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U.S. News Archive
June 14 - June 20, 2001

 

 

 
This page contains news for the period
June 14, 2001 through June 20, 2001.
 

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Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Department of Health and Human Service nominee would hurt unmarried families

A story released today by Planet Out reports that the White House's nominee for the top family-policy position in the Department of Health and Human Services supports policies that would discriminate against unmarried families, including gay and lesbian led families, activists say.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) has sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee opposing the nomination of Dr. Wade Horn, a former president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, as assistant secretary for Family Support.

"Wade Horn wants the government to promote marriage by penalizing families where the parents divorce, separate or do not marry," the NGLTF letter said. "He also wants the government to tell unmarried mothers to surrender their children for adoption. There is very little 'support' for families in these sentiments."

"Horn argues that promoting marriage should be the highest priority in welfare policy," said the Feminist Daily News Wire. "He bases his arguments on gender stereotypes, such as his assertion that wives should 'submit' to their husbands and his belief that mothers and fathers inherently parent differently."

Horn has also testified before congressional committees in support of programs that would promote marriage by giving two-parent heterosexual households priority in requests for federal assistance. His proposals would have single and unmarried parents left without access to public housing or the Head Start program until after all married parents were served and leave cohabitating parents without welfare benefits completely.

"George W. Bush campaigned on a theme of 'leave no child behind,'" said NGLTF executive director Lorri Jean. "If the U.S. Senate confirms Horn's nomination, we might as well change that slogan to, 'leave no child behind as long as their parents are happily married heterosexuals.'"

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

North Carolina Senate committee approves ban on alienation of affection lawsuits

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a North Carolina proposal to ban alienation of affection lawsuits took a step toward becoming law Tuesday when it passed a state Senate committee with a vote of 8 to 4. It was passed by the House in April and will become law if approved in the Senate and signed by the governor.

Under existing law, jilted wives and husbands can seek damages for alienation of affection from their spouse's lover or companion, citing a loss of intimacy and happy married relationship.

Damages for adultery also can be won if a plaintiff can prove the defendant had sexual intercourse with the plaintiff's spouse.

Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, who sponsored the bill in the House, told the Senate committee that alienation of affection lawsuits aren't used to protect marriages.

"We are seeking to reduce conflict in the family law situation," said Hackney, who practices family law. "The reduction of conflict is the best thing you can do for the children."

Hackney said the law was abused as "a tool in equitable distribution of alimony. The allegations are prurient and lurid and may or may not be true."

Last month, a jury awarded Davidson College's wrestling coach $1.4 million from a doctor who had an affair with the coach's former wife. Earlier, an Alamance County woman won a $1 million award against a woman she blamed for breaking up her marriage in 1997.

Sen. Hugh Webster, R-Caswell, said he was concerned that removing the law would "push some people toward incivility." He cited a case in which a man decapitated another man who had been "cavorting with his wife" despite numerous warnings.

The proposal has now been forwarded to the Senate floor for a full vote. If the proposal is approved, it will be forwarded to the Governor's office for signature.

Neighbors trying to enforce law against unrelated housemates in Alabama

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Mountain Brook neighbors of law students Jay Harrington and Thomas Nickels are trying to force the pair to move from their rented home.

Neighbors told the City Council last week that the two are violating a city ordinance that says a single-family residence may be occupied only by one family. A family is defined as one person or any number of people related by blood, marriage or adoption.

But Harrington and Nickels are fighting back: The two are challenging a city law that prohibits people from living together if they're not related by marriage or family.

"It discriminates against people who are not fortunate enough to be married or live with their family," said Harrington. "To force them to live alone or leave is unconstitutional and shameful."

"I would challenge it as a silly rule based on some sort of animus against college students or a class of people," said Bryan Fair, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Alabama. "It says only certain kinds of people are going to live here. It promotes caste and privilege."

Neighbors Lisa and Stanley Moore said their complaint isn't directed at the house-mates. They don't want any college students living beside them.

College students rarely mow the yard, sometimes park on the grass and occasionally have overnight company, Moore said.

"It's not Animal House, but it's like having a fraternity house next door," he said. "It's not something we want to expose young children to."

Harrington acknowledged he and his roommate could do more to keep up the yard: "It's not Better Homes and Gardens," he said. But that's no reason to force them to move, he said.

City Attorney Frank Galloway said the 1996 zoning ordinance was written to define what is acceptable in a single-family district, not with the intent of excluding certain people from living in Mountain Brook.

Fair, the law professor, said it could be argued the law is irrational and arbitrary and discriminates against people who live in nontraditional arrangements.

Social isolation has negative effects on health

A lifestyle column by Dr. Tyrone Reyes published today in the Philippine Star focuses on the health effects of social isolation, which often involves single, divorced, or widowed adults.

When people recall their happiest memories, they usually think of times when they were surrounded by family or friends or when they felt an intimate connection with another person. Unfortunately, as individuals age, such moments may be increasingly hard to come by, and many older adults find themselves feeling lonely and isolated – because of the death of a loved one, a disease or a disability that makes it difficult to leave the house, a sense of loss that may accompany retirement.

Indeed, social support is an important, and often overlooked, component of maintaining good physical and mental health. There is evidence indicating that people who have a high degree of support, whether defined as the number of social ties, the satisfaction derived from them, or both, generally live longer than those who don’t. Social support has also been linked to a lower risk of depression, alcoholism and heart disease.

In a 1992 investigation by researchers at Duke University Medical Center, there was a 50 percent five-year mortality rate among patients with atherosclerosis who were isolated (unmarried without a close friend or confidant) compared with a rate of 17 percent for heart patients with a spouse, confidant, or both.

Researchers aren’t sure how social support might mitigate cardiovascular events or confer other health benefits. One theory is that people with close ties are more likely than isolated individuals to seek prompt medical care and to stick to their therapy, because they have assistance and encouragement. Another hypothesis is that those who lack such support are subject to a greater amount of stress – which may play a role in causing some diseases.

Recent research underscores the importance of strengthening family and social ties to help maintain mental and physical health. Living alone, or simply feeling alone, can have a negative effect not only on one’s state of mind but also on his or her physical health as well. Here’s how social isolation can affect you:

Nutrition: If you live alone, you’re more likely to deprive yourself of nutrients you need. This is true more so for older men than for women. Living alone can stifle your appetite and leave you uninspired in the kitchen. Skipping meals or eating a limited variety of foods puts you at risk for poor nutrition.

A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, done on more than 4,400 men and women, confirmed the ill effects of lonely eating. Researchers found that men, 55 and older who lived alone, were more likely than those with a spouse to consume a diet falling below two_thirds the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A, vitamin B_6, vitamin C, calcium and magnesium. The women, aged 55 to 74 and living alone, were more likely than married women to eat diets deficient in vitamin B_6, calcium, magnesium, thiamin and riboflavin.

Heart: Two published studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that isolation is a risk factor for people with heart problems.

The first study looked at the effects of living alone on people who had had one heart attack. Those living alone had a 15.8 percent chance of having a second serious nonfatal heart attack. That figure is much higher when compared to the 8.8 percent for those not living alone.

The second JAMA study looked at people with severe narrowing of at least one major heart vessel. Those who were unmarried and without one close friend or confidant were "over three times more likely to die (of a heart problem) within five years than married patients who did report having a confidant."

Cancer: A long term study of more than 6,000 adults living in Alameda County, California, showed that people who had no or few social contacts were twice as likely to die of all cancers. These subjects were also found to be more than five times as likely to die of smoking related cancers.

Suicide: Men who are separated, widowed or divorced are at highest risk for suicide, at least in the United States. Men account for 80 percent of all suicides.

The mechanism by which loneliness and social isolation produce psychological stress which can damage one’s health is not known, but speculation abounds. One theory holds that stress stimulates the nervous system in ways that can cause or worsen heart rhythm abnormalities. Another suggests that stress contributes to the development of hypertension, which is an important risk factor for coronary disease and stroke. A simpler explanation offered for the poorer health of people who live alone is that they may take their medications less often because no one is there to remind them, or they may not receive necessary prodding to seek medical attention when new symptoms appear.

One team who studied heart-attack survivors was struck by the severity of anxiety in those who live by themselves. These patients describe "terror" on returning home alone, particularly at night, when no one is available to calm them about symptoms that may be minor. Stress and frustration can impair the flow of blood through the coronary arteries, and therefore, anxiety could lead to real cardiac complications in these patients.

Although a scientific "smoking gun" linking loneliness to cardiac disease has not been found, experts emphasize that a public health hazard can be recognized without being fully understood. And that seems to be the case with social isolation and loneliness which can cause psychological stress that can adversely affect health.

Friends are good medicine, notes Harvey Simon in his book Staying Well (Houghton Miffin, 1992). To counter the frustration, disappointment and sadness that may bedevil our lives from time to time, he recommends developing a repertoire of coping mechanisms, including building friendships, finding ways to express feelings, engaging in physical exercise and pursuing diversions. Future research will determine whether strategies such as these can extend life. But even without any studies, there is no question that these measures can improve the quality of life of all socially-isolated and lonely people, whether they’re young or old, rich or poor.

Fathers not living with offspring often have other children, researcher says

A story released by the Michigan Daily, a University of Michigan newspaper, reports that dads who celebrate Father's Day with biological children and who do not live with them are likely to have other children who know them as "Dad", according to a recent study co-authored by a University of Michigan researcher.

Almost 50 percent of fathers who don't live with one set of children have ties to another set of children, and 24 percent have ties to more than one other set of children.

The statistics are troubling, said Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University's Population Studies Center, who co-authored the study with sociologists Wendy Manning of Bowling Green State University and Susan Stewart of the University of Richmond.

"The challenges, I think, are huge," Smock said. "It is difficult for fathers to be socially involved and financially supportive of their children who do not live with them, especially for men with low incomes. The fact that the children may be geographically spread out complicates matters."

The findings put a different perspective on fathers who fail to pay child support, Smock said.

The study found 78 percent of the fathers surveyed paid child support and 30 percent visited their children at least once a week. Fathers with only one set of non-resident children were more likely to pay child support and visit.

Smock also said 38 percent of U.S. children under 18 -- or 27 million children -- do not live with their biological fathers.

Sunday, June  17, 2001

More fathers are discovering the joys of being a single parent

A story released today by the New York Daily News reports that more men are learning and discovering the lessons of single parenthood. Figures released last month from the 2000 census show that the number of fathers raising children on their own is up a whopping 62%, which equates to 2.2 million households. In contrast, the number of families headed by single mothers increased 25% since 1990, while married couples raising children together increased by 6%.

What accounts for the growth of single-father families? "One piece of the puzzle is legal," explains Scott Coltrane, a sociology professor at the University of California at Riverside and author of "Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework and Gender Equity". "More fathers are being awarded sole and joint custody from the courts," he says. There are also situations in which couples, married or unmarried, work out custody arrangements without going to court.

"The other part of the explanation can be traced to a cultural shift," Coltrane says. "We've come to expect more from fathers." In other words, neither fathers nor mothers want to be narrowly defined as breadwinners or homemakers.

James Levine, director of The Fatherhood Project at Families and Work Institute in New York City, a nonprofit research organization, concurs that there's been a sea change. "As we're seeing more men wanting joint or full custody of their children, we're also seeing more women realizing they don't have to define themselves by motherhood," he says. "More women are choosing their careers over family life and are feeling they won't be demonized if they're not the custodial parent."

And many fathers welcome the greater expectations. "People always wonder what it's like to raise children as a single father, but being a father is not as difficult as everybody imagines," says Stephen Walker, 51, of Shoreham, L.I. He got custody of his son, Jared, four years ago when the boy was 16. Walker and his ex-wife (they split in 1987) have two other children, Stephanie, 18, who now lives with Walker, and Seth, 16.

Fathering, like mothering, is a very natural issue, according to Walker, a legal consultant who lectures on child-rearing issues. He is also the associate producer of "Families in Transition," a public-access television show. "It doesn't require formal education to be a parent to your children. A good portion of being a good dad is purely instinctive," he says. "There are no perfect parents, dads or moms. But the conception that men, because they're men, can't nurture or don't have the wherewithal to raise children is absolute nonsense."

"I know so many unlucky dads who got separated from their kids after a divorce," says one 41-year-old single father who has sole custody of his 7-year-old daughter. He prefers to remain anonymous after a particularly contentious custody tug of war.

"The greatest Father's Day gift would be to change the custody laws in New York to make them more fair for fathers," he says, adding that in New York mothers get custody of children 90% of the time. "I feel so fortunate to wake up in the morning and go to my daughter's room to wake her up for breakfast to get her ready for school. I get to be with her and watch her enjoy things that she loves, like hopscotch, ceramics, the Children's Museum, the Central Park Zoo." He pauses for a moment, then adds, "And, best of all, I know she loves me. It's the greatest thing."

Arizona single fathers on the rise

A story published today by the Arizona Republic reports that more and more single fathers are taking the primary role in raising the kids, and more courts are awarding custody to men.

According to recently released census figures, in the past decade, the number of single fathers nationwide has jumped by 62 percent, to 2.2 million.

In Arizona, single fathers has increased by 90 percent, to almost 50,000, while the overall population grew 40 percent. In Maricopa County, the number of single dads almost doubled to more than 30,000 while the population grew by only 45 percent.

"It shows that more men are describing success as being fathers, not just as doing well in their careers," says James Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project, a New York-based program from the Families and Work Institute. "After divorce, men are saying, 'This is a central role in my life.' They don't want to be weekend fathers."

No one can say for sure why there are more single dads. Their numbers are growing even while divorce rates nationwide have remained almost constant. The growth of single dads has outpaced that of single moms, which grew by just 25 percent the past 10 years. Single fathers now head 6 percent of all U.S. families living with their own children under 18, while single mothers lead 22 percent.

The census counts a man as a single father even if he is living with the mother of his children but they are not married. A slight decrease in marriage rates the past 10 years may account for some increase in single dads, but many psychologists believe the trend is driven by men's generally increasing role in family responsibilities.

More men have also been pushed into sharing responsibilities by the high number of women in the workforce: 60 percent of mothers with children under 6 now work, compared with 30 percent in the 1970s.

Levine says men are no longer simply defining success by careers, but by how they rate as fathers. "Men's aspirations have changed," Levine says. "And conversely, so have women's. They are feeling less pressure to define themselves exclusively as mothers."

As men have taken greater roles in their children's lives, custody agreements have reflected it.

Almost half of all single dads are divorced; 34 percent have never been married; 17 percent were married to an absent spouse; and 4 percent are widowed, according to information from the March 2000 Current Population Survey.

Up until the 1980s, custody cases have always favored mothers, says Laura Morgan of the National Legal Research Group in Charlottesville, Va. It was just in the past 10 years that Arizona has enacted into law that courts could not favor one parent because of gender, says Mark Armstrong, associate presiding judge of Maricopa County Superior Court.

But as more women went to work and mothers and fathers were seen more as equals, the courts also saw both parents as equals.

"Now you just look at the best interest of the child," Morgan says.

The law still often looks at who is the primary caretaker of the child to help determine custody, Morgan says, and increasingly that is the father.

In Arizona, joint legal custody is now more common, with mediators or parents sorting out who gets physical custody. So far, however, the courts have not tracked whether the mother or father gets custody more often.

But, Armstrong says, there clearly is more interest by fathers in gaining custody, which is helping change the image of single dads.

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Virginia state cohabitation law may end woman’s day-care center

A story published by the Virginian-Pilot reports that Darlene K. Davis’ home-based day care service may be forced to close down by a state law enacted in 1877 which prohibits unmarried cohabitation.

The state licensing officials are currently investigating whether Davis' living arrangement with Cary L. Cohen violates a law that prohibits unmarried couples to live together. If Davis is found guilty, her license to operate Davis Day Care will not be renewed.

``I've been doing this for close to 17 years, what's the big deal now?'' said Davis, 61, who lives in the Bromley neighborhood. ``Why does my private life have anything to do with my caring for children?''

On previous license renewal applications, Cohen was listed as a boarder. This time, Cohen was listed as a roommate, said Charles Ingram, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Social Services. Davis' license expires next month.

``When you're a boarder, we don't draw an association that there is someone in the status of cohabitation,'' Ingram said. ``But when you say roommate, that is a language that, to us, begins to fall under the cohabitation law.''

The law falls under the heading ``lewd and lascivious cohabitation.'' It states, ``If any persons not married to each other lewdly or lasciviously cohabit together. . . each of them shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.'' A Class 3 misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of no more than $500.

The number of unmarried couples living together in South Hampton Roads increased 67percent in past 10 years, according to the 2000 census. In 1990, there were 11,661 unmarried couples living together. In 2000, there were 19,435.

``This law is for everyone, but I could lose my business,'' said Davis, who has been a day care provider for more than 30 years. ``If I lose my business, I lose my house, I lose everything.''

Ingram said Davis can appeal if the state decides not to renew her license. But if an administrative hearing upholds the decision, it is final.

Davis has three alternatives if she wants to stay in business, Ingram said.

She could watch no more than five children a day, which wouldn't require licensing, he said. Davis is now licenced to watch 12 children. Cohen, 63, could move out, or the couple can marry.

``I love the woman, and I would marry her in a heartbeat,'' Cohen said. But that would mean Davis, a widow, would lose her military health benefits, he said. Davis suffers from osteoporosis, diabetes and three angioplasty procedures.

Baby-sitting five children wouldn't bring in enough money, Davis said, and living without Cohen is not an option.

``Mr. Cohen and I are not about to leave each other,'' Davis said. ``I'm going to fight this tooth and nail.''

Massachusetts Supreme Court expands meaning of family

A story published today by the Boston Globe reports that the Massachusetts' Supreme Court has acknowledged the evolving definitions of family and has ruled that a child born out of wedlock can legally bind two unrelated women: the paternal grandmother raising the child and the girl's biological mother.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Friday overturned a lower court decision that denied the grandmother the right to request a restraining order against the child's mother, who attacked the older woman, the newspaper said.

Civil restraining orders in Massachusetts are designed to protect victims of abuse in families and households. Since the grandmother's son never married the child's mother, lower courts ruled she did not qualify for such an order.

In a 4-2 decision, the high court justices found the two women are related by blood -- the blood of the 10-year-old girl who connects them. ``We take judicial notice of the social reality that the concept of 'family' is varied and evolving and that, as a result, different types of 'family' members will be forced into potentially unwanted contact with one another,'' Justice Roderick Ireland wrote.

``The recent increases in both single-parent and grandparent-headed households are two examples of this trend,'' he continued.

Massachusetts' restraining order law, passed in 1978, is intended to protect victims of ``family or household abuse.'' The definition of who is covered has gradually been expanded and now includes roommates, and gay and lesbian partners.

Friday, June 15, 2001

More young single women becoming first-time home buyers

A story published today by Evansville Courier & Press reports that according to the National Association of Realtors, only 5 percent of all homebuyers under 25 years of age accounted for last years sales. But, from 1987 to 1999, the number of single female homebuyers increased from 10 percent to 18 percent, the association said.

The association further disclosed that during that same period, the number of single male buyers grew only marginally from 7 percent to 9 percent, while the number of unmarried couples buying houses rose from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Kit Hadley, a commissioner with the Minnesota housing agency, said that low mortgage interest rates have made it possible for more young people to buy houses.

During much of the 1990s, the interest rates have hovered near historic lows. Rates averaged less than 8 percent during six years in the 1990s, according to the Fannie Mae, a mortgage securities firm. The last time rates averaged less than 8 percent was 1972.

Sharon Gatto, a senior loan officer for Bell Mortgage in Minneapolis, said the youngest buyer she’s ever worked with was 19. She has worked with college students who buy houses after their parents co-sign loans.

She said she’s seeing more young women with higher-paying jobs than in the past, and noted that many young home buyers make purchases with a friend or relative. First-time single female home buyers were earning a median income of about $35,500 in 1999, according to a national study done by the Realtors. The median price they paid for houses in 1999 was $88,900.

Often, first-time buyers have no idea what it takes to buy a house, but some have done their homework.

"I get some that have read books and have been told (how to buy) by parents and friends," Gatto said. "Some don’’t have a clue. and that’’s where I have to do an education."

Gatto said that mortgage programs for first-time home buyers have made it easier for young people to buy. The Federal Housing Administration, for example, has mortgage programs that require smaller down payments and have more relaxed underwriting guidelines than some conventional forms of financing. In addition, it allows borrowers to use gift money to supplement a down payment and closing costs.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Southern Baptists support 'covenant marriage' movement

A story published today by the Dallas Morning News reports that the 9,200 Baptists attending their annual meeting overwhelmingly adopted a resolution applauding the "covenant marriage" movement in some states as a way of fighting the high U.S. divorce rates.. The resolution also encourages Baptists to commit themselves to one marriage for life.

"The convention is making a definite statement about its commitment to family," said the Rev. Danny Akin, chairman of the resolutions committee. "Marriage is not just a contract; it's a lifetime covenant, and it's wise to renew that covenant again and again."

Couples who choose a covenant-marriage license commit themselves to mandatory premarital counseling and make it harder to divorce.

Dr. Akin, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said pastors should do everything possible to help couples stay together. He said his church does not allow people to marry unless they get counseling first.

The resolution also urges Southern Baptist churches to celebrate "Covenant Marriage Sunday" every third Sunday in February.

James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Focus on the Family ministry, continued on the family theme during his sermon via satellite. He was scheduled to be in New Orleans, but the private plane he was aboard had trouble and returned to Colorado.

"When I say I'm really glad to talk to you, you know I really mean it," Dr. Dobson said.

During his sermon, which closed the two-day convention, he said recent census data show that households increasingly have only one parent.

"The family is disintegrating," he said. "I saw this coming, but all of a sudden the dam has broken."

He said that if marriage becomes obsolete, chaos will follow. He said that if traditional families disappear, fewer children will find God.

"The soil in which the seed of the gospel is planted will turn acidic if there are no families," he said.

Websites offer help to soon-to-be and divorcing couples from legal issues to custody

An article published today by the Los Angeles Times reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 43% of couples joined for the first time in holy matrimony will end up in holy acrimony within 15 years. 
      
So before couples toss their wedding bands and snapshots into a vat of acid, the article suggests that divorcing couples check out Nolo.com (http://www.nolo.com/category/div_home.html). The site is a layman's best guides to legal matters. Its legal encyclopedia covers topics from alimony to mediation to custody. Plus, the site regularly updates legally related issues that could come in handy in any divorce procedure. 

Divorce Central, at http://www.divorcecentral.com, is another site that has links to resources by state and touches on topics such as prenuptial agreements, children's rights and even divorce strategies. It also includes chats with experts every Thursday evenings. And for those eager to get back in the saddle, they've dedicated a personals section and a dating handbook. 
 
Similarly, http://www.divorcesupport.com has useful information on such topics as child custody and support, separation, alimony and divorce laws. 

Like the other sites, http://www.thedivorcesite.com offers a breakdown of state divorce laws. In addition to that, it offers a free e-mail-based divorce course in which you'll get a week's worth of answers to all your divorce questions. The divorce site also has a downloadable do-it-yourself divorce kit that you could get for $40.
 
If your better half's cheating heart gets caught, http://www.divorcesource.com suggests how to handle your affairs. This site also offers resources such as finance calculators, divorce calendars and research links. 

Divorce Online (http://www.divorceonline.com), on the other hand, includes a checklist of issues to keep in mind, in addition to useful articles on topics ranging from dating while divorcing (a no-no, the site says) to challenges of being a single parent for the first time.
 
A website that is helpful for divorcing couples with children is: http://www.maritalstatus.com . The website offers some hints on how to tell the children about an impending divorce.
 
If you're a single parent--or fantasizing daily about becoming one--http://www.makinglemonade.com/spwanna.htm offers a primer on divorce. The site is primarily dedicated to the needs and interests of moms and dads who are going it alone. 

For single dads, http://www.divorcedfather.com is a good site which includes resources for fathers and the women in their lives. For moms, there's http://momsonline.oxygen.com/agesandstages/teens/guidance/ .

Two-parent homes on the rebound

A story published today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that new evidence suggests that the tidal flow away from two-parent families peaked years ago and may even be starting to change course, a trend which contradicts the recent Census report showing that the two-parent family is on a decline. The strongest hints of a change in behavior the evidence suggests are emerging from low-income and minority communities, groups that have paid the greatest price for the family breakdown since the 1960s.

An analysis of year-to-year government data found that the proportion of black children living with two married parents -- although still near record lows -- actually rose 11.8 percent from 1995 to 2000. The percentage of Latino children living with two married parents also appears to have risen a bit but at a statistically uncertain pace.

The move away from marriage "really seems to have come to a halt," said Wendell Primus, a poverty expert at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who, with colleague Allen Dupree, conducted the new analysis. "In 1995 to 2000, things really shifted quite dramatically."

The causes of the shift remain uncertain. Theories range from changing cultural values to the economic boom of the 1990s, shifting welfare rules and stricter enforcement of child-support obligations.

Whatever the reasons, some experts say the new numbers are just the latest sign that, contrary to popular understanding, a decades-old pattern of social behavior may be starting to shift.

The new numbers come from the government's Current Population Survey, which queried 50,000 households on a range of issues and enabled the researchers to consider year-by-year trends in recent decades. And they follow other signs that the institution of marriage is not on its deathbed.

Social scientists have detected a modest, little-publicized drop in the divorce rate since the late 1980s, said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, a private research organization in New York that focuses on family issues. In addition, they have noted a decline in the birth rate of unmarried black and Latino women during the 1990s. Similarly, the nonpartisan Urban Institute has reported that the percentage of low-income children living in single-parent households dropped 3 percent, to 41 percent, from 1997 to 1999. That conclusion was based on the research organization's survey of more than 42,000 families.

"Generally, the number of kids living with single mothers alone seems to have dropped, and the drop is larger among lower-income households," said Gregory Acs, senior research associate at the Urban Institute. "The drumbeat of bad news we've heard for 25 years has abated, in the data at least." 

Despite a confusing series of recent Census Bureau reports, demographers generally agree that a majority of children live in two-parent homes, although the numbers had been slipping since the 1960s.

To be sure, others were much more wary in reacting to the new numbers. The Current Population Survey does not distinguish between families in which a child lives with two married biological parents and those in which one or both of the married parents is not related to the child by birth.

According to Primus' analysis, the percentage of black children living with two married parents last year was 38.9 percent, compared with 34.8 percent in 1995. For Latinos the figure last year was 66.2 percent, compared with 64.2 percent in 1995. The figure of 78.2 percent for whites last year was essentially the same as the 78.5 percent in 1995.

The researchers found a similar trend among the lowest-income groups, with a less dramatic shift among the more affluent.

"It's potentially an interesting trend," said Kristin A. Moore, president of Child Trends, a nonprofit research group in Washington. "The question is what kind of families are being formed -- and why? Is it public policy or is it the economy?" 

Some experts pointed out that buoyant economic times lift a stressful financial burden from many households and might help explain why some manage to hold together.

American Presbyterian Church to vote on ordination of gays, lesbians

A story published today by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Presbyterian Church ordination committee will present this Friday the full body of the denomination's 213th General Assembly with a recommendation to repeal the current prohibition against ordaining gays and lesbians, after voting 31-25 against the existing law.

Proponents, however, are not assuming the church's 3,500 elected commissioners meeting this week will vote to change the church law of America's largest Presbyterian body. Whatever the assembly decides this week has to be confirmed by a majority of the nation's 173 regional presbyteries.

Part of the problem is wording, said the Rev. Edward H. Koster, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Detroit.

"I don't think it will pass because people are not going to remove language saying that church officers, including elders and deacons, must live 'in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness,'" said Rev.  Koster, who favors ordination of gays and lesbians.

Some argue that if the wording were removed, single, unmarried heterosexual men and women would be able to live together.

"It is not the lesbian and gay issue, but the (voters) don't want to cross the line allowing heterosexuals," he said. "There are divisions: Liberals want purity of theology, conservatives want purity of behavior."

"I'm not terribly surprised but disappointed," said the Rev. Jim R. Tony, 53, a former pastor of John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Bridgeton who now leads a church in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago.

"I don't think that the plenary will approve the change, I don't think the presbyteries are doing to depart from the gospels and word of Christ."

The Rev. Catherine Robinson, a commissioner from the St. Louis area's Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, said she hopes that the meeting will end with a sense of unity between conservatives and liberals.

 

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