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U.S. News Archive
June 01 - June 06, 2000





This page contains news for the period June 01, 2000 through June 06, 2000.


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Monday, June 5, 2000

Widowed are healthier if their former marriage was unhappy

A story published today by the Evansvilles Courier and Press reports that a surviving spouse from an unhappy marriage is likely to have fewer, less expensive, health problems than a spouse who loses a partner after a happy marriage, according to a new study by Yale researchers.

Yearly health expenses for the surviving partners of happy marriages were 27 percent higher than those surviving troubled marriages.

“We found losing a partner in a harmonious marriage puts you at greater risk of health problems. Your health care costs are lower if you are widowed in a discordant marriage,” said Dr. Holly Prigerson, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, published in the June issue of The Gerontologist, a journal published by The Gerontological Society of America.

Prigerson said the loss for the survivor in a happy marriage is often so profound that it can be defined as "traumatic grief syndrome” - normal grieving carried to an extreme, such as unusual separation distress, excessive yearning and pining and extreme emptiness and loneliness.

Other studies shows that people who suffer traumatic grief are more prone to cancer, heart disease, increased alcohol and tobacco use, weight gain, sleep disturbances and suicidal thoughts.

The researchers interviewed 694 people who were part of a long-term study on successful aging and who remained married between the initial survey and a follow-up interview done three years later. Sixty-one in the study group lost a spouse in the interim.

Investigators looked at the health care costs of married people compared to the widowed, and then at the costs of widows and widowers from happy and unhappy marriages.

Happiness of marriages was assessed based on questions in the survey before widowhood, such as degree of marital satisfaction, love and affection, frequency of thoughts about separation or divorce, frequency of disagreements and upset feelings about the marriage; the extent to which they would feel “lost” without the spouse, and frequency of being pushed, slapped or hit by the spouse.

The study found that annual health costs for widowed persons were $2,384 for all widowed persons, compared with $1,498 for those who were married. Costs for survivors of happy marriages were $2,766, compared with $2,100 for those who had been in discordant relationships.

“Doctors should realize that older widowed people are at increased risk, specifically those who get along well and those who might depend too much on their spouses,” Prigerson said. “Many widowed persons in the study needed mental health care, but few received it.”

California Supreme Court to issue rules for prenuptial agreements

A story published today in the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California Supreme Court today will hear arguments in a divorce case involving the legality of a prenuptial agreement. The justices are expected to spell out the basic requirements for premarital agreements, which are recognized by most states but have never been clearly defined or uniformly applied.

"The hope with [this] case is that it will give us some rules for the first time,'' said Donald King, a retired state appeals court judge and one of California's leading experts on family law. Right now, he said, "there's nothing at all.''

The court will also rule on whether a the right to spousal support can be waived in a prenuptial agreement.

The timing of this decision is good. During the past decade, a growing number of couples have stopped at a lawyer's office before walking down the aisle. By signing premarital agreements, they keep property and earnings separate and avoid sharing them under community property laws.

Typically, lawyers draw up contracts for couples in their 30s and 40s who have acquired property while single, people with children from previous marriages who want to protect inheritances and those who have been through nasty divorces once and want to avoid future grief.

Occasionally, parents of one spouse-to-be insist on the agreement to prevent a future in-law from getting a piece of the family business.

Recently, lawyers said they are seeing an increasing number of couples in their 20s -- many from Silicon Valley -- who want to protect the cash and stock options they have accumulated from the dot-com industry.

Such an agreement usually states what property will remain separate and spells out how assets and debts will be re-divided if children are born or the couple divorces within a certain number of years.

Lawyers say there are few, if any, rules or guidelines governing premarital agreements. In 1985, California adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which sets out some basic but very general provisions. The act clarifies that agreements must be voluntarily signed and not the result of any coercion, but it left unanswered many issues.

Only a few courts throughout the nation have interpreted the act.

Most lawyers say that they will not get involved in a prenuptial agreement unless the other side has a lawyer. And they will not take part in an agreement unless it is negotiated well in advance of the wedding.

"A week or two before, you're getting into the possibility of duress,'' said Diane Bessette, a family law attorney who taught a course in community property at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Court curbs grandparents' rights

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that today the Supreme Court struck down a law that gave grandparents broad rights to seek court-ordered visitation against parents' wishes.

"So long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children ... there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the court's main opinion.

The 6-3 vote came in a case from Washington state that resulted in six different opinions from the nine-member court.

A parent's right to raise their children free from government interference generally trumps state laws aimed at giving grandparents broad rights to seek visitation, the court ruled.

The Supreme Court's decision invalidated a state law that allowed "any person," relative or non-relative, to win a court-ordered right to see a child any time such visitation was found to be in a child's best interest.

The story says that all 50 states have grandparent-visitation laws but few are as expansive as Washington's.

"Because we rest our decision on the sweeping breadth of (Washington's law) and the application of that broad, unlimited power in this case, we do not consider the primary constitutional question passed on by the Washington Supreme Court - whether the (Constitution's) due-process clause requires all non-parental visitation statutes to include a showing of harm or potential harm to a child as a condition precedent to granting visitation," O'Connor said.

"We do not, and need not, define today the precise scope of the parental due-process right in the visitation context," she said.

Joining O'Connor were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Justices David H. Souter and Clarence Thomas wrote separate opinions agreeing with the result of O'Connor's opinion but not necessarily the reasoning she used.

Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy each wrote dissenting opinions.

The case, pitting a state's desire to promote children's best interests against parental rights, has been one of the most closely watched and emotionally charged in recent Supreme Court history. Sixty million Americans are grandparents, including six of the court's members.

A survey by AARP found about one in nine American grandparents above the age of 50 helps care for at least one grandchild. The survey showed that 8 percent provide day care regularly, and 3 percent function as parents, raising a grandchild.

The decision comes at a time of decline for nuclear families and a rise in the number of nontraditional families.

The case is Troxel vs. Granville, 99-138. The decision is on the net. Go to: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/ and then lick on "This month's decisions."


June 4, 2000

New film on families shows how 'different' is really normal

A story published today in the San Francisco Examiner reports that a new video has been produced which will show school children that modern families come in different shapes and sizes. Diversity is normal.

The San Francisco-made teaching film called is "That's a Family!"

The 30 minute video is intended to be shown in elementary and middle school classrooms. It's the latest release by Women's Educational Media and its producers, Debra Chasnoff and Helen Cohen, and was made with support from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Board of Supervisors, and San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland schools.

"That's a Family!" is designed for children, and it is children who tell a story about living in families that are so-called different. The focus is not on families headed by gays and lesbians, in couples or alone, but they are included.

Children watching "That's a Family!" will see kids like them in their various families. Some have parents of different races or religions. Some have parents who divorced. Some have single parents. Some were adopted. Some are being raised by a grandparent or guardian.

Glimpses of almost 50 family types make the point that in the United States today, family diversity is the norm.

A fact sheet that will be part of curricular materials circulated with the video contains statistics supporting that thought: Only 28 percent of American children live with their married, biological parents; as many live with one parent; more than one million kids a year have parents who divorce; two to four percent of families have an adopted child; an estimated six million to 10 million Americans, including adults, have at least one gay, lesbian or bisexual parent.

Clips show the families at home, eating, getting ready for school. In their own words, the kids talk about their lives, and what they'd like other kids to know about their families. And they show how it's possible to talk about their feelings about such personal issues.

Federal judge dismisses challenge to Utah's sodomy and fornication laws

A story published today by the Salt Lake Tribune reports that a federal judge has upheld an earlier magistrate's decision to dismiss an 8-year-old lawsuit that alleged Utah's sodomy and fornication laws violate a constitutional right to privacy.

Last year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Boyce recommended dismissing the lawsuit, noting Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom had said his office has not used these laws to prosecute anyone.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart agreed with Boyce's recommendation, calling it "well reasoned."

The case was filed in 1991 by civil-rights attorney Brian Barnard on behalf of a plaintiff known only as "W.N.J.," and other Utah residents, who also challenged the law anonymously. The suit claimed unmarried couples are discriminated against by the sodomy and fornication laws because such practices are legal for married Utahns.

W.N.J., who was unmarried at the time of the filing, said he had engaged in fornication and sodomy, and had planned to do so in the future. He said he feared criminal prosecution, and sought to overturn the law because he said it was unconstitutional.

But Boyce had responded: "It is apparent the Utah fornication and sodomy statutes are not being enforced in Salt Lake County by the . . . Salt Lake County district attorney [who was named as a defendant]. . . . The injury to plaintiffs is purely hypothetical and not concrete."

Barnard's lawsuit only addressed "noncommercial, non-prostitutional, consensual and heterosexual" private relations. It did not raise the issue of homosexual physical relationships.

Under Utah law, sodomy includes any sex act involving the "genitals of one person and mouth or anus of another person, regardless of the sex of either participant." Married couples are exempt from the statute. Fornication is an act of sexual intercourse between unmarried adults.


June 3, 2000

Gore suggests ways to increase child support payments

A story published today in the New York Times reports that Vice President Al Gore called yesterday for measures to encourage dads to pay child support. Gore described absent fathers as "the No. 1 cause of child poverty in America."

At a conference on fatherhood, Gore cited statistics showing that children in single-parent families are more likely to be poor, to drop out of school, to go to jail or to commit suicide. He called for government policies that would "lift up the institution of marriage.''

Most child support payments for children whose mothers are on welfare goes to state governments, which use the money to defer the cost of benefits.

Under Gore's proposal, some of those payments would go into accounts that would become available to families when they went off welfare. Gore said more parents would pay child support if they knew it would go to their families instead of the government.

He said it would cost the federal government $2.3 billion over 10 years.


June 1, 2000

New website offers single parents information and support

A story released today by Business Wire reports that single parents in search of support groups and social service programs can now go online to find the information they need, thanks to Single Parent Resource Project. (singleparentproject.net).

Created as a free service of Single Parent Central, Single Parent Resource Project is a national, not-for-profit online clearinghouse of single parent support groups and programs.

Single Parent Resource Project lists only non-profit support groups and programs for single parents and their families. The resource listings include state childcare agencies, state child support enforcement offices, and single parenting resources such as parenting groups, classes and social service programs focused on single parenting. Some states also list programs for children of single parents.

The site accepts no advertising and does not list for-profit businesses or daycare centers.

"This is strictly a not-for-profit effort," Taylor says. "Organizations pay nothing to be included, and visitors aren't charged for accessing the site. Our goal is to make necessary information readily available to single parents across the U.S."

Single Parent Resource Project currently provides resource listings for twenty states.


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