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U.S. News Archive
May 21 - May 27, 2000





This page contains news for the period Saturday, May 21, 2000 through Thursday, May 27, 2000.


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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 Washington.

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 them."

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 feminist groups.

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 are."

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. Spouse miscarriage.

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 goes home."

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 eagerly.

"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 "civil unions."

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 this year.

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 assets.

''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 family's company.

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 involved.


May 25, 2000

House panel votes to repeal death taxes

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,'' they wrote.

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 Puerto Rico

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 gay adults.

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 life events.

"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 sbulgatz@schwab.com

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 California.

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.


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