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

 

 

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

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Thursday, September 20, 2001

Separation agreements can haunt couples who temporarily reconcile

A story published today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that before you decide to reconcile with your spouse after a separation, make sure that no separation agreements exist that might haunt you in the later years if the both of you decide to part ways again.

A case just like it occurred in Allegheny County involving Sara and Joe. They were married in 1964 and separated in 1981. One month later they signed a "Separation and Property Settlement Agreement." It stated that it was determining for "all time" their property rights, alimony and child support. It also provided that in a divorce action neither person would raise claims for alimony, attorney's fees or property.

Five months after they signed the agreement but before the divorce, Joe moved back home. They continued their marriage for another 12 years before separating again in 1993. Sara filed for divorce and asked for alimony, attorney's fees and a distribution of property. Joe argued that the agreement with its "for all time" language prevented Sara from raising those claims.

Joe would have won but for the fact that under Pennsylvania law, when couples sign a "separation agreement" and then reconcile, the agreement is canceled because they aren't separated anymore. On the other hand, if they sign a property settlement agreement, it isn't canceled if they get back together. 

Since the title to their 1981 agreement used both terms, the case ended up before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where the justices were divided four to three.

Joe prevailed because four of the seven justices decided it was a property settlement agreement that could not be canceled. They looked at the fact that the couple were separated when they signed the agreement, and at the clearly expressed intent that it was forever and all time. Three of the justices felt that it was only a separation agreement, which died when the parties reconciled.

What guidance does this case offer other estranged couples who might want to give love another chance? 

Simple, if you decide to separate and sign a written agreement, be careful what you call it. The title could come back and bite you on the ankle. And provide for what will happen to your agreement if you get back together. That way you take the worry out of being close again.

Single mom pursues her dream of being a doctor

A story published today by the Orlando Sentinel Tribune reports that according to a spokesperson for the American Medical Association, only about 7 percent of medical and dentistry students are 35 or older based on a 1995-96 survey.

Dr. Cynthia Bell, 45, is one of those older students who undertook the rigorous life of a medical student.  Fresh out of residency training, she comes to Lessburg, Florida with a life chock-full of experience. Her oldest of four children is in residency herself. "I had two dreams growing up," Bell said. "One was to have a big family. The other was to be like Dr. Marcus Welby, a doctor in a tv soap."

Throughout her life, everyone discouraged Bell from going to medical school. She couldn't disagree with their logic, especially after getting a divorce and being a single mother of two boys and two girls.

It was a daunting task. Not only was the workload heavy, but at 35, she was the oldest student in her class at the University of Iowa.

"At first I didn't think I'd fit in," she said. "But they accepted me."

"Good for her," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, a physician in upstate New York for 20 years and a leader in the AMA. Nielsen can relate to how tough it was for Bell to complete her education. She had a doctorate in teaching when she decided to go back to school to get her medical degree. By then, she had four children, ranging in age from 2 months to 7 years. As a single parent, her only help was a baby sitter. Long 24-hour shifts while she was a resident were the worst.

"One night my 4-year-old asked his father if I was dead," Nielsen said. "I cried for a week."

Would Bell recommend medical school to other mature physician hopefuls?

"I think if you really understand the stress of having to make good grades, the long hours, and the fact that not everyone you work for is polite. And if you're not happy with what you're doing now."

She takes satisfaction from helping people understand their illnesses and knowing that she can make a difference in their lives, especially when they have a serious illness.

"You have to think that what you're doing is always worthwhile. You can never forget that."

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Remarrying can produce a lot of financial headaches

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that when remarrying couples are baby boomers, it's often more complicated particularly if one or both have children from previous marriages.

Many baby boomers have financial obligations to previous spouses. A number are putting children through college. Many are looking after and perhaps supporting elderly parents. And often the new spouses have differing levels of wealth and different attitudes about spending and saving.

Financial planners, who advise people how to structure their financial lives, say these issues actually aren't the biggest problem facing engaged and remarried boomer couples it's not talking about money before it turns into conflict.

''One of the things I find people don't think about in remarriage is that life insurance or retirement funds often have been dedicated to the prior family'' as part of a divorce agreement, said Ginita Wall, a certified financial planner from San Diego. And on the death of a spouse, the ex-wife or ex-husband has a right to part of an individual retirement account, 401(k) plan and life insurance proceeds.

Estate planning can be another area of difficulty, especially if there are children from a previous marriage.

Violet Woodhouse, an attorney and financial planner from Newport Beach, Calif., said couples struggle with the question, ''How do we handle our responsibility to our own respective families and balance that with our responsibilities to our spouses?''

Another issue where children are concerned has to do with how equally they should be treated when it comes to college education and in estate planning.

It's not just family issues that need to be ironed out. Engaged couples should also find out if their partners have big debts or tax liens against them, or if they've ever declared bankruptcy.

Without up-front discussion, money and all the emotional baggage tied to it can dispel the euphoria of finding a mate.

Woodhouse suggests engaged couples fully disclose their finances to each other.

''They need to exchange tax returns for the last five years, exchange bank and check registers for the last three years, get copies of all credit reports and exchange those,'' she said, and added, ''Married people should be doing this, too.''

Some planners say couples can avoid at least some problems by creating a prenuptial agreement that would spell out how money will be handled during the marriage and in the event of a divorce.

''What prenups do is they force us to deal up-front with these kinds of tough issues before they become a crisis in the marriage,'' Woodhouse said. These agreements are ''about clarity, about how we're going to live, how we're going to spend, how we're going to save.''

Gender bias still persist in some occupations

A story published today by the Orlando Sentinel reports that certain job patterns continue to defy economic theory, suggesting that we are a long way from a gender-blind work force.

"It's very difficult for a male CEO to consider hiring a male administrative assistant," says Terry Neese, who has headed a national executive search firm, Oklahoma City-based Terry Neese Personnel Services, since 1975. "We get in these comfort zones, and anything out of that comfort zone causes us stress."

Jim Keville's comfort zone includes teaching preschool.

"I get to go in and play with kids for four hours," he says. "Building with blocks. Making art projects. . . Giving children the opportunities for self-discovery. It's very rewarding."

If it seems unusual to hear a man spelling out the joys of spending his days with preschoolers and boasting of changing diapers, it's because it is. Nationwide, 99 percent of prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers are women.

Many people in today's work force grew up at a time when professions were much more clearly ascribed to one gender. Women were teachers, nurses, secretaries, social workers, stewardesses and librarians; men were just about everything else.

That has changed dramatically. It wasn't long ago that a female attorney or physician was a rarity; now women are entering the legal and medical professions in roughly the same numbers as men. Even in traditionally male law enforcement, women populate 16 percent of the work force.

So why do some professions change while others remain stubbornly segregated? When fields such as law and medicine are achieving gender balance, why is engineering, despite efforts to attract women, still 90 percent male?

In a generalized sense, the extent to which professions are dominated by one gender may be partly attributable to innate differences between the sexes -- for example, the tendency for women to show more verbal aptitude and men to be more spatially inclined.

Lifestyle factors also play a role. One reason teaching has remained a favored female job is that the hours and break schedules enable a mother to spend more time with her kids.

Some male-dominated fields are much more difficult for women than others, says Marion Gindes, a New York City psychologist who serves as a business consultant on workplace-gender issues. In her experience, professions that involve a physical component, including law enforcement and firefighting, have been less welcoming.

Men tend to fare better in female-dominated jobs than vice versa, Gindes says, often seeing their minority status as a chance for advancement. 

"It will be very interesting to see the occupational trends in another generation," says Michelle Larson, deputy director of the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.

Today's young workers grew up with fewer gender-specific work stereotypes than any previous generation.

Larson predicts that more women will enter the construction and trade industries, for example, as the days of strict gender roles become more distant. She says the Women's Bureau and NASA are joining in an initiative to encourage girls to weigh careers in information technology, math, science and engineering.

"Young women and men need to realize that whatever they choose to do is possible if they make the commitment to work hard," Larson says.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Breaking the cycle of failed relationships

A story published today by Newsday reports that a recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study of women ages 44 and younger found that 33 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 10 years. And 75 percent of those women are expected to remarry - with nearly 40 percent of them divorcing again.

Andrew Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who studies remarriage rates says that "it makes sense that the number of people married at least three times has risen." Especially considering a host of other factors, including increased opportunities for women outside the home and longer life spans.

With the idea of marital bliss seeming ever more elusive, why would a woman who'd struck out keep trying? The answer is complex, reflecting an ability to embrace the ideal of lifelong commitment without fully understanding what that entails.

After divorce, "most people do a lot of blaming," says Naomi Moseley, co-author of "Making Your Second Marriage a First-Class Success".  "As a result, they end up having the same bad relationship experiences over and over, because even if the next guy ends up being the opposite of the last guy, your issues are still the same." 

"There are women who like being married and who remain optimistic that they can make marriage work," says Carrie Fried Sutton, a Bayside psychologist. "Wanting to get it right can be a big motivation."

Rhonda Pool, who at 34 is on her fifth marriage, says that's exactly how she feels. "My mom kept saying, 'Why don't you just live with them?'" says Pool, a homemaker who lives near Los Angeles. "But I don't like that idea. I want the commitment." Besides, she kept "having hope that the right guy will eventually show up."

In addition to optimism, another trademark of multiple marriers is what Iris Krasnow, author of "Surrendering to Marriage: Husbands, Wives and Other Imperfections", calls an inability "to stand the ordinary" - as soon as the cotton undies and microwaved leftovers come out, some women feel it's time to move on. "The first kiss can't ever be the first kiss again," Krasnow says. "People who remarry and remarry and remarry are on the constant quest for that first kiss."

Before trying again experts say that there is a better chance of making your latest "I do" last if you:

Figure out what you're looking for in a partner. Always remember that compatibility and commitment mean different things to different people.

Develop outside interests - get a job you love, explore a hobby or reach out to others through volunteer work. Being personally fulfilled will make you a better partner.

Don't expect your partner to change after you're married. If you accept your spouse for who he or she is, instead of trying to fit your concept of the perfect mate, you'll spare yourself a lot of disappointment.

Don't be fooled into believing perfect love exists. Marriage is not some perpetual fairy tale. But it does provide what author Iris Krasnow calls "a soothing rhythm that we can embrace and respect."

Younger generation experiencing crises earlier

A story published today by USA Today reports that post-college students are facing "quarterlife crisis". The twentysomething angst emerges from the cocoon of college owing megabucks, into an unstable, post-dot-com economy that won't provide a dream job.

"I graduated when I was 21 with a political science degree," says Lisa Olen, 24, of Austin, Texas. "I thought because I was an honor student, everything would be fine and dandy, that I'd have this great job. But I could not get a job to save my life. And I believed if I wasn't a dot-com millionaire, I was over the hill at 20."

She started a web site, Lifesmart solutions.com, "to help other people around this age get through their life transitions." Now others don't have to ask the question she did: "Is anyone out there feeling the same way I am?"

"The twentysomethings feel they have been given short shrift," says Alexandra Robbins, a free-lance journalist whose fears after college made her feel like a freak. "People assume that if you are in your 20s, you have your youth and life is fabulous. We want to get the idea of the dark side of the 20s into the national discussion."

Not all her peers have joined the parade, however. Stacy Humes-Schulz is the campus news editor for the Daily Pennsylvanian, an independent student newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania. She writes that the quarterlife crisis is a myth, the "product of the luxury of a simple life at elite private schools, Penn included. The real world that some of us have been sheltered from until now is filled with tough decisions. But to be blunt, suck it up. Deal with it. Fail, pick yourself up from the pavement and move on."

Other critics say twentysomethings' fears are no different from those of earlier generations. But trend trackers say that is simply not true.  

"The previous generation graduated from college as the economy was thriving," says Scott Weinberg of the Population Research Institute, a nonprofit group that assesses developing trends. "Our population was robust and growing. There was long-term hope, and we were entering a new era of technology. This has really peaked in the last couple of years." 

The average student graduating from a four-year private institution owes $15,000, and from a public school, $12,500, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Some who go on to graduate school in law or medicine can end up with a six-figure debt, virtually unheard of in their parents' generation. 

The average person now holds 9.2 jobs between ages 18 and 34, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half of those jobs were held between ages 18-24. Earlier wisdom says "if you switched jobs too many times, you were looked upon as undependable or flighty," says Pamela Paul, an associate editor of American Demographics. "Now if you don't, you are seen as inflexible and stodgy. You won't take chances."

Monday, September 17, 2001

Helping ease anxiety at any age

A story published today by USA Today reports that with the recent events affecting the American psyche, Americans no matter how young or how old need ways and means to help them relieve the stress and anxiety that has deeply affected the country.

"There's no magic potion for ending our anxiety reactions to this tragedy," says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, an expert on violence-related trauma. 

Kazdin and other mental health specialists suggest the following methods:

For preschoolers 

- Parents should answer questions briefly; address all of the child's concerns.

- Emphasize this was an unusual event, it won't recur, and the child will be protected. 

- Adult sadness or even crying won't hurt kids. Disgust, hatred or vengeful words can be very scary to them, Kazdin says. 

- Spend time with preschoolers; if they're very clingy, try to take a few days off work and skip day care until they're calmed.  

- Limit TV news viewing.

For elementary school children 

- Keep to regular schedule as much as possible; routine is reassuring. 

- Answer questions immediately, but don't broach topics not asked about. 

- Give simple answers, stressing their personal safety. Although kids this age may ask some sophisticated questions, "that doesn't mean they have the level of cognition to deal with the answers," Kazdin says. 

- Don't convey danger or fury. 

- Again, limit the viewing of television news.

Adolescents 

- Give your version of events "or else peers will fill in the vacuum," Kazdin says. 

- Take a reason-oriented approach; emphasize the low probability of these events recurring and how many preventive steps are underway. 

- Don't convey great anxiety or anger; that can increase teen emotions  which are already in high gear.

Adults 18 to 70 

- Stay in close contact with friends and extended family. 

- Get back to routine as soon as that feels comfortable. 

- Do activities that soothe, release stress or provide a sense of nurturing.  

- If you're so anxious that daily functioning is hindered, seek counseling or short-term medications from physicians. Adults already under stress -- getting a divorce, death in the family -- may be hit particularly hard, Kazdin says.

Friday, September 14, 2001

Local program in Florida helps couples undergoing divorce

A story published today by the St. Petersburg Times reports that Lee and Kendrea Kappel both previously married, has started  DivorceCare, a support group for people whose marriages are ending.

The Florida couple share their experiences through a local program called DivorceCare for people who are going through the end of marriage. DivorceCare is a national support group system that sponsors individual chapters in communities across the country.
The program is Christian-based and deals directly with divorce issues and recovery in a video/discussion format.

"It's basically a program that was developed by a gentleman and his wife who had been through a divorce," Kappel said. "It's actually been around quite awhile. It's Christian, but non-denominational. What we find is that people get more help from each other than watching the tapes. It tends to give people more encouragement that, "I'm not alone,' and that "I can survive this,' and "There is hope for the future.' "

Mrs. Kappel, who helps administer the 13-week DivorceCare program, said it centers on the healing process. "We want to give them future hope. But to get there you really have to heal from this break up. Divorce is really a tearing of two people."

Kappel, who went through the program three times after his divorce, said it takes time to recover from such a life-changing event.

"The road back is not a quick and easy thing," Kappel said. "Those who try to make it quick and easy either don't heal completely or end up carrying along a lot of baggage with them into new relationships."

Mrs. Kappel said the couple decided to launch the free program as a way of giving something back to people in pain.

"When I divorced, it was a rough haul," she said. "I decided that if I could ever get out of that hole, I would want to help someone else."

 

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