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U.S. News Archive
November 07 - November 13, 2001



This page contains news for the period November 07, 2001 through November 13, 2001.  

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Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Supreme Court turns down grandparent’s right law

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Supreme Court refused Tuesday to consider changing Louisiana's law that gives some grandparents court-ordered rights to see their grandchildren.

Last year the justices struck down a Washington state visitation law and warned that states must be careful in giving grandparents and others with close ties to children the right to see them regularly against a parent's wishes.

The ruling gave America's estimated 60 million grandparents no special status in visitation cases. But at the same time, it did not definitively answer such questions as what standard judges should use in protecting the rights of parents.

The emotional subject pits parental rights against states' efforts to promote children's best interests. States have a variety of grandparent visitation laws.

Trisha Galjour Harris of Louisiana sued to end her two-year marriage in 1997, just weeks before her death. Among complaints was the drinking habit of her husband Jeffry Harris.

Under Louisiana law, if a spouse dies or is imprisoned, that spouse's parents may be given reasonable visitation if a judge decides it is in the grandchildren's best interest.

A Louisiana appeals court said the law was not too far-reaching.

In the Washington case, the Supreme Court ruled against the parents of a man who committed suicide. The couple had been given visitation rights to see their son's two daughters, over objections of the girls' mother.

``So long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children ... there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children,'' Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in last year's decision.

The judge in the Louisiana case urged Harris to get along with his in-laws. ``You're going to need some help raising a little girl, so that would be a very good resource to you. You all can try to get past this litigation and get on with your lives,'' the judge said.

After losing in Louisiana courts, he appealed the judge's ruling granting Gaston and Pat Galjour visitation to the Supreme Court. He argued that the state grandparent visitation law is unconstitutional.

The Galjours, who are retired, see their granddaughter one weekend a month, in addition to summer vacation and holidays. The court order forbids them to purchase her inappropriate gifts, take her out of the greater New Orleans area or let her visit her mother's grave without the father's permission.

The girl's father quit his offshore job in 1998 to spend more time with the daughter. His attorney said he is ``a fit parent who only wants what Pat and Gaston Galjour had, the right of a parent to raise his child without interference by the state in favor of grandparents.''

Divorcee places ad to announce independence

A story published today by the Denver Post reports that Joanne Justus, a mother of three teenagers is using a 5-by-6-inch ad in The Denver Post and other newspapers to cut ties with her ex-husband - and the past.

"As the year 2001 draws to a close, Joanne Justus of Parker announces her divorce from Travis Justus of Larkspur," says the ad, which runs in the business section of today's Post.

"I am using this somewhat unique format to thank all my family and friends for standing by me throughout this ordeal," it continues. "I'm also grateful to those of you who may not even realize how meaningful your acts of kindness have been and are to me."

On Monday, when the ad ran in The Post's sports section, Justus said it was her way of thanking friends who supported her emotionally.

"I feel so much love and support and wanted to find a way to . . . thank a community that has stood by me," she said.

It also makes clear that the divorce is final, she said.

"I think this is hurtful to my kids," Travis Justus said on Monday. He declined to comment further.

The ad ran in The Post Sunday, Monday and today and also in the Rocky Mountain News. It is scheduled to run over the next two weeks in community newspapers in Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Aurora, Golden, Lakewood, Littleton and Douglas County, said Judy Miller, a friend who helped Justus with the ads.

However, Denver divorce attorney Rose Mary Zapor was critical of the advertisement.

"I'm a member of the American Bar Association and I've never seen anything like this," Zapor said. "I think it's very inappropriate . . . I worry about the effect on the children."

Most people, Zapor said, celebrate a divorce by going out to dinner or calling friends personally to thank them for support.

"I think there are more tasteful ways of expressing one's joy of being free."

North Carolina judge gives woman $ 2million over husband's extra marital affair

A story published today by News & Record reports that a North Carolina,Guilford County judge has awarded a Greensboro woman a record $2 million after she sued a South Carolina woman for having an affair with her husband.

Christine Stalas-Cooper, 47, received $1 million in punitive damages and another $1 million in compensatory damages against Lisa Shealy, who Stalas-Cooper claims broke up her marriage to Ray Cooper.

North Carolina is one of a handful of states that allows people to seek monetary damages against those who steal the affections of someone's spouse.

Stalas-Cooper had sought $7 million in damages against Shealy in a lawsuit she filed in 1998 for alienation of affection and criminal conversation, a quaint legal phrase referring to sexual intercourse or adultery. She also sought damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"What she did was the word the judge used - reprehensible," said Stalas-Cooper, a technology specialist for Guilford County schools.

In her Nov. 2 ruling, District Court Judge Susan Bray said there was evidence Shealy called Ray Cooper at the Coopers' home on Thanksgiving and sent e-mails to Ray Cooper's house.

Stalas-Cooper contended in the suit that one day in 1998 Shealy told her on the telephone "that her husband never loved her during the past 10 years and that they never had a marriage."

Stalas-Cooper says she had to undergo tests to see if she had any sexually transmitted diseases because of her husband's sexual encounters with Shealy, according to the suit.

Bray said Friday she based the amount she set in damages on factors including how much Stalas-Cooper said she would lose in revenue she would have received if she and Ray Cooper were still married.

Stalas-Cooper said she often traveled on business with Ray Cooper, flying first-class and staying in expensive hotels, while he ran a successful public relations company on the NASCAR circuit.

"In my opinion the facts were more egregious than any other cases I was able to read," Bray said.

Bray said Shealy "never presented a defense. Never presented evidence."

Some state lawmakers in recent years, including state Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford, have attempted to abolish alienation of affection suits, saying they are demeaning toward women.

Legislation banning those suits cleared the state House earlier this year. But the bill has stalled in a Senate committee.

Hagan said she'll fight to get the bill passed next year.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Study shows that involuntary celibacy can lead to anger and depression

A story published today by HealthScoutNews reports that a new study which appeared on the issue of Journal of Sex Research shows that involuntary sex abstinence can lead to anger and even doubts about self-worth for many adults.

The study also added that those who have gone for an extended period without sexual relations -- or have never had them -- can experience problems ranging from embarrassment to serious depression.

Elisabeth Burgess, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University and co-author of the study, says many respondents reported that their celibacy occurred almost by accident while they were preoccupied with other pursuits.

"We had people who were in their 30s and still virgins, who had taken what might be considered 'the good path' by postponing dating when they were teen-agers in order to focus on their school work," she says. "They then went to college and focused on school work and then got a good career and focused on that. And then all of a sudden, they realized the postponing of sexual activity had caught up with them."

That realization can be extremely embarrassing, Burgess says.

"Suddenly, their peers would be far more experienced, and [the respondents] assumed that they should be too," she says. "They would begin to feel that there must be something wrong with them if they're 30 years old and have perhaps never been on a date or have very little experience even with things like kissing or fondling of partners, let alone sexual intercourse."

Consequently, many expressed feelings of low self-esteem and regret.

Psychologist Dennis Sugrue, president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, agrees that many problems involuntary celibates seem to experience are probably in response to cultural pressures. But, he argues, people shouldn't feel swayed by those pressures.

"My concern is that [research like Burgess'] can be stigmatizing to people who are not in a sexual relationship," he says.

"People will argue that not being sexual is an abnormal condition, and this study, if you take it sort of on its headline value, kind of supports that notion, suggesting that if you're not in a sexual relationship, you're at greater risk for being depressed, etceteras," Sugrue says.

"And the logical conclusion that that would lead to is that it's one more reason why you should be in a sexual relationship -- because it's important for your mental health. And that's just not true," he adds.

Being celibate, Sugrue argues, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, shouldn't prevent people from being happy, creative or fulfilled.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Single mothers should not be pitied for their choices

A story released today by Women’s Enews reports that Michelle Pinto gets a little testy when someone suggests that single mothers should, somehow, be blamed for their single parenthood.

After 10 years as a single mother, Pinto has seen and heard enough.

"People will see a mother and ask, 'Are you married?' When they say, 'No, I'm divorced,' the other person says, 'I'm sorry.' I say, 'Why are you sorry? I'm not. I'm thrilled,'" the public relations executive said.

"Single mothers should stop apologizing. I've become almost militant that my son and I be treated as a family unit and that I should get the same amount of respect as a family with a father and mother."

But the reality is, she doesn't. In a society where the ideal remains the two-parent heterosexual family raising their biological children--despite the fact that label now applies to only 24 percent of American families--single mothers still carry a social stigma.

Saturday, November 10, 2001

How effective is a covenant marriage law?

A story published today by the New York Times reports that in August, Arkansas became the third state to adopt a covenant marriage law, after Arizona in 1999 and Louisiana two years earlier. However, fewer than 3 percent of couples who marry in those states take the extra restrictions of marriage by covenant. But supporters believe that such marriages will take off in Arkansas, where Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former pastor and president of the state's chapter of the Southern Baptist Convention, has thrown the full weight of his office behind the law.

James D. Wright, a sociologist at the University of Central Florida, contends that covenant marriage bills, which have been proposed in more than 20 states and are under consideration in the Michigan and Iowa Legislatures, reflect a shift away from individual liberties toward "a resurrection of traditional values: family, community and patriotism."

Research has shown that 33 percent to 45 percent of couples on the brink of divorce may reconcile if they are legally prevented from divorcing within six months, said Dr. Steven Knock, author of "Marriage in Men's Lives" (1998) who - with Dr. Wright and another sociologist, Laura Sanchez - is conducting a five-year study comparing relationships in covenant and standard marriages.

Some states are also offering incentives for premarital counseling and marriage education courses in an effort to reduce divorce, which soared in the 1970's. In 1968, the year before California adopted the nation's first no-fault divorce law, there were 584,000 divorces in the country, a rate of 2.9 divorces per 1,000 Americans. By 1998, the number of divorces had reached 1,135,000, or 4.2 per 1,000. (The divorce rate is highest in Southern states - roughly 50 percent higher than in the rest of the country - and lowest in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.)

While the law's largely evangelical Christian supporters hoped that churches would require covenant marriage as a condition for performing wedding ceremonies, most religious leaders balked. The Roman Catholic Church, which represents the largest religious group in Louisiana, objected to discussions of divorce under any circumstances.

"Doesn't that tell you something about the advisability of this?" said Jeanne Carriere, a professor at Tulane Law School in New Orleans.

Professor Carriere said she doubted the ability of the courts to enforce covenant marriage vows, particularly inasmuch as the Supreme Court ruled more than half a century ago that the state of residence at the time of divorce, not marriage, determined which laws governed the divorce.

The states that have passed the laws have created little infrastructure to sustain or dissolve covenant marriages. While the law requires counseling to overcome discord, Louisiana's Legislature took no steps to provide low-cost counselors to the needy. The laws require counseling even in cases of abuse - an approach that alarms those running shelters for battered women.

So far, the Knock-Wright-Sanchez research has found that couples who choose covenant marriages have higher incomes and more education than other couples. They are deeply connected to their churches, and approached courtship and marriage very seriously.

These couples, the researchers say, also tend to bring fewer unresolved problems to the marriage: fewer bridegrooms are in debt, and the brides, at least, appear to be more skilled at communicating. Only a third of standard couples discussed children before they married; virtually all of the covenant couples did. And though the research is still early, so far, four times more standard couples in the study have divorced, Dr. Knock said.

Navy offers housing units for military families and contemplates expansion for unmarried soldiers in the future

A story published today by the Times- Picayune reports that the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station will begin construction next week on housing and a school for military families.

"What we are about to build here will in fact serve as a model for our entire nation," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said to about 130 people at a ceremony held on the future site of Belle Chasse Academy, the first public charter school on a military base.

The Navy considers the charter school a "pilot" that could be replicated, Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan, chief of naval personnel, said Tuesday during an unrelated visit. "We'll take a look at it and see if it works," he said.

The $80 million housing project, meanwhile, is expected to be completed in about two years and yield about 525 new family housing units at the air station.

Patrician Development LLC, a Louisiana-based firm, will foot 80 percent of the costs and will renovate the base's 216 existing family houses.

Ryan said similar privatized family housing projects have been done successfully in Texas and California, and the Navy is considering using the same method to build quarters for unmarried sailors.

Singles groups for seniors offer social outlet and companionship

A story published today by the Spokesman-Review reports that in a culture designed for couples, it can be difficult for a single person to assimilate. It's even tougher for older adults living on a fixed, limited income. Practical matters become a predicament. Who will come to your rescue if your car breaks down? Who will help lift heavy boxes if you have to move?

"There are things you take for granted as a married adult," said Bob Ludka, leader of the New Life Christian Church Singles group. "We're moving into the hardest time of year for seniors. Many have no one to be with on Thanksgiving or Christmas. We try to be a big family."

Ludka's group is one of several singles groups in Idaho’s Kootenai County. The group provides friendship, fun activities and, occasionally, romance.

Although the New Life group averages two or three weddings each year, Ludka doesn't see this as the biggest success.

"I'm more proud when I see somebody develop friendships and trust," he said. "They become more healthy socially and feel better about themselves."

For some, singles groups provide hope for a romantic encounter. For others, it's just a way to find other people to do things with, said Barbara Harris, hostess of the Wednesday Night Fun Bunch. This group meets over supper at the Schoonerville Pub in Hayden. Many of the 40 members are 50-to-60 years old. Despite planning activities that include camping and trips that should appeal to men, Harris said the usual ratio is in favor of the fellows: at least three women per each man.

"Men might only try it once," said Harris. "If they don't see what they like right away, they don't come back."

Friday, November 9, 2001

California Appeals court rules that marital privilege applies to estranged relationships

A story published today by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that a three-judge Court of Appeal panel in Los Angeles this week has overturned a judge’s order requiring a woman to testify against the husband she hadn’t seen in 17 years.

The husband, Josif Jurcoane, fled to Mexico in July 1984 after Lloyd Bryden and Alice McCannel were shot to death on a ranch near Palmdale. Prosecutors say Jurcoane's wife, Susan, told police her husband had admitted killing the couple. He was arrested in Mexico this April, extradited to California and charged with two murders, punishable by life in prison without parole.

After Susan Jurcoane refused to testify at a preliminary hearing in July, Superior Court Judge Carol Koppel ruled that the marital privilege, which allows either spouse to refuse to testify against the other, didn't apply to the Jurcoanes because they had not been in contact for 17 years and no longer had a "real marriage."

The privilege exists to protect marital relationships and has no purpose when a relationship has effectively ended, Koppel reasoned.

But the appellate court, the first in California to examine the issue, said state law is clear: The privilege remains intact as long as the couple is legally married. The law specifies a few cases in which the privilege doesn't apply, such as prosecutions for spousal battering or child abuse, but doesn't look beneath the surface of a marriage, the court said.

Petaluma, CA shelter opens for single homeless adults

A story published today by the Argus-Courier reports that before Petaluma, California’s new shelter was built, homeless adults used to bunk at the Petaluma Swim Center during the rainy months.

The new shelter which opened last week, will remain open through the end of March. The shelter which sleeps 54 people, provides hot showers and an evening meal.

Accommodations aren't luxurious. "It's not the Holiday Inn," said Michelle Baynes, director of COTS' Opportunity Center. People are crammed in, sleeping inches away from one other.

This holiday season, as is the case every year, COTS needs support from the community, not just for the winter shelter, but for all its programs, including the Shelter for Homeless Children and their Families.

"Money is always great," said John Sedlander, who coordinates homeless services for COTS, "but for those who can't afford to give money, there are lots of other opportunities to help."

The singles shelter needs sheets, blankets, sleeping bags, umbrellas, coats, raingears, hats, gloves, socks, and clothes.

It also needs people to volunteer to help make evening meals for the shelter residents, particularly volunteers who can make a regular commitment. "My mother brings in a salad every other week," said Baynes. "That's the kind of thing we need."

Thursday, November 8, 2001

Minnesota plans to overhaul child-support system

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that according to Minnesota's state legislators, the state’s child-support system is likely to undergo a major shakeup in the next legislative session.

The overhaul would include using the income of both parents to determine support payments rather than just the non-custodial parent' s income, according to state child-support officials. In addition, the system would give a financial break to child-support payers that are raising other children in different homes.

State child-support officials outlined the proposed changes to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Family Law at a hearing Wednesday.

Wayland Campbell, director of the child-support division, said the changes should make Minnesota's child-support guidelines fairer and more in line with contemporary family life.

"Minnesota families are different than they were when the current (child-support) guidelines were established, back in 1983, " he said. " The old guidelines are based on assumptions about family life that are no longer true for most Minnesotans -- assumptions such as the husband works and the wife stays at home. Today there are marriages, remarriages, divorces. ... We need to be able to take these situations into consideration."

Speaking on behalf of Minnesota county social service providers, Ruth Krueger said she favored the proposals because they would help counties move through their child-support cases more quickly.

Fathers'-rights advocates said the proposed changes don't go far enough and in some cases actually would make things worse for non-custodial parents.

Bob Carillo, spokesman for Remember Kids In Divorce Settlements, called the plan "a smoke-and-mirrors approach to addressing the problems in the child-support guidelines."

The real problem is that non-custodial parents are paying way too much child support, he said.

Forging a bill that attends to all the concerns raised at the hearing will be challenging, legislators and state child-support officials said. The same proposals were presented to a legislative committee last session but were tabled until next year because they aroused so much controversy.

Nonetheless, Sen. Leo Foley, DFL-Coon Rapids, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he expects to pass a significant child-support bill next session.

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

New York’s new mayor is single

A story published today by the New York Daily News reports that New York’s Gracie Mansion will become a bachelor pad for the first time in more than a decade.

Michael Bloomberg, a multibillionaire media mogul and a self-proclaimed skirt chaser, will be the city's first unmarried mayor since Ed Koch left office in 1989.

A divorced father of two daughters, Bloomberg has made the gossip columns for dating the likes of Diana Ross and Ann Reinking.

His current steady is Diana Taylor, chief financial officer of the Long Island Power Authority. On the stump, Bloomberg boasted often that his girlfriend, his ex-wife and his ex-wife's boyfriend all worked on the campaign.

Asked yesterday whether the city is ready for another bachelor mayor, Koch said, "I don't think it makes any difference. It's what your lifestyle is. You have to be who you are."

Koch said he hopes Bloomberg will reconsider his plan to remain at his home on the upper East Side rather than moving into Gracie Mansion.

"I hope he rethinks that," Koch said. "It's a wonderful house, very warm."

Television shows and unwed moms

A story published today by the Los Angeles Times reports that NBC’s top comedy sit-com, ‘Friends’ new story line -- Rachel's decision to have and raise a child alone -- has evaded scrutiny from conservatives, a group that has spent considerable political capital on the same issue less than a decade ago.

On prime-time television this season, there are single mothers by choice on ABC, NBC, the WB and HBO who are making a conscious decision to go it alone. Nine years ago former Vice President Dan Quayle skewered the fictional newswoman Murphy Brown when she decided to do the same. There are no such public arguments this season and few expect there any to start.

"The professional, single mother is no longer the pariah," said Sheri Annis, a media and political consultant in Los Angeles who thinks the dialogue about single-mother households has changed radically since Quayle used Murphy Brown as an antithesis of his family-values platform. Partly, Annis said, it is due to the sheer numbers of single mothers compared with 10 or 20 years ago.

The story lines also reflect a cultural shift among a part of the television audience -- well-educated women with disposable income -- that advertisers want to reach. TV first noticed them last decade when they were in their 20s and want to keep them as their own lives change.

"These same women are reaching their late 30s now and thinking (about their) biological clock...TV's answer has been single parenting, (which is) nondisruptive to story lines and programs," said Tina Pieraccini, professor of communication studies at the State University of New York at Oswego.

According to Don DeVine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, the country's oldest and largest grass-roots conservative organization, attributes his conservative colleagues' silence to disgust rather than acceptance and thinks Americans know TV producers have no clue how real lives are led.

"Most people have figured Hollywood is irretrievable and have tried to go about living their lives around it, or without it," DeVine said. "No matter how much brainwashing Hollywood does, those conservative values stay there. It's hard to find a liberal these days that doesn't see a single mom as a problem. Conservatives still don't like what's going on in Hollywood and New York."

"(The Hollywood single-mom phenomenon) certainly is an over-representation of the general population," Pieraccini said. "It looks like a more common, widespread choice on television with the well-to-do mother. But in real life, the more common thing is the divorced single mother."

As a group, census figures show single mothers in the United States grew by 27 percent from 1990 to 2000, producing an estimated 7.6 million single mothers today. (That represents a significant drop from the previous decade, when single-mother homes increased 46 percent.) There is no data that breaks out whether the women within that group choose to have or adopt a child without a partner or whether they are single mothers as a result of widowhood or divorce. But individuals familiar with the culture of single mothers by choice say television's inclusion of single moms is probably showing a disproportionate number of these women.

Jane Mattes, head of Single Mothers by Choice, a 20-year-old worldwide membership organization that helps single mothers find information, agreed.

"It's always going to be a small percentage of people who choose to have a child alone," she said. "All of the prophesizing -- that marriage would go out the window, that women wouldn't `need' men -- that didn't happen. Most women would still prefer to have a child with a man they love and respect. But it doesn't always work out that way."

Divorce lawyers say courts should adapt to the changing definition of family

A story released today by PR Newswire reports that according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, traditional concepts regarding divorce and family law have to be rethought as the nature of the American family changes addressing the rights of grandparents, stepparents, gay partners and other caregivers who aren’t biological parents.

The Academy is holding its annual meeting in Chicago and is having an all-day meeting Thursday, November 8, on how the American family is changing and its impact on family law.

The National Opinion Research Center in Chicago estimates that only slightly more than half of all children in the U.S. are living with two adults in an uninterrupted marriage, down from 73 percent in 1972.

"The definition of what constitutes a 'family' is truly changing and family law is going to have to change and adapt," according to Charles C. Shainberg of Philadelphia, the Academy's president.

While decisions about custody and visitation are generally governed by what is perceived to be the best interests of the child, those best interests can be interpreted differently in differing cases, particularly when balanced against other rights, such as those of parents.

"There are differing views within the bar on to what degree stepparents, grandparents and others should have specific rights with respect to issues such as custody and visitation," said James Pritikin of Chicago, chairman of the program.

The legal role of stepparents is another example of the type of difficult issues family law is facing. Currently, stepparents have few legally defined relationships or rights.

For instance, stepparents generally have no obligation to support their stepchildren but also have no rights to custody or even visitation should that particular marriage end in divorce or death, even if the stepparent has played a major role in a child's upbringing.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is composed of the nation's top 1,600 attorneys who are experts in the specialized field of matrimonial law, including divorce, prenuptial agreements, legal separation, annulment, custody, property valuations, and support and the rights of unmarried cohabitors.

The purpose of the Academy is to encourage the study, improve the practice, elevate the standards and advance the cause of matrimonial law.


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