACLU of Southern
Speakers will be Dr. Nora Baladerian, President of AASP, and
Thomas F. Coleman, the group's executive director. The topic will be "Civil
Liberties for Singles."
The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on June 15 at the
Westside Pavilion community room C, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles. Call Dean
for more details at (310) 392-7149.