January 31, 2002
Iowa bill would make it more
difficult for couples to divorce
A story published today by the Des Moines Register reports that Iowa couples could
choose to set their marriage vows in stronger bond under a proposal that moved forward in
the state Legislature Wednesday.
The Senate Human Resources Committee voted 7-5 in favor of a "marriage
covenant" bill. The plan would let couples sign special marriage contracts that would
make it more difficult for them to get divorced if their relationships soured.
Sen. Ken Veenstra, a Republican from Orange City, said marriage is the foundation of
society. "If we can do just one little piece to enhance it, why not?" he asked.
Under the plan, people who choose "covenant marriages" would get premarital
counseling and would face several hurdles before they could get divorced. They would have
to get counseling, and they would have to show cause, such as adultery, abandonment or
sexual abuse, to have their marriages dissolved.
Opponents failed to pass several amendments, including one that would have allowed a
husband and wife who both want a divorce to get one without having to jump through the
Sen. Merlin Bartz, a Republican from Grafton, opposed the amendment, saying it would
"eviscerate" the bill. Engaged couples wouldn't take the contract as seriously
if they knew they could get out of it so easily, he said. "It's the ultimate escape
hatch," Bartz said.
The committee passed a similar bill last spring, but the measure wasn't brought up for
debate on the Senate floor. Sponsor Neal Schuerer, a Republican from Amana, said he was
optimistic the proposal would be debated in both legislative houses this year.
Iowan state Senator Johnie Hammond, however, was not convinced. The Ames Democrat said
Iowans already are free to choose many forms of marriages. "Those are not the
business of the state," she said. "Those are the business of you and your church
or synagogue or mosque."
But Sen. John Redwine, a Republican from Sioux City, pointed out that Hammond was
married under old laws that had many of the same provisions as Schuerer's proposal.
"You were fortunate to have this," said Redwine, who is running for the GOP
nomination in the 5th Congressional District in western Iowa. "Many of us aren't that
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Kansas lawmaker wants to limit
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Kansas Senator Bob Lyon,
R-Winchester, is promoting Senate bill 173 which would make it more difficult in many
cases to leave a marriage, especially if there were children. The Senate Judiciary
Committee considered the bill Tuesday but took no action.
"The existing statute permits one spouse to unilaterally walk away from a
fundamental human commitment," Lyon told the committee. "It has inadvertently
subverted the idea of marital permanence."
Like most states, Kansas has what is commonly known as no-fault divorce, a concept that
spread some three decades ago and allowed couples to end a marriage without one spouse
having to allege wrongdoing by the other.
Kansas law now provides three general grounds for divorce: incompatibility, failure to
perform a material marital duty, or mental illness or mental incapacity. There is no
requirement that spouses agree to the divorce.
Under Senator Lyon's proposal, a couple with no children still could get what amounts
to a no-fault divorce if both were in agreement.
But if there were children, or if one spouse objected to the divorce, then the spouse
seeking to end the marriage would have to allege one of nine specific grounds -- as was
the case before no-fault divorce was adopted.
Senator Lyon said his bill "would provide greater protection to the children of
divorce by restricting the ability of one spouse to walk away from their parental
"The presence of parental conflict, not the divorce itself, is the cause of
serious harm to children," said Linda Elrod, a Washburn University School of Law
professor."Reinstating fault divorce may keep highly conflicted couples together,
which will increase the harm to children."
She also said the bill could make it more difficult and expensive for victims of
domestic violence to get out a marriage because of the need to prove fault, such as
"Finding who is at fault can be difficult and expensive. It also foments further
conflict and is prone to mistakes," Elrod said.
When the walk in the marriage isle
ends in the doors of divorce
A story published today by the Chicago Tribune reports that in 2000 alone, the Census
Bureau said nearly 2 million 20- to 29-year-olds checked the "divorced" box. And
while that number has held fairly steady over the past few years, the percentage of
divorced 20-somethings has inched up to more than 5 percent in 2000 from 4.5 percent in
1980 and 3.2 percent in 1960.
Pamela Paul, an editor at New York-based American Demographics magazine, knows all
about starter marriages. When she was 28, Paul's own marriage ended just three weeks shy
of its first anniversary. But she didn't stop there. She documented the trend in her first
book, titled "The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony", which appears
in bookstores this month.
Paul first heard the term "starter marriage" at a cocktail party from a
fellow young divorced woman. Initially, she bristled at the phrase, but it got her
thinking about its broader implications. She soon began researching the trend, eventually
interviewing more than 60 starter marriage survivors, most of whom married and divorced in
According to Marian Salzman, who studies cultural trends for Euro RSCG Worldwide, an
advertising agency network based in New York, the nation has been moving toward younger
marriages since 1998, when graduating college seniors began expressing a notably increased
desire to marry immediately.
"I think you have a lot of kids who have come of age who didn't grow up with
intact families who really want to be part of this intact family thing," said
Salzman, who serves as Euro RSCG's worldwide director of strategic planning.
And yet, those hoping to marry soon aren't necessarily expecting bliss. "There is
much less sense that marriage is going to be satisfying than that marriage is something
they need to do. You ask people what they value and they value family time, but not
necessarily marriage," Salzman said.
Paul said, too, that her research showed young adults valuing marriage as a sign of a
person's success, even more so than jobs, friends and wealth. For many, she said,
"it's the No. 1 symbol of where I'm going with my life." Which often sets them
up for failure.
Said Paul, "People have a whole number of expectations of what they're going to
get out of marriage, what marriage will make them, and their spouse, how marriage will
change their relationship, what goodies marriage will bring them."
According to University of Chicago sociology professor Linda J. Waite, experts have
come up with several reasons young marriages often fail, "but part of it is that
people that age are not fully formed. So it does happen that the person you're married to
changes, or you change in ways that the other person didn't expect, and you both don't fit
Whatever the reason, Paul said starter marriages tend to follow one of two paths, the
more common of which is the "meteor trajectory: taking off quickly, rushing into
marriage and fizzling out fast. The second route is the slow, thoughtless plod: long-term
dating, often between college sweethearts likely living together after graduation."
For this crowd, marriage comes almost by default.
As for those who end up divorcing, Salzman said the attitude is one of "I'm going
to do so much better the next time ... I'm not going to make the same mistake twice."
And yet, according to Waite--whose book, "The Case for Marriage," was
published in 2000--some people do make the same mistake twice. "Here's where I
think--and this is my personal view--that we talk about things the wrong way. We talk
about making the wrong choice, having bad luck, about having married the wrong
woman," she said. "But that really doesn't allow for any role for what you did,
Young divorcees who remarry--and Waite said young divorcees typically do just fine in
the remarriage market, partly because they come with little extra baggage--need to
consider boning up on their marriage skills, such as attending to another's emotional
needs or managing anger.
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
Program to teach divorced
parents focus on their children
A story published today by the Herald reports that a four week program called Parent
and Child Transitions (PACT), which teaches divorced parents to cope with custody battles
and divorce issues is helping parents to be more attentive to their children.
PACT is an educational support program, not a therapy program, offered by Keystone
Substance Abuse Services.
Keystone runs the program because children of divorced parents often go through a lot
of emotional pain and are at risk for substance abuse, said Donna Wiley, coordinator of
"If we can educate parents, they can go home and help their children to make an
adjustment too," Wylie said.
Group members, referred by family court judges and volunteers, meet for two hours a
week for four weeks at a designated meeting place to discuss parental issues.
Many schools offer programs to help children cope with divorce, but parents also need
to recognize how important they are in making the adjustment, said Marguerite Brown-Canty,
a social worker who facilitates the class.
"Parents get caught up in the process of divorce: talking to attorneys, dealing
with a judge. They don't typically think about the effect on children," she said.
The program is not just for divorcing husbands and wives. Grandparents granted custody,
or people who aren't married but have children together, also take the class. Sometimes
parents bring new husbands or wives for support. But divorced parents are not allowed to
be in the same class.
Program participants tend to rely on one another for job references, attorney contacts,
and other advice.
PACT was developed through the collaboration of two family court judges and the
executive director of Circle Park Behavioral Health Services in Florence, South Carolina.
Meeting ends meet: Being a single
parent in Montana
A story published today by the Missoulian reports that a new study by a University of
Washington social work professor reports that the real costs of staying alive without help
in Montana are such a long leap from life on the welfare grid - and from the federal
definition of "poverty" - that many people will fall short.
The research, compiled in "The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Montana" and
authored by Diana Pearce, finds that a single parent with two children, one preschool-age
and one school-age, must earn $12.42 an hour in Rosebud County and $17.50 an hour in
Bozeman to provide for her family.
Compared to 15 larger cities around the country, Billings ranks among the lowest
self-sufficiency standard. A single adult can meet basic needs earning $7.10 an hour; in
San Francisco, the same adult must earn $11.33.
To be self-sufficient in Missoula, a single adult must earn at least $7.05 an hour. But
an adult with an infant and a preschool child must earn $16.15, and an adult with an
infant, a preschool child and a school-age child must earn $20.57 an hour.
"Even though the costs are lower in this state, the wages are so low," Pearce
said in an interview Monday.
In some areas of Montana, such as Beaverhead County and Great Falls, single adults can
get by on $6 and some cents an hour.
"But many people are earning less than that," Pearce said, "and
The research, a year and a half in the works, will be released Tuesday at a press
conference at the state Capitol in Helena. That will include release to government and
Kate Kahan, director of the Missoula-based poverty rights advocacy group Working for
Equality and Economic Liberation, the lead agency in commissioning the study and Pearce
will be joined at the press conference by Joan Kuriansky, executive director of Wider
Opportunities for Women, a Washington, D.C.-based national women's employment organization
that works for independence and equality of opportunity for women and girls and led the
study with WEEL. Also speaking at the conference will be Judy Smith of the Missoula-based
Women's Opportunity and Resource Development and Frank Kromkowski of the Montana Community
Labor Coalition and Montana Workers' Rights Board.
WOW plans to use data on self-sufficiency standards in its lobbying to shape the course
of the reauthorization of national welfare reform law, which must be completed by Congress
by the end of September.