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U.S. News Archive
February 01 - February 06, 2001



This page contains news for the period February 01, 2001 through February 06, 2001.  

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Monday, February 5, 2001

Internet visitation used in Florida divorce case

A story published today in the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that a Florida divorce court has found a way to keep a parent-child relationship alive when one parent is left behind when the child and other parent move out of state.

For Tawny Sniderman, it was an unexpected blow: a court granted custody of her 10-year-old daughter, Ashton, to her ex-husband in Florida.

What has eased her pain is that the court also ordered both parents to buy computers and a video-conferencing system to let Sniderman, who lives in Lancaster, Ohio, ``visit'' her daughter via the Internet whenever she pleases.

In an unusual move, the Seminole County (Fla.) Circuit Court ordered the purchase by both Sniderman and her ex-husband, Gary Kaleita, as part of their divorce settlement last October.

``It's almost like being there,'' said Sniderman, who remarried and moved to Ohio last November.

``If Ashton gets a new dress or makes something at school, the computer allows me to actually see it,'' she said. ``Ashton really likes it because she can show me her room, her new hairstyles, whatever she wants to.''

The story says that Kaleita, who remarried and lives in Orlando, sees the situation differently.

He resents being ordered to purchase a $1,200 computer system. Even more, he dislikes that Sniderman can use the computer to visit with Ashton any time she likes, even when it interrupts family activities.

``I've asked that they communicate between 5 and 6'' in the afternoon, Kaleita said. ``Generally, (Sniderman) calls at 7:30 and they can talk up to 30 minutes. This is disruptive, since Ashton has to have her bath and we have to go over her homework before she goes to bed at 8:15.''

According to the court order, Ashton is to have ``unrestricted'' use of the computer and video-conferencing system, and in her own bedroom.

Sniderman said the Internet visits were her idea.

``If I won custody, I proposed setting up a video-conferencing system so that Ashton could use it with her father,'' said Sniderman. ``Of course then I lost the case, but I still think it's a great idea.''

The case appears to be one of the first in the United States in which a court has allowed the Internet to be a visitation device in a divorce case. But it probably won't be the last.

As more people are being forced to move for work reasons, courts are struggling to balance a custodial parent's right to relocate with a non-custodial parent's right to maintain ties with his or her child.

Experts say advances in technology can help judges strike this balance. They say Internet visitation is a natural next step in a progression that began decades ago with scheduled phone calls.

So far, there have been only a handful of court rulings in the United States allowing the Internet to be used as a visitation tool in a divorce case. But experts predict a flood of such cases as parents become increasingly comfortable with the Internet.

For example, an appeals court in New Jersey recently directed a judge to reconsider his rejection of a divorced mother's proposal to move to California with her young daughter and rely on the Internet to help the girl stay in touch with her father back in New Jersey.

The mother, Kyron Henn-Lee, who is trained as a Web designer, had proposed using a Webcam so that her ex-husband and their daughter could view each other's live images each day.

In its ruling, the three-judge Appellate Division panel said the Internet could provide a ``creative and innovative way'' for the child and her father, Thomas McCoy, to remain connected to each other.


Sunday, February 4, 2001

Changed definition of `foster child' will be costly to millions of unmarried taxpayers

A story published today in the San Jose Mercury News reports that on the face of it, Congress' decision to tweak the definition of ``foster child'' may seem relatively innocuous. In reality, it will be costly for millions of unmarried couples across America who no longer qualify to claim two of the most valuable credits for parents.

``It eliminates a bunch of people,'' said Lynn Freer, editor of Spidell's California Taxletter.

The change will exclude many unmarried couples with children from claiming the $500 child credit and the earned-income credit, which is worth up to $3,888.

In the past, the tax code had two basic requirements to determine whether you qualified as a foster parent: (1) The child had to live with you the entire year; and (2) You had to provide more than half the financial support for the child.

But starting on your 2000 tax return, Congress added a third rule: The child either must be a qualifying relative or be placed in your home by a federal, state, county or local agency.

The requirement that a placement agency be involved is a significant hurdle for single parents who find new partners. It's not enough that the new partners care for the children as their own for the entire year.

The story says that among those hurt, for example, is a family in which a divorced mom stays home to care for her children while her boyfriend works. Though related by blood to her kids, she won't qualify for either credit because she has no earned income. And, unlike in 1999, he won't qualify because he's not related by blood, and the children weren't placed in his care by an official agency.

``So the whole family will miss out,'' said Kathy Burlison, a tax expert at H&R Block Tax Services Inc. in Kansas City, Mo.

The change will help some two-income couples, Burlison notes. Take the example of a mom who earns an income that's low enough to qualify for the credits, but her boyfriend earns too much. Before, this couple could have claimed neither credit because the income tests apply to the higher-paid partner, and the foster dad made too much. This year, he doesn't qualify as a foster parent, but mom fits within the rules.

``It slammed one door but possibly opened another,'' Burlison said.


Friday, February 2, 2001

Vermont 'civil union' law: repeal unlikely, revision is possible

A story published today in Planet Out reports that a majority of members of the Vermont House Judiciary Committee appear unwilling to repeal the state's landmark civil unions law, which grants same-gender couples many of the benefits of marriage.

The committee has set aside at least one day per week to debate the law, which took effect on July 2, 2000. After discussion on January 30,   Republican Chairperson Peg Flory's straw poll revealed that six committee members opposed repeal and five supported it.  However, the Associated Press reported that a majority seemed willing to change the law.

Because the law was passed in response to a 1999 Vermont Supreme Court decision that declared it unconstitutional for same-gender couples to be denied marriage rights, lawmakers would have a hard time repealing civil unions without providing a replacement.   

Still some opponents were unfazed. "I pledged that I'd come here and work to repeal and to nullify that law, and anything less would be reneging on the contract I have with the people who sent me here," declared Representative Carl Haas (R-Rutland).


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