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U.S. News Archive
June 21 - June 28, 2001

 

 

 
This page contains news for the period
June 21, 2001 through June 28, 2001.
 

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Thursday, June 28, 2001

South scrambles to quell soaring divorce rates

A story published today by the Christian Science Monitor reports that the governor of Mississippi , Ronnie Musgrove announced last week he was divorcing after 24 years of marriage.

Mr. Musgrove's marital difficulty, though certainly deeply personal, is reflective of a wider problem among both his constituency and his region: Many parts of the South have divorce rates that are 50 percent above the national average of 43 percent. According to the US Census Bureau, four of the five states with the highest resident divorce rates in the country are in the Deep South.

In an effort to stem the tide in the South, political and religious organizations have embarked in a crusade to repair the cracks in the bonds of matrimony. These efforts to strengthen marriage have proved as varied and multilayered as the reasons that lead a couple to split up.

In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, if a couple presents evidence that they have completed a pre-marital education course within a year before their application, their marriage license fee is only $2.

Florida, on the other hand, requires high-school students to study relationship skills. The state's fatherhood commission recommended last week that counties establish policies to make it harder for couples to wed without marriage courses or counseling.

In a Lutheran church in Overland Park, Kansas, a clergy is offering to pay the rent for a cohabiting partner who agrees to move out. The program aims to get couples to focus more on marriage and less on living together.

But states and religious organizations determined to spread just that message have their work cut out for them. The reasons for the South’s high divorce rate are multitiered and complicated, say marriage experts.

The Bible Belt is a land that promotes marriage at a young age. Women are often called old maids if they are still single in their mid-20s, and men are expected to be settled down with a wife by the same age. Teens belonging to conservative Christian religions can also face additional pressure from the pulpit to marry early.

Nearly half of marriages in which the bride is 18 years old or younger end in separation or divorce within 10 years, the National Center for Health Statistics reported in May. For brides 25 and older, the divorce rate drops to one-quarter.

Politicians in a number of Southern states have criticized the high divorce rate, blaming it for the South's myriad social ills. In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating called divorce a main cause of poverty in his state. He mandated $10 million in federal welfare money toward a much-publicized campaign to cut the divorce rate by one-third in 10 years.

Legislators in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Arizona have passed covenant-marriage acts - although Oklahoma has scuttled a similar proposal.

In 1999, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared a "state of marital emergency," and encouraged every community to establish a marriage policy.

Such voluntary policies are organized by local clergy, who agree to marry only couples who have gone through counseling and to establish marriage mentors within their congregations. Modesto, Calif., the first community to implement such a policy, has seen its divorce rate drop by nearly 40 percent over 10 years.

The reason for states stepping into what used to be considered a private problem is simple, some experts say.

"The cost in rising family break-ups, multigenerational poverty, high school drop-out rates, and increasing irresponsibility in young and old is more than government - or even the broader society - has been able to bear," says Rod Martin, chief development officer for The Independent Institute, a national think tank.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Study reveals cohabiting has ill effects on children's behavior

A story published today by the Washington Times reports that for some teens whose parents divorce, having a parent move out isn't the worst thing that happens. Having mom's new boyfriend move in is.

Cohabiting is a small but growing way of life in America. Recent Census Bureau data show that the number of unmarried couple households rose from 1.3 percent to 1.9 percent between 1990 and 2000.

During that time period, the actual number of households grew by 72 percent, from 3.18 million to 5.47 million.

About a third of cohabiting couples have children, mostly from previous relationships.

Little research has been done on how children - especially teens - fare in cohabiting households, but what little is known isn't heartening.

Cohabiting appears to be the worst type of household for white and Hispanic teens, and a virtual tie for worst for black teens (along with single-mother households), according to a recent study published by the Urban Institute.

The researchers looked at data from the Urban Institute's 1997 National Survey of America's Families, which asked questions of 44,000 households.

They focused on teens, ages 12 to 17, their race and household type. They also looked at the teens' emotional and behavioral well-being and enthusiasm for school, and whether they had been suspended or expelled.

The researchers found that for white and Hispanic teens, living with a cohabiting mother was the most problematic.

White and Hispanic teens who lived in cohabiting homes "scored the worst on two out of three outcomes," said Gregory Acs, one of the researchers. For them, "having Mom's boyfriend around - who is not your father - is not a good thing."

For black teens, living with either a cohabiting mother or a single mother raised the likelihood for emotional problems and poor school attachment. But living with a cohabiting mother was much more strongly linked to school suspensions or expulsions than living with a single mother, the data showed.

The Urban Institute researchers also looked at the theory that teens might do better if their single mothers married their live-in boyfriends, becoming stepfamilies instead of cohabitants. The data, however, showed varied results on this theory.

For white teens, living in a stepfamily was just as emotionally troublesome as it was with cohabiting or single parents. On the plus side, white teens in stepfamilies were much less likely to be suspended or expelled than if they were with cohabitants or single parents.

Hispanic teens improved on all three measures if they lived in a stepfamily compared with cohabitants or single parents.

Black teens saw the greatest benefit in a stepfamily - their emotional health greatly improved and they were much less likely to be suspended or expelled.

An interesting element of the Urban Institute study is that, for white and Hispanic teens, single mothers are better than cohabiting mothers, said Pamela J. Smock, who studies cohabiting at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

This is striking because for so long, "single mothers have been the 'bad' category," she said.

Ms. Smock, who is a sociologist, also sees evidence that many more children are likely to experience cohabiting during their childhood.

Cohabiting is a rapidly expanding element of the culture, "and yet we don't seem to be focusing on what's happening to our children," said Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute's Center for Studies in Women's Issues.

Cohabiting relationships break up at roughly twice the rate of marriages, she said. "We don't yet know all the implications of having 'serial' dads in the home, but certainly it does something to a child's psyche when there is a succession of men and no steady male presence."

Cohabiting also can be bad for children since such relationships seem to be more prone to domestic violence and sexual abuse than intact families, she said.

Tampa group offers sanctuary for single mothers

A story published today by the Tampa Tribune reports that Florida's single mothers can get a home-cooked meal, free child care and spiritual fellowship at a Town 'N Country church.

The place is Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Town 'N Country, home of Naomi's Daughters. This volunteer-based ministry provides frazzled single mothers with a home-cooked meal and free child care, along with a Bible study and prayer circle every Monday night for two hours.

Some religious congregations have ignored single moms. And society too remains oriented to couples.

``So even when you become divorced or widowed, the first thing you think of is that you have to have another partner to be included,'' says Judy Layton, founder of Naomi's Daughters.

``We want them to see that they don't need that. That may be a blessing, but it's not necessary to live and survive.''

Layton, 58, speaks with personal knowledge. Widowed at age 22, she spent three years as a single mom with a young son before marrying again. While she had a lot of family support during that difficult time, she remembers feeling lonely among her peers because ``there just weren't many of us out there back then.''

Judgment is left at the door of the church social hall where Naomi's Daughters meet. Divorced and widowed mothers discuss the problems they share, but they're not focusing on finding a man to solve them. Women who choose motherhood without marriage find acceptance, even in a setting where religious culture dictates otherwise.

``We want them to find wholeness in singlehood,'' says volunteer Lucy Caryer, 58. She just retired as English department head at Leto High School and wanted to serve a worthwhile ministry. After seeing the difficulties her own son faces as a single parent, she knew Naomi's Daughters fit the bill.

``If we can help them with their feelings of isolation, give them just a little peace, we've done something that could impact their lives,'' she says.

According to the 2000 Census, the number of families headed by single mothers has jumped 25 percent since 1990 to more than 7.5 million households. In Florida, the statistics are more dramatic: Female-headed households with children increased 46 percent to nearly 438,000.

Monday, June 25, 2001

Divorced women are staying longer in the workforce to save for retirement

A story published today by the Kansas City Star reports that hundreds of thousands of women in their 60s, caught in the surge of divorces that started a generation ago, are finding that they have to stay in the work force because they lack enough money to retire. Wages in effect are becoming their pensions.

"The only advice I can give to divorced older women is to keep working for as long as they can," said Cindy Hounsell, executive director of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, in Washington.

To avoid this pitfall, Hounsell advises married women to keep retirement and divorce always in mind.

"If we can get to women before a divorce, we tell them to include part of the husband's pension in the settlement," she said. "Most women don't know to do that. And I tell young women: `Don't stay home and take care of the children unless you make sure there is a personal pension set up for you, an IRA. You don't redo the kitchen or the baby's room until you are sure there is enough saved in that IRA.'"

The ranks of older women are swelling with those who divorced and have not remarried. Among the nearly 12 million women who were in their late 50s and early 60s in 1998, for example, 14.4 percent were divorced, Census Bureau data show. That was up from 3.8 percent in 1965 and 9.9 percent in 1990.

Widows, in contrast, declined to 13.2 percent in 1998 from 21.6 percent in 1965 and 17.2 percent in 1990.

The Bush administration's tax cut raises over five years the annual amount that can be deducted from taxable income and placed in a retirement account, to $15,000 from $10,500. For those 50 and over, the upper limit will reach $20,000 -- offering those approaching retirement a chance to crash-save, if they earn enough.

"Only women making a lot of money can afford to catch up that way," said Heidi Hartmann, director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington.

Retirement often is financially easier for men. While most women in their 60s took time off to raise children -- and younger women often still do -- most men worked through their adult lives, qualifying for larger pensions.

As Congress prepares to debate Social Security reform, women's groups are arguing that women should get credit for years at home raising children, so their benefits will be greater in the event of divorce. And older married women, for that matter, are staying on the job to supplement their husbands' retirement benefits, which are often whittled down by layoffs, job shifting and pension cuts.

The American pension system, said Phyllis Moen, a Cornell University sociologist, is designed as "a lockstep process of continuous, full-time employment. Very few women follow that pattern, even now, and because of downsizing, many men are not following it either anymore."

Moen said Congress would be wrong to raise the age requirement for full Social Security benefits, a proposal now on the table. Older women, Moen said, particularly those who are divorced, need greater access to these public pensions, not less. She would give Social Security credits for the years that a woman stays home to care for children, a proposal also favored by Hounsell and Hartmann.

They are particularly opposed to channeling some of the Social Security tax into private retirement accounts, on the grounds that the diverted money in a man's private account would be out of reach of his ex-wife. Under current law, a divorced woman has rights to a share of her ex-husband's Social Security pension if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Friday, June 22, 2001

Alabama law students' fight against Mountain Brook law becomes moot

A story published today by the Birmingham News reports that the Alabama roommates who challenged a Mountain Brook law that prohibits nonrelated people from living together must move from their rental house by Aug. 15.

Their lease is not being renewed because Jay Harrington and Thomas Nickels' living arrangement violates city law, said property manager Doris Hatch of Rudolph Real Estate in Mountain Brook.

Law students Harrington, 28, and Nickels, 25, have lived in a rental house on Euclid Avenue for the past year.

Their neighbors recently pointed out to the City Council that the renters are violating a city ordinance that specifies 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.

Harrington told the City Council that he believes the law is unconstitutional. City Attorney Frank Galloway is researching Harrington's claim and plans to report to the City Council during its Monday meeting.

Harrington, reached Thursday at his parents' home in North Carolina, said he was giving up his fight to get the law changed.

"We don't have a case anymore. It's a moot point," he said. "I think it's an elitist law, but we're in no position to change it. We have to look for another place."

If the law were changed, the roommates would be allowed to remain in the house, Ms. Hatch said. Otherwise, the house will be rented according to the city law, either to a single person or to people who are related, she said.

"It's nothing against them. The owner of the house would be in violation of the law if the lease was renewed," she said.

ACLU of Virginia assists woman on day-care center dilemma

A story published today by the Virginian-Pilot reports that the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has stepped in to try to help Darlene Davis keep her day-care center and her live-in boyfriend.

Earlier this month, state licensing officials informed Davis that she could lose her license to operate her home-based Davis Day Care because state law prohibits unmarried couples from living together.

Rebecca K. Glenberg, legal director for the ACLU, warned social services officials that they could be infringing on Davis' constitutional rights .

``Among those is the right to privacy in one's own home, and privacy in one's associations,'' Glenberg said. ``If they deny the license, it will be punishing her because of who she chooses to live with in her own home.''

Davis, a day-care provider for more than 30 years, has lived with Cary L. Cohen, for the past 16 years at her home on Crafford Avenue. Davis listed Cohen as a roommate on her recent biennial license renewal application, and their living arrangement was questioned by the state inspector.

Davis said she has always listed Cohen on renewal applications, and this is the first time their relationship has been questioned.

On the 1999 and 1996 applications, Cohen is listed as a friend and companion.

Charles Ingram, spokesman for the state Social Services office, said he did not know why there was no previous investigation into Davis' living status with Cohen. Ingram said inspectors include appearances and observations when they make licensing decisions.

``They make judgment calls every day,'' Ingram said. ``I think it is reasonable to assume that this was a judgment issue in this case.''

Ingram said the state is still investigating whether to renew Davis' license. The couple could get married, Cohen could move out or Davis could take fewer than five children, which doesn't require state licensing, to resolve the matter. Her current license, which expires next month, allows her to care for up to 12 children.

Tennessee Senate panel wants couples to be counseled before getting married

A story released today by the News-Sentinel reports that Tennessee couples wanting to wed would be required to go through counseling or pay an extra $60 for their marriage license under a bill approved Thursday by a Senate committee.

All couples would pay an extra $2.50 for their marriage license under the bill introduced by Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville.

Thus, the cost of a marriage license would increase from the present $45 to $47.50 for couples who present a certificate showing they have received counseling and to $107.50 for those do not.

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, sponsor of the bill, and lobbyist Bill Nolan, who said he was retained by Knoxvillian Ernie Weeks to push the measure, told the committee the bill had two major purposes.

First, they said, counseling of prospective brides and grooms should lower Tennessee's divorce rate, now higher than any state except Nevada.

Second, they said it will provide needed funding for worthy programs. Legislative officials estimate the bill would generate $3.8 million in new revenue, which would be divided among programs to prevent child abuse and domestic violence and to provide mediation and counseling for divorcing parents.

Sen. Bill Clabough, R-Maryville, criticized the measure as amounting to governmental "messing in the most private and sacred thing between two people."

He also questioned whether some ministers that do not require formal ordination, would qualify to provide the counseling mandated by the bill to avoid the higher fee.

"Some ministers need this counseling themselves," replied Harper, contending that any minister could qualify with appropriate training.

She also disputed Clabough's contention that the fee was excessive and Sen. Bob Rochelle's suggestion that the fee should be waived for "pregnant teens or the indigent."

"When you're in love, if it costs $75 you're going to find it. That's when the sparks are flying," Harper said. "When you get into divorce, that's when the bullets are flying."

After the amendment exempting Blount and Sevier counties was adopted, Clabough wound up voting with eight other committee members in favor of the bill. Rochelle, D-Lebanon, abstained.

Here is how proceeds from each new $62.50 in fees would be divided:

* The $2.50 for all marriages would go to county clerks to cover the costs of processing paperwork, including collection of the fee or counseling certificates. Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, unsuccessfully attempted to delete the $2.50 for clerks.

* $30 would go to the "divorcing parent education and mediation fund," generating an estimated $1.9 million. The fund covers costs of providing counseling and mediation to develop a "parenting plan" for divorcing parents. Parenting plans are required in many areas now but would be expanded statewide with the availability of new funds.

* $15 to the Department of Children's Services for its child abuse prevention program.

* $15 to the Office of Criminal Justice Programs for domestic violence services.

The Finance Committee action, which came at a specially called meeting of the panel, clears the bill for a vote on the Senate floor. The House companion bill, however, is still awaiting a subcommittee vote.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Texas gives new legal options for parting couples

A story published today by the Houston Chronicle reports that Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill that officially recognizes collaborative divorce as an alternative to conventional divorce and establishes guidelines on how to handle these cases.

"There is a greater opportunity for healing than in a conventional court setting," said attorney Cletus Davis. "The lawyers work to keep the parties on target and avoid blaming and rehashing past issues."

Until now, couples going through a divorce had two choices: an uncontested divorce, which still required lawyers to draw up decrees, and contested divorces.

Most couples going through a contested divorce are required to try to settle their cases in mediation before trial. In mediation, a third party tries to fashion a settlement and determines the outcome.

In a collaborative divorce, the couples, with the guidance of their lawyers, control the negotiations and work out the settlement.

Collaborative divorce is intended to resolve disputes over property, custody, visitation and parenting techniques, but is only for those who can work out thorny issues during face-to-face negotiations, with their lawyers by their sides. Custody disputes in which neither party will compromise and intractable property disputes have to go the contested trial route, Davis said.

Davis added that one of collaborative divorce's biggest selling points is that it often cuts divorce costs by three-quarters.

State Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, who wrote the collaborative divorce law, said lowering divorce costs is a plus in any state, but especially in Texas, where contested divorces are the costliest nationwide. A contested divorce that ends in a mediated settlement can be far more expensive than a collaborative divorce because mediation often occurs after months of costly hearings and depositions.

Lawyers who represent spouses in the collaborative process may not represent a client if the negotiations break down and the case goes to trial. That, Goodman said, provides a disincentive to lawyers inclined to let negotiations break down if they believe they will continue collecting fees by serving as the trial lawyer.

 

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