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



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

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Thursday, September 6, 2001

Heritage Foundation says welfare programs penalizes marriage

An article released today by the National Center for Policy Analysis reports that Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, states that the modern welfare state has largely grown up as a support system for single parenthood. Rector reports that single-parent families costs federal and state governments $150 billion per year. And nearly one-third of all American children are born outside marriage.

But little effort is being devoted to reducing the underlying problem, which Rector says is the decline of marriage. A study shows that eighty percent of child poverty in the United States occurs among children from broken or never-formed families.

The same study also suggests that a child raised by a never-married mother is seven times more likely to live in poverty than a child raised by his biological parents in an intact marriage.

Since most states have largely ignored the goals set by the 1996 welfare reform which established national goals of reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing and strengthening of marriage, Rector suggests that new welfare reform should allocate 10 percent of federal TANF funds to promote and strengthen marriages, including marriage and divorce education, public service ad campaigns, mentoring programs, pro-marriage counseling during pregnancy, and community-wide marriage policies and programs.

Rector also concludes that the United States, ironically, no longer supports marriage, but instead, massively taxes marital child rearing in order to subsidize non-marital alternatives. He adds that as long as single parenthood continues to grow, welfare spending will grow with it.

Iowa Supreme Court strikes down visitation law

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Iowa’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down a law that gave grandparents the right to spend time with their grandchildren, stating that such a law interfered with parental rights.

It exalts the socially desirable goal of grandparent-grandchild bonding over the constitutionally recognized right of parents to decide with whom their children will associate,'' the court said.

Short of a decision that parents were unfit and incapable of making a decision about who should visit their child, neither courts -- nor the Legislature -- can interfere with such intimate family decisions, the court said.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision limiting states' power in helping grandparents and others with close ties to children win the right to see them regularly against parents' wishes.

Grandparents Joe and Lois Santi argued that allowing visits to their granddaughter Taylor ``serves to strengthen extended family bonds in an era plagued by social ills such as divorce, drug use and teen pregnancy.''

The parents, Mike Santi and his wife, Heather, said forcing visitation over their objection was unlikely to promote family unity.

Across the nation, laws regarding the grounds for grandparent visitation vary.

In most states, grandparents must demonstrate that visits are in a child's best interest; in others they face the tougher task of proving a child would suffer harm without the visits.

The case before us is not about car seats or vaccinations,'' the court said. "We are convinced that the nature of the liberty interest impacted here -- the decision by fit, married parents to oppose visitation by third parties outside their nuclear family -- is one that, in Iowa, has historically been protected by the highest level of scrutiny.''

The court, however, suggested that keeping the child from her grandparents "was unreasonable and not in Taylor's best interest.''

Bush officials advising states to promote marriage and abstinence

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that White House administration officials who oversee welfare reform yesterday urged states to broaden their focus beyond programs that help recipients get a job, saying they should try ways to foster marriage, abstinence and responsible fathers.

In their efforts to wean poor Americans from the welfare rolls, senior Health and Human Services administrators said, states and local communities also have been slow to enlist the assistance of churches and community groups that already work in low-income neighborhoods.

This conservative face of welfare reform dominated a two-day conference convened by HHS to critique the nation's progress under a new system of support for its poorest families.

The conference, drawing together several hundred government officials, researchers and community workers from around the country, is the first forum that Bush's aides have staged to emphasize their priorities for welfare. It foreshadows some of the changes the administration might seek next year, when Congress will be required to "reauthorize" the welfare law it adopted five years ago.

HHS officials made clear that such broad goals, highly controversial among liberals, are priorities of the new administration. Wade F. Horn, who runs HHS's Administration for Children and Families, extolled a few programs around the country that he called "pioneers in the marriage movement" and said that abstinence education programs are "a healthy choice to make."

Horn also announced that he and HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, considered one of the leaders in welfare changes while he was governor of Wisconsin, are preparing to go on a "listening tour," meeting with governors, state legislators and people who run or take part in welfare programs to gather information that will shape the welfare policies the administration recommends to Congress next year.

The conference also made clear that the administration regards welfare reform programs as a prime candidate for the "faith-based" approaches that Bush has made one of his central priorities. "Don't be talking about no separation of church and state," said the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, the District's former representative in Congress and one of the morning's speakers. "The most important thing you can do is enlist our churches to . . . straighten out our families."

HHS officials said that, in trying to foster marriage, they do not envision financial penalties for single parents, efforts to compel people to marry or policies that force couples to remain in abusive relationships. Nevertheless, the speakers invited to talk about their programs reinforced the agency's main message.

"What you're seeing now is the fact that five years into this major transformation, you are seeing states really explore the next steps," said Andrew Bush, Thompson's senior adviser on welfare. He said those steps involve "family issues," as well as helping former welfare recipients hold jobs and earn better pay.

Arizona officials, for example, said they are spending $ 2.5 million of welfare money for an abstinence-only campaign encouraging teenagers to stay celibate until marriage. A session yesterday called "Promoting Strong Families and Healthy Marriages: A View From the States" attracted the biggest audience. In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank A. Keating (R) was the first to set aside $ 10 million of welfare money for the "Marriage Initiative," which trains state counselors and clergy in pre-marital counseling and marriage "tune-up," said Jerry Regier, the state secretary for health and human services.

"Some people asked . . . me what business the government has getting involved in marriage," Keating said in a statement. "But when you look at the consequences of divorce,the better question is "What business do we have not getting involved?' "

Kentucky state treasurer to set up financial planning program to help women

A story published today by the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Kentucky state treasurer Jonathan Miller is setting up a program that would help women in his state to receive free financial and retirement planning.

The program is a patterned after an initiative started two years ago in Ohio by state treasurer Joe Deters of Hamilton County. Last year more than 2,500 women in six cities, including Cincinnati, attended the free seminars to learn about retirement planning, saving money, credit and debt management, home ownership and insurance.

"Women tend to confront a far more unforgiving financial landscape than do men," Mr. Deters told members of the Kentucky Commission of Personal Savings and Investment.

Mr. Miller formed the commission in July to focus on how the state can help Kentucky residents save and invest more of their money.

"I travel throughout the state and more and more I've been hearing questions from women about how they can pay for their children's college education, how much money they should be saving, how much insurance should they have, can they afford to buy a home," Mr. Miller said.

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Singles club offers new outlet for singles in Phoenix area

A story released today by Business Wire reports that an international social dining club for professional men and women, recently launched a branch office in Phoenix, Arizona with their first social function scheduled for October 10, 2001.

For over 20 years The Single Gourmet has been bringing singles together by providing the perfect social settings for life-long friendships to grow and love to blossom. Whether members are looking for companionship, friendship, or love, The Single Gourmet is the ticket to the fun and adventure that is often missing from a busy, single professional's personal life.

"The Single Gourmet's concept is simple and it works," says Jim Herrell, President of the Phoenix Chapter. "We provide members with a friendly and social environment that includes sports, travel, excellent dining, and adventures where they can meet others like themselves. It's truly a fun and rewarding experience. It's often the best way to meet upscale singles...and there is absolutely no pressure to date or come to all the events. Our members simply choose which events they'd like to be a part of. Some months they may want to come to them all, while other months they may choose not to participate in any. It's their choice."

Membership is easy and inexpensive. Annual memberships are only $99.00 per year and they only pay for the events they choose to participate in. Their first social event is scheduled for Wednesday, October 10th at Eddie Matney's in Phoenix.

Talking to your children about the pending divorce

A story published today by the Christian Science Monitor reports that a new study by an Ohio State University researcher has found that students are affected more by the years prior to divorce than many might imagine.

Dr. Youngmin Sun studied 10,088 students during a two-year period. During that time, 8 percent of them had a divorce in their family. Academic progress, psychological well-being, school behavior, and substance abuse were examined. Sun found that relationships in the family deteriorate at least one year prior to the divorce. Parents in these pre-divorce families seemed to be less involved in their children's education, attended fewer school events, and had lower expectations for their children.

"This is a careful, well-crafted study," says Dr. Paul Amato, a professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University, in a critique of the study. "Dr. Sun's analysis provides the strongest evidence yet that many of the problems observed among children with divorced parents begin prior to parental separation. Family scholars used to think of divorce as a specific event, a crisis that occurs at a specific point in children's development. More recently, researchers have realized that parental divorce is a process that unfolds over many years."

One way to help, Sun notes in his study, is to recognize that divorce is a "progressive, multistage process during which children may be influenced in different stages."

"When you're in the midst of the conflict period that leads up to a divorce, it's very difficult to focus on the kids, because you're so caught up in your own feelings," says Leo Fenzel, a professor of psychology at Loyola College in Baltimore. "[Let kids] express their fears, express their worries, express their hurt so that they have an outlet.... They're just harboring all kinds of feelings, and they're afraid to speak up because the nature of the atmosphere around them is very tense."

The new role of grandparents

A story published today by the Christian Science Monitor reports that grandparents are turning into primary caregivers for their grandchildren. More than one-third of the 4 million children living with grandparents had neither of their parents present in the grandparents' home, and more than half were under 6 years old.

Dr. Jean Giles-Sims, professor of sociology at Texas Christian University in Forth Worth, Texas, says baby-boomer grandmothers differ significantly from earlier generations of grandmothers. They scorn the negative stereotype of rocking chairs. They are also facing two new, conflicting trends.No 1: Many grandmothers are more involved with their grandchildren, often because of a daughter's divorce or parental insufficiency. No. 2: Some grandmothers are cut off from their grandchildren, often because of a son's divorce and lack of contact with his children.

Giles-Sims says four types of grandmothers exist.

- Pioneers: They bring competencies and mentoring possibilities to the grandmother role, but become too controlling in other social settings.

- Traditional: They offer support in times of difficulty, without taking primary responsibility.

- Ambivalent: They enjoy close relationships with their families, but conflict is present, often with their daughters. These conflicts complicate their attempts to become the grandmothers they want to be.

- Absent: They include both those who avoid the role of grandmothers through choice, and those who are shut out from relationships with grandchildren, usually by the parents. "Some of those who are shut out have histories of conflict with children, but for others, divorce - particularly of sons - leads to restrictions for the grandmothers," says Giles-Sims.

Giles-Sims also adds that grandmothers today are increasingly political, with many lobbying for grandparents' rights and working for better schools and healthcare.

Monday September 3, 2001

More couples latching on to cohabitation

A story published today by the Florida Times-Union reports that a generation of financially independent men and women, born to parents whose marriages failed more than half the time and living in a society that frowns on very little, is taking longer than ever before to say "I do."

In the interim, they are living together as a prelude to marriage, an alternative to marriage, or simply because it's better than living alone.

"It's a shift in the way we live and the way we think about living with each other," said Thomas Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People. "It's become a normal part of the decision-making process."

The Census Bureau has attempted to track the phenomenon, but because cohabitation generally is short-term -- 90 percent of couples either marry or move out within five years -- the decennial count captures the trend, but not the magnitude.

For example, Census 2000 reported 22,606 cohabiting households in Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Baker and Nassau counties, a mere 5.2 percent of the 432,627 households in the five-county area.

Far more indicative was the 90 percent increase in such households from the 1990 Census, which found 11,880 cohabiting households in the five-county area. Nationwide, the data pile showed a tenfold increase between 1960 and 2000, from 439,000 cohabiting couples to 4,736,000.

The trend is likely to intensify. A 1995 survey of U.S. high school seniors by researchers at the University of Michigan found more than 60 percent agreed, "It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along."

That reason may not be a perfect one. Couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce than those who do not cohabit first, studies show.

A nationwide University of Wisconsin study found that 59 percent of couples married between 1990 and 1994 lived together first. That was up from 46 percent of couples married between 1980 and 1984.

Cohabitation's central attraction is that a commitment to the wrong person can be reversed with ease; a commitment to the right one, on the other hand, can be dialed up.

"They've grown up in a divorce culture where they're gun-shy about long-term relationships," said David Popenoe of the Rutgers University National Marriage Project. "They want to make absolutely sure that they marry the right person."

Today, Americans remain divided on the morality of cohabitation. A recent Gallup poll found 52 percent of Americans thought it was all right, but the practice still is frowned on in more religious and rural areas. Utah, Alabama and Arkansas had the lowest cohabitation rates, according to the 2000 Census.

"We believe that marriage is something very special," said the Rev. William Kelly of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Jacksonville Beach. "It always bothers me if they [a couple] tell you they're not living as husband and wife. It is contrary to our beliefs and to church law."

But the greatest present-day consequences for unmarried couples are legal and financial.

Florida law prohibits employment or credit discrimination against singles but allows landlords and insurers to factor in marital status. That means landlords can turn down unmarried couples, adoption agencies can refuse to place children in their care and hospitals do not need to allow partners at bedside. Sometimes, equality also is against the law.

And society rarely recognizes unmarried partners for the purposes of benefits, pensions or inheritance.

Only 145 Fortune 500 companies extend benefits to same-sex partners, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and only 100 of those companies extended similar benefits to opposite-sex partners.

Many gay groups have been reluctant to support partner benefits for heterosexual couples, arguing that they can avail themselves of marriage while gay couples have no recourse whatsoever.

But Coleman disagreed with the underlying presumption that those who can marry, should.

"Marriage should be a free choice," he said. "Is any marriage better than two people who have been living together for 25 years?"

But the National Marriage Project argues that cohabitation before marriage is both unhealthy in its own right and detrimental to any marriage that follows.

"On the emotional and psychological side, the likelihood of a break-up is so great and the barriers are so low that people feel a lot more stress," Popenoe said.

The choice between cohabitation and marriage ought to concern society at large, Popenoe said, because almost 40 percent of U.S. children will live in a cohabiting household before their 16th birthday.

"Marriage is basically the institution by which society tries to hold the father to the mother-child bond," Popenoe said. "Nearly every society has developed something like marriage, where you make a pledge and thereby receive some benefits, because it is best for the children."

But Dorian Solot of the Alternatives to Marriage Project questions whether society can or should be in the business of engineering relationships.

"Cohabitation is only going to increase and marriage will only play a less central role," she said. "Society's interest should be in building strong relationships. If we remain limited to promoting marriage, then we're missing a lot of couples and a lot of kids."

Single working moms off of welfare still plagued by poverty

A story published today by the Indianapolis Star reports that according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more single mothers getting off welfare have failed to lift themselves from poverty.

"Just getting that entry-level job by itself is not going to be enough by itself to lift families out of poverty," said Ellen Vollinger, legal director of the Food Research and Action Center.

The study found that poverty rate for families headed by single, working mothers -- many of whom left welfare -- hovered about 19 percent in the late 1990s, though women made more money and gained from work supports, such as the earned income tax credit and child-care aid. The study blames the loss of cash assistance, food stamps and other government supports for the lack of improvement.

During the same period, other families with children made economic strides. The poverty rate for these families fell from 13 percent to 10.6 percent from 1995 to 1999.

"People who are working ought to be improving their economic situation," said Wendell Primus, a welfare official in the Bill Clinton administration. "If we as a nation really believe in work, then we have to get these work supports to these families in a much easier manner to move (them) closer to a livable income."

The average food stamp benefit last year contributed $73 per person a month to households, most of them headed by single parents.

Robert Rector, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, thinks recipients should be required to work for the benefits. He favors overhauling the food stamp program much like welfare underwent five years ago, which required most able-bodied recipients to work for benefits and limited the time they can receive them.

Seattle Appeals Court rules brother can't sue over sister's death

A story published today by the Seattle Times reports that the state Court of Appeals has ruled that the brother of a woman with down syndrome cannot seek damages or accountability after her death in a boarding-home accident.

The high court determined that state laws intended to protect vulnerable adults do not allow Charles Schumacher to file a lawsuit against the Bellingham boarding home and the state Department of Health because he did not receive financial support from his sister, Maria.

In Washington state, wrongful-death suits can only be filed by spouses and children. Economically dependent parents and siblings also have the right to sue.

But many of the state's roughly 140,000 developmentally disabled people have no children, parents or income, said Deborah Dorfman, legal adviser of the Washington Protection and Advocacy System, a watchdog group. That often leaves brothers and sisters as the only surviving relatives. Not giving them the right to sue sends the wrong signal to facilities that care for vulnerable adults, she said.

"This is of great, great importance," she said."The ability to bring a damage action can serve as a great deterrent to abuse."

One of the three judges who concurred with the Aug. 6 opinion signaled her unhappiness with current law, and said the court was left with no other choice.

"Maria Schumacher had neither wealth, nor spouse or children. So, her family is left without recourse, and those whose negligence allegedly led  to her death are left unaccountable," wrote Judge Anne Ellington. "The message to caregivers seems to be that fatal negligence is preferable to mere injury."

Ellington said the court could not rule any other way in the Schumacher case, but she hoped the Legislature would address the issue.

People with disabilities such as down syndrome are living longer, often longer than their parents. Few marry, and fewer have children.

 As a result, siblings are often the only relatives who can bring damage suits if the person dies of neglect or abuse.

"We feel very strongly about the Schumacher case," Dorfman said. "Why protect people up until death? Then you're stuck with no remedy."

Sunday, September 2, 2001

Merchants focusing on unmarried market

A story published today by the Baltimore Sun reports that hardware store marketers have lately begun to notice that unmarried folks also need paint, extension cords, spackle. The retail chain Ace Hardware, for example, has been changing its tone, tinkering with the store signs and colors in hopes of seeming more friendly to women and others whom no one calls "Dad."

So it goes elsewhere in retail. Travel agents, bulk-good stores and food purveyors are shifting their marketing and advertising - even the look of products - to reflect the growth in the numbers of Americans who live alone or with unmarried partners.

"Companies are starting to recognize singles because the census figures show the numbers are there," said Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People, a group based in Southern California that claims 1,200 members and calls itself a "human rights" advocate for the unmarried.

But Coleman says merchants have a long way to go: "We're living in a society of volume discounts."

The proportion of one-person homes has increased from 17 percent in 1970 to 26 percent today, accounting for 26.7 million households. The number of same-sex households also rose sharply.

The single folks may be widowed, divorced or never-married.

According to the Census Bureau, the median age of first marriage for women rose by 4.3 years between 1970 and 2000 to 25.1 years. For men, the increase was 3.6 years to a median age of 26.8.

Elderly women form another large pool of singles - nearly 19 million women 65 and older live alone, compared with 14 million men that age.

"Women live longer than men, so there is this huge female older population, and they have money to spend," said Helen Dennis, a University of Southern California lecturer specializing in aging and retirement.

Dennis says some service industries have come around to recognizing single seniors' needs. Many, but not all, retirement communities are adept at staging social activities to keep members from being isolated, she says.

But Dennis says the real change - affecting the millions of senior singles living at home - will come over the next few decades as baby boomers retire.

Where industry fails, singles groups are trying to fill the void. The organizations say that singles all too often still feel they're living in a couples' world and that their needs are just now being recognized.

Coleman says his single rights' group, formed in 1999, wants to do for single people what the AARP has done for the elderly.

He says singles need an advocate because politicians often slight them in forming policy.

"Why won't politicians say the 'S' word? Maybe they're afraid if you show respect and say equal rights for single people, somebody will twist that around and say you're anti-family," Coleman said.

The travel industry has long been a target of singles' ire.

"On cruise ships and even in all-inclusive resorts, we don't see as much of a discount for a single person as I would like," said Lynda Maxwell, president of Destinations Inc., of Columbia, Md.

Maxwell says a cruise ship may charge two people $1,100 apiece for a cabin "but just one person is going to get charged close to $2,000. It's very frustrating to pay double and be alone."

"The travel industry is aware of this challenge," Maxwell said.

But Coleman says he's skeptical of meaningful travel relief.

"Multiple-person travel packages are so entrenched in the way the business is conducted that I'm not sure it's going to change," he said.

He's happier about developments at bulk goods stores.

"Usually, at the grocery store, you had to buy the larger can to get the bulk discount," Coleman said. "Now, at Costco and others, they're packaging things where you can get a dozen of the smaller cans at a volume discount."

Some chains are even changing their look.

Ace Hardware has "softened" its feel by rounding signs and making the stores "a little less red to make it more conducive to the eyes," said John Venhuizen, the corporation's marketing manager.

The traditional Ace customer is male, often with a traditional family, in the 35-54 age range. Without abandoning those customers, the corporation wants to be more accommodating to women, singles and others.

The stores want to attract people when they buy or remodel a home - whether they're young or old, male and female.

"We need to be available to a young, single mother who happens to fall into one of those life stages. Less and less are we concerned necessarily about male-female demographics and age," Venhuizen said.

The number of single mothers increased from 3 million to 10 million between 1970 and last year, according to the Census Bureau.

In making marketing decisions, the service industry needs to look at a basic fact, says Dennis, the aging expert.

"At some point, someone who is in a partnership relationship is going to be alone," she said. "Who will target them?"

Division and distribution in divorce cases may come out unequal

A story published today by the Los Angeles Times reports that with 1.1 million people calling it quits in their marriage every year seeking financial and legal advice is a proper recourse to take to protect one’s interest

State laws spell out formulas for dividing marital assets and figuring child and spousal support. However, the laws also give couples a great deal of leeway when structuring the details--such as who gets which bank accounts and whether one spouse will take the brokerage accounts while the other gets the family car.

This latitude gives individuals the ability to keep the items they hold most precious, but it also can result in unintended disparities.

In California and other community property states, communal assets are divided and distributed equally, regardless of who earned the most money or spent the most during the marriage. That's based on the idea that a judge shouldn't be involved in personal decisions, said Violet Woodhouse, a family law attorney in Irvine and author of "Divorce & Money: How to Make the Best Financial Decisions During Divorce."

Non-community-property states have equitable-distribution systems, which provide more judicial latitude in asset splits. But Woodhouse said more states also are concluding that the value of assets and liabilities accumulated during a marriage ought to be split essentially in half.

Divorce courts generally split debts the same way they do assets, but lenders and the Internal Revenue Service often hold both parties liable. Translation: If one spouse doesn't pay his or her share of the debts, the other spouse could be forced to pay--no matter what the divorce decree says. It's wise to pay off joint debts in the process of splitting other assets and close any joint accounts so these obligations won't come back to haunt either party, Woodhouse said.

The one exception: Mortgage debt generally can be assigned to the party who takes the house. But even here, it's wise to be cautious if one spouse has a history of being irresponsible with money.

Though both parties must disclose the value of their separate assets, they don't have to share unless the couple commingled this property during the marriage, Woodhouse said. In such cases, the court may split these assets if it's unclear that they were truly separate property.

There are two ways to make property splits fair both before and after tax, Woodhouse said. One is to divide assets into types--for instance, retirement accounts, taxable accounts, personal property (furniture, televisions, cars) and real estate--and then split the property in half in each category. Each spouse's settlement would be a mirror image of the other's.

This approach won't work if one spouse wants to keep the house or a retirement plan, Ginita Wall, a San Diego certified financial planner who specializes in the financial aspects of divorce noted. Then it's wise to get a financial planner to tax-adjust the property settlement. If one partner takes more nontaxable assets, the other should get taxable assets with a greater dollar value to compensate, she said.

If there are children from the marriage, the higher-earning parent may be required to pay child support. Child support formulas are the most rigid part of a divorce proceeding, Woodhouse said. However, there are exceptions when the formula creates a hardship for either the paying parent or for the children.

Courts increasingly expect both spouses to work and support themselves. Awards for temporary support are far more common than for permanent support. Indeed, alimony is an issue in only about one in six divorces. Alimony payments are deductible for the giver and taxable for the recipient

Columnist says she no longer has a 'single' complaint

A column written today in the Los Angeles Times focuses on the difference in which the columnist felt she was treated by couple-friends when she was married and when she was divorced.

Sandy Banks explains that when a relationship dissolves, the newly single often find themselves cut off from couples whose lives they once shared. "It's like they think it's contagious," huffs a friend of mine, whose dinner invitations stopped before the ink on her divorce was dry. "The husbands think I'm going to corrupt their wives, and the women think I'll steal their men."

It may not be that calculated, but the social bias against the uncoupled seems indubitably clear to those of us--like me--on the single side of the divide.

"People who are single are told by society, 'You're not whole,"' says Judith M. Harris, an Encino therapist who counsels couples and hosts relationship seminars for singles. "Couplehood is valued--coveted even. There's a great fear of being single."

When people become single, she says, "they're expected to function different socially. They're seen as being 'out hunting,' and that can be threatening to married couples."

Sometimes, the newly single opt out of social circles themselves. "It's not spoken about or addressed," Harris says, "but they feel excluded, unwelcome ... because they've internalized the societal view that they're damaged goods."

Banks added that it took years after her husband died for her to realize her social standing had suffered.

She was too busy working and tending three kids to pay much attention to how often the dinner invitations arrived.

Fortunately, I made new friends, and I was blessed with co-workers who expanded their families' routines to include my daughters and me. There were weekends at the Goldbergs', holidays with Kimber's clan, birthdays with the Chavez family. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve ... thanks to other families, my family still had places to be.

Then I met a man who would become my boyfriend, then my fiancÚ. And I watched my life shift back again, my image burnished by his presence.

"Sandy and the girls" became "Sandy and Johnny" in others' eyes. I found myself consulting him--considering him and his children's needs--before I accepted invitations or arranged family outings.

And I wound up with a new coterie of friends--couples, who include us in their weekend plans and seem to enjoy our company. Now I'm rediscovering the simple pleasures of a grown-up night on the town with married friends.

But I am also struggling with misgivings about how easily I've embraced a lifestyle that once abruptly shut me out and now so easily invites me in.

It is inevitable, it seems, the ebb and flow of friendships that occur in our lives over time. Relationships are built on common ground, and they are bound to shift as our circumstances change. We marry, have children, change jobs, divorce ... bonds loosen and tighten, and sometimes give way, in relation to those forces.

And it is natural, I suppose, to be uncomfortable with the process as it occurs. I mourned the loss of old friends and traditions when my marriage ended. But I learned to value the tradeoffs, as well--my new friends, the companionship of my children, my unchallenged autonomy.

Now I feel guilt at moving on, at having less time for those who were so kind to me when I was alone.

There is a new relationship to consider, with new benefits, burdens and challenges. And sometimes I am swept along by all it offers and all it demands.

Child support collections still needs improvements in the Carolinas

A story published today by the Charlotte Observer reports that according to a new federal report by the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement, North Carolina's child-support program does a better-than-average job of collecting money owed, but isn't as cost-effective as the national average.

South Carolina, on the other hand, rates high on cost-effectiveness - the amount of child support collected for each dollar spent on enforcement programs - but low on collections.

"With welfare reform, (governments) have recognized that child support is the keystone in holding the arch of transition from welfare to self-sufficiency together," says Barry Miller, head of the N.C. child-support program.

It's a huge system - in the Carolinas alone, one in four children is part of it, and more than $580 million a year changes hands. Millions of dollars have been spent creating ways to pull payments directly from paychecks, intercept tax refunds, track deadbeats and get unmarried fathers to acknowledge paternity.

Many experts see child-support programs as a successful investment in family independence and personal responsibility.

But huge gaps remain. Hundreds of thousands of Carolinas children are waiting for court orders obligating an absent parent to pay support. Parents who were ordered to support children in North Carolina and South Carolina fell short by more than $430 million in fiscal 2000, according to the federal agency.

The federal government has started looking at five measures of efficiency. But those measures often produce contradictory readings, a preliminary report for fiscal 2000 shows. For example, some states rate high on cost-effectiveness but low on collections, indicating they may be saving money at the expense of children who go without support.

Establishing paternity and getting support orders are two of the five effectiveness standards. On both of them, South Carolina is above the national average, North Carolina below.

When it comes to collecting money, however, those standings reverse, with North Carolina surpassing the nation at keeping up with current collections and getting parents to catch up on overdue payments.

Some parents still won't - or can't - pay. Nationwide and in South Carolina, 43 percent of the parents who owed overdue child support paid nothing in 2000. In North Carolina, 29 percent failed to pay.

But for the poorest mothers and children, even the best child-support system may provide little relief.

A recent Urban Institute study found that one-third of the fathers who don't pay live in poverty. Almost 30 percent of them were in jail or other institutions, and those who were free reported average earnings of $5,600 a year.

Some mothers say absent fathers beat the system by working off the books, ducking deputies who bring court summons or paying just enough to get out of jail, then starting the slow collection cycle over. They complain that caseworkers don't get out and find parents with big child-support debts, even when mothers provide addresses or tips on how to catch the absent parent.

Grandparents bond can’t be broken by divorce

A story published today by the Boston Globe reports that Judith Wallerstein, an authority on the impact of divorce on children, concluded that parents should stay together for the sake of the children, even if the marriage is rocky.

The well-documented study Wallerstein carried out with two colleagues found that those who lived with both parents, even in a problem-plagued home, fare better in their adult lives than do those raised in broken marriages.

This is the same conclusion reached by untold numbers of men and women in past generations: They would allow their children's needs to prevail over their own. It is a tough balancing act, pitting the mores of today's grandparents with those of the boomers.

Grandparents can also allay some of the devastating effects of divorce, Wallerstein suggests. She writes of grandparents who baby-sit, who pick up the cost of college tuition, clothing, or other necessities of both their own divorced children and their grandchildren.

Grandparents have a significant role, even as they age, to comfort and ease the loneliness and anger of their children's children. Grandmothers and grandfathers have always enjoyed a special bond with the youngest generation in the family. For children of divorce, grandparents add security, stability, continuity, and ladles of love.

Saturday, September 1, 2001

Minnesota's attorney general will not appeal sodomy ruling

A story released today by the Associated Press report that the Minnesota Attorney General's Office will not appeal a district judge's ruling that every adult in Minnesota is covered under her recent decision that the state's sodomy law was unconstitutional.

Hennepin County District Judge Delila Pierce ruled in May that the state's ban on oral sex and other intimacy between consenting adults violated privacy rights under the Minnesota Constitution.

Alan Gilbert, chief deputy attorney general, said they consulted with Gov. Jesse Ventura' s office and decided an appeal would be "lacking in merit."

"When the laws of the state are being attacked, he should defend them, and he should defend them to the end," said attorney Greg Wersal, who helped lead an unsuccessful bid to recall Hatch on claims his defense of the sodomy law was inadequate.

The plaintiffs in the case were a broad group of gay and straight Minnesotans whose jobs, homes or relationships with their children were threatened by the sodomy law, MnCLU officials said.

In July, Pierce certified her ruling as a class action so there would be no doubt that it applied throughout the state.

Minneapolis attorney Timothy Branson, who represented the eight people who challenged the law, agreed that local prosecutors are not barred from bringing sodomy cases.  But he said the Hennepin County ruling will give defendants "more than a 90 percent chance" of prevailing.


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