Wednesday, March 6, 2002
Iowa marriage bill loosening up
A story published today by the Des Moines Register reports that backers
of proposals to establish a more binding form of marriage in Iowa have been
balked again by lawmakers reluctant to make a major change in the law.
The proponents don't have the votes to pass a covenant or optional
marriage bill in the Senate, so they are pushing a more modest plan to
encourage couples to receive pre-marital counseling.
Couples who get the counseling would pay $20 for a marriage license
instead of the current fee of $35, and they would have a three-day wait for
their license, which is the current practice.
Those who don't receive pre-marital counseling would pay $50 for their
marriage license and they would have to wait 30 days to get it.
Sen. Neal Schuerer, an Anamosa Republican, said it's a toss-up whether
the Senate will approve the counseling proposal.
"We're just going to take it a piece at a time," he said.
Potentially more controversial is a related provision that Schuerer said
would allow a judge "to slow down the divorce process if it's not in the
best interests of the children to divorce."
Schuerer began the year pushing a bill that would have given couples the
choice of designating their marriage a covenant marriage or following
existing law. The bonds of a covenant marriage would be more difficult to
break than the typical marriage commitment.
When it became clear there was not enough support in the Senate to pass a
covenant marriage bill, supporters revised the religious-sounding proposal
by calling it an "optional marriage agreement" and allowing couples to draw
up a customized marriage contract.
Plan C is the stripped-down counseling plan.
"It's probably OK. Having people sit down and talk about what they're
going to do is a good thing," said Senate President Mary Kramer, a West Des
Moines Republican who has balked at supporting a covenant or optional
"Covenant marriage is a spiritual commitment, and I really don't want the
government mucking it up," said Kramer.
Tuesday, March 5, 2002
Colorado delaying divorce plan resurfaces
A story published today by the Rocky Mountain News reports that Colorado
couples with kids need to think more than twice before divorcing.
A new proposal HB 1337, would mandate counseling and delay of a final
dissolution decree for one year if the relationship involves children.
"That one year of having to sit down and think this thing over would
likely stop a lot of divorce," said Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado
But some lawmakers wonder why government should be involved.
"The premise that the government knows best whether a couple should stay
married is flawed," said Rep. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver. "Why is it that we
know what's best for families? The assumption is that people are making a
totally uninformed decision to get a divorce in the first place. That's just
Schultheis, who tried a more ambitious divorce limitation proposal last
year, has scaled back the scope. The plan would require six hours of
counseling and extend the earliest possible date for a divorce decree from
90 days to one year. But those provisions would apply only if the divorcing
couple has children or is pregnant.
Schultheis said he has also added "opt out" provisions for individuals
seeking divorce because of mental or physical abuse, incarceration, drug use
and a few other reasons. His plan would require people seeking those
exemptions to provide proof of the abuse.
Legislators opposing the plan argue that the proposal could force many
abuse victims who don't report the abuse to sit through counseling with
"Do we really want women who have been traumatized by abuse to have to go
into court and be retraumatized by trying to prove that the abuse they
suffered was serious," Veiga said. "And what is 'serious' abuse. Is that
different than 'some' abuse."
Lawmakers question Bush welfare plan
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that key Senate
Democrats noted that President Bush's welfare plan fails to give poor
Americans support needed to move out of poverty, does not spend enough on
child care and wrongly fails to restore benefits for legal immigrants.
The president is also wrong to call for $300 million to promote marriage
among welfare recipients, said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the
Finance Committee, which will write legislation this year renewing the 1996
"Marriage is a wonderful institution. But it's a personal and private
choice, not something the government should interfere with," said Baucus.
"Parents who are working hard to make ends meet shouldn't have to raise
their children in poverty," he said.
Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who voted against the 1996 welfare bill,
said that the changes worked out better than he had feared, but welfare
programs must now provide needed education, training, child care and drug
"Luckily, our economy was strong, and there were opportunities for people
making the transition from welfare to work," he said Tuesday in a statement.
"Now comes the hard part. Our economy is in recession. Those who could move
easily into the work force have already done so, and many who took minimum
wage or dead-end jobs are realizing they need more skills to move up the
Baucus said Bush can't expect Congress to increase work requirements
without increasing child care spending, and he argued that reduction of
poverty must be a central goal of the welfare system.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded that "the results of
reform have proven such critics wrong" saying the 1996 law "dramatically
improved the lives of many Americans."
"Let's call it what it is. It's an attack on poor families with children
in America," said Maude Hurd, president of ACORN, an advocacy group for
"It seems the administration believes getting a man is more important
than getting a job," said Lisa Maatz of the NOW Legal Defense and Education
Fund. "Unless the government marriage program is called 'How to Marry a
Multimillionaire,' the best way to strengthen marriage among the poor is
Experts debate the recent rise in the nation’s birth rate
A story published today by the Christian Science Monitor reports that
according to a new government reports the "fertility boom" has pushed US
births to their highest level in almost 30 years. Women now average 2.1
children over a lifetime. During most of the 1970s and 1980s, they gave
birth to fewer than two children, on average.
As the wail of crying babies echo across the country, demographers,
politicians, employers, and marketers are weighing the implications of this
increase. Births topped the 4 million mark in 2000 for the first time in
Some of the growth stems from a prolonged economic boom. Immigration also
plays a role: For Hispanic women, the total fertility rate is 3.1. Births to
unmarried mothers, which account for more than one-third of all births, went
up 3 percent in 2000, mostly among women in their 20s.
In addition, women in their 30s and 40s who had delayed childbearing are
catching up. Equally significant, observers see a marked change in attitudes
toward children and families among so-called Generation Xers, those in their
20s and early 30s.
Unlike baby boomers, who had been willing to postpone childbearing or
make family sacrifices for careers, Gen-X women expect to achieve success
without making the same domestic trade-offs, says J. Walker Smith, president
of Yankelovich Partners, a market research firm.
Higher birth rates inevitably trigger speculation that women are going to
leave their jobs. But workplace consultants insist that this will not
As employers accommodate a growing cadre of parents with infants and
young children, Smith anticipates more flexible schedules and more at-home
"Baby-boom women fought the battle for day care, and for a way to be at
the office and not have to worry about family priorities," he says.
"Gen-Xers will have to fight the battle to work at home."
Marketers, too, will need to pay attention to the family-related needs of
new Gen-X parents during the next decade. These new households are
important, Smith notes, because couples buy such big-ticket items as houses
and second cars.
Already these babies are good for the economy. In 2000, Americans spent
$6 billion on baby equipment - cribs, high chairs, car seats, blankets,
bottles. That marks an 11 percent jump from the previous year, according to
the Washington-based Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Similarly,
a large retailer of maternity clothes reports that net sales in January
increased 12 percent over the same month last year.
Demographers caution that it is too soon to know whether the higher birth
rate represents merely a temporary blip or the beginning of a long-term
"We don't know how this will all pan out," says Stephanie Ventura,
co-author of the report on birth rates from the National Center for Health
Statistics. "It's very foolhardy to try to predict. We've had increases like
this before, and then they just turn right around and go back down again."
Mark Mather, a policy analyst at the Population Reference Bureau, expects
immigration to sustain relatively high fertility rates for some time. People
who are coming to this country tend to have higher fertility rates than
those who were born here, he explains.
Smith, of Yankelovich Partners, sees a continuing "fertility boom" ahead.
He notes that Gen-Xers are having their first child much sooner than baby
boomers did. He also predicts that they will have bigger families.
ethicist challenge the science of making babies
A story published by the Chicago Sun Times reports that Roman Catholic
ethicist at a conference in Chicago said that most advances in reproductive
technology, from prenatal testing to cloning, are unethical.
"We have to safeguard human dignity so that human beings are not reduced to
being objects of scientific experiment," said Cardinal Francis George, who
gave the opening talk at the Symposium on Human Dignity and Reproductive
The conference at the University of Illinois at Chicago attracted some of
the nation's leading Catholic bioethicists, including scholars from
University of Notre Dame, University of Chicago and the United States
Catholic Conference Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. It was sponsored by
the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago and
The only acceptable way to have a child, ethicists said, is sexual
intercourse between a husband and wife. "That's the way it's supposed to
be," said William May of the John Paul Institute for Studies on Marriage and
Also unacceptable is a new technique that increasingly is being used to
prevent single-gene diseases such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia. Doctors
fertilize a woman's eggs in a dish, then check to see which of the embryos
contain the defective gene. Embryos that are free of the gene are
transferred back to the woman or frozen for future use. Embryos that carry
the bad gene are discarded.
Therapeutic cloning also is wrong, May said. In this experimental technique,
an embryo would be cloned from a patient's DNA. Stem cells extracted from
the cloned embryo could in theory be used to treat many diseases, including
diabetes, strokes, cancer, AIDS and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
Many ethicists who consider current techniques acceptable have nevertheless
warned that the technology could lead down a slippery slope to unacceptable
procedures. For example, some worry that preimplantation genetic diagnosis
could lead to the production of "designer babies."
To Catholic bioethicists, the solution to this dilemma is to not go down the
slope in the first place, May said.
University of Chicago ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain decried the pressure
that some medical providers exert on expectant mothers to have prenatal
The tests enable women to abort fetuses that reveal abnormalities such as
Down syndrome. But Elshtain said this fosters a belief that people with
disabilities should not be born, and could lead to discrimination against
"We are narrowing our definition of humanity," Elshtain said.
Monday, March 4, 2002
Study says tax laws penalizes wives who work
A story released today by U.S. Newswire reports that according to a study
by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), federal tax laws
systematically discriminate against two-earner couples. Thea study to be
released said that more than half of two-earner households suffer a marriage
penalty, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
"The tax law discriminates against working wives from top to bottom."
said Edward J. McCaffery, professor of Law at the University of Southern
California and California Institute of Technology and author of the NCPA
"That's because it was mainly written at a time when most women did not
work. Today, 70 percent of all married women and 60 percent of mothers with
children younger than six years old are in the labor market." said McCaffery.
The marriage penalty is not really a tax on marriage but a tax on
two-earner couples. When a wife enters the labor market, she is
automatically taxed in her husband's income tax bracket even if she's
earning only the minimum wage. The study says that when taxes are combined
with the extra expenses of leaving home, the average married woman gets to
keep only about one-third of what she earns.
The same report also noted that Social Security is great for women who
don't work because they receive benefits on their husband's contributions;
however, women entering the labor market get very little in return for the
Social Security taxes they pay.
In general, employers cannot offer a choice between wages and benefits,
and this take-it-or-leave-it approach penalizes women who already have
health insurance and other benefits through their husband's employer.
Cities that are suited for women in America
A story released today by WISCTV.com reports that according to a survey
conducted by the Ladies Home Journal, Madison, WI is one of the best small
city for women in America. The survey took into account low crime, health,
education, economy, jobs, lifestyle and child care.
The survey also rated the best places for women to find a job.
"For future job growth, the Sunbelt shines bright," the report reads.
"Eight of the top boomtowns are in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California.
Boise, Idaho, however, tops our list of towns based on how fast jobs are
being added to the local economy."
The top small cities in America:
1. Madison, WI
2. Alexandria, VA
3. Ann Arbor, MI
4. Stamford, CT
5. Irvine, CA
6. Burlington, VT
7. Huntington Beach, CA
8. Santa Clarita, CA
9. Plano, TX
10. Thousand Oaks, CA
The top ten big cities in the nation:
1. Virginia Beach, VA
2. Boston, MA
3. Honolulu, HI
4. Austin, TX
5. Arlington, TX
6. Anaheim, CA
7. Minneapolis, MN
8. Colorado Springs, CO
9. San Diego, CA
10. Omaha, NE
Unmarried partners hoping for a share in Sept. 11 fund
A story published today by the Chicago Tribune reports
that unmarried partners of victims who died in the terrorist attacks Sept.
11 may be on shaky legal ground as they try to claim victim benefits.
This week the Justice Department is expected to release its final rules for
deciding who gets how much of the $6 billion Victims Compensation Fund set
up to help families of the September attack victims.
How that family is defined, however, is an issue for many betrothed and gay
partners who do not have a marriage certificate that legally defines their
link to their partner.
Kenneth Feinberg, appointed by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to come up with a
formula for benefits, has said survivors' compensation will be determined
first by a will, if the victim had one, and then by laws of a victim's home
state that divide money among spouses, children and parents.
Aita and her fiancé, Paul Innella, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, had
been working on a will just before the terrorist attacks.
"It was in the process of being made, but it wasn't done yet," she said. "We
were working on it less than two weeks before Sept. 11."
She and many of the men and women who lost partners have organized a support
group since Sept. 11.
"We're heart-broken over the loss of our loved ones and over the loss of our
future families," said Aita.
New York, California and Vermont are among the states that allow homosexual
partners to claim some rights, such as funeral arrangements or hospital
visits when their partners are dying, but those rights do not always extend
to death benefits.
Illinois does not recognize same-sex partners as being married. Therefore,
if a homosexual dies without a will and has no children or spouse, his or
her assets would be divided between parents and siblings.
Charity fund drives organized to help survivors and families of victims of
Sept. 11 are avoiding the controversy by including unmarried partners. But
that money--not quite $1 billion from the Red Cross, for example--is slight
compared to the federal program.
The federal fund was created by Congress after the attacks as a way to avoid
lawsuits against the airlines.
Robert Clifford, a Chicago lawyer who has been advising Feinberg on the law
in relation to the fund, said non-married partners have been part of the
discussions in shaping the rules for disbursing funds.
From the beginning, Feinberg "felt strongly" that unmarried partners should
be included in the claimant pool, Clifford said. "That, of course, is at
odds with the law in the majority of states. . . . But the Victims
Compensation Fund is unique."
Sunday, March 3, 2002
Why ruin your divorce with more conflicts?
A story published today by the Chicago Tribune reports that divorce
happens to more than 50 percent of marriages in the United States. But the
question is: Must divorce be adversarial?
A Web site called www.betterdivorce.com promotes the notion that divorces
don't have to be a monumental adversarial battle. The goal of the web site
is to tell people there are ways for people to resolve conflicts and make
And the benefits of conscious efforts to alleviate as much confrontation
as possible are many, including children who do not become entangled in the
problems created by divorcing parents.
Betterdivorce.com believes that too often family law fosters an
adversarial approach. It suggests that divorce statistics show "that
conflict during divorce leads to more conflict after divorce."
Some suggestions for creating a better divorce include having both
spouses establish a parenting plan. Consult a professional divorce mediator
or mediation-oriented lawyer. Use terminology that isn't hostile. Instead of
child custody, visitation and child support, think in terms of parenting
time and parenting responsibilities.
Saturday, March 2, 2002
Welfare reform getting mixed
reviews from religious groups
A story released today by the Religion News
Service reports that the Bush welfare proposal is drawing mixed reactions
from religious groups, with some saying more should be done to help the
working poor and others saying it is headed in the right direction.
Overall, the 37-page plan, "Working Toward
Independence," makes a commitment of about $22 billion per year to welfare
payments, job training and child care through federal programs.
One of the key programs, Temporary Assistance
to Needy Families, or TANF, must be reauthorized by Congress this year in
order for it to continue. Bush recommends funding the program at $16.6
billion annually for fiscal years 2003-2007, maintaining the current level
The president, however, urged that the
continuation of welfare reform should include new initiatives, including
increased efforts to promote marriage and abstinence and greater emphasis on
moving more people from welfare to work.
Brenda Girton-Mitchell, associate general
secretary for public policy for the National Council of Churches, said more
should be done to address "the greater number of people who are experiencing
poverty since 1996," the year path breaking welfare reform legislation was
passed by Congress.
"We are hoping we can lead the Congress and
the president to a view that the goal of TANF would be to lift people out of
poverty," she said.
The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for
governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, praised
the changes the president is proposing in welfare reform, especially his
proposal to spend millions on promoting "healthy marriages" and abstinence
education. Bush hopes such efforts will reduce the number of poor children
by increasing the number of two-parent families.
The proposal includes up to $200 million in
federal money -- $100 million of which must be matched by state dollars --
to develop faith-based and secular projects that help encourage people to
get or stay married. He also has proposed $135 million for abstinence
"President Bush clearly has the well-being of
America's youth at heart, and we applaud him for reaffirming his
administration's commitment to abstinence education," Ken Connor, president
of the Family Research Council, said in a statement.
Girton-Mitchell didn't criticize the emphasis
on marriage but said the children of the working poor need to be the primary
"We can't neglect the ultimate impact on
children regardless of what the new rules are," she said. "Every family is a
family. We have to respect those differences."
Bush has proposed "transforming welfare" by
requiring every state to have 70 percent of its welfare recipients at work
within five years. He also hopes to help states have more flexibility in how
they spend welfare money.
March 1, 2002
Oklahoma tries to keep couples
from breaking up
released today by the Associated Press reports that Oklahoma is one of only
five states using federal welfare money to try to keep couples together. And
Oklahoma's program is by far the largest.
workshops, which the state started a couple of months ago are free and open
to anyone. It is primarily aimed to what some might consider a surprising
problem in the Bible Belt state: Oklahoma has the second-highest divorce
rate in the nation, behind Arkansas.
leaders hope that by reducing broken homes and single-parent households,
they can solve a host of other social problems.
aside $10 million in federal welfare money to pay for the program.
Keating said it is a good use of the federal money, especially with Oklahoma
is facing a $350 million budget deficit this year.
"We have a
lot of dysfunctional families. We have violence and drug abuse and
out-of-wedlock births. If we could focus on holding families together,
encouraging them not to divorce, then we would spend less taxpayer money on
these problems," he said. "That's one of the reasons why we're poor."
6.7 divorces per 1,000 residents per year, compared with a national rate of
4.6, according to a 1994 government study cited by the Oklahoma Marriage
Initiative. Among the reasons given for the high divorce rate: Oklahomans
are poor and marry young -- factors that can exert stresses on a marriage.
ranks 43rd in per capita income, at $23,517 in 2000. And people in the Bible
Belt are said to marry younger because they are more religious and feel
compelled to wed before having sex.
marriage-skills workshops are planned around the state in the coming year.
critics have questioned some of the expenditures, such as $3,800 paid to
consultants to arrange a media photo opportunity during which pastors signed
a pledge to work harder to stop divorce. And lawmakers recently rejected a
bill backed by the governor that would have given couples the option of
entering into so-called covenant marriages, requiring them to stay together
except in cases of abuse, adultery or abandonment.
Hendrick, state welfare director and head of the marriage initiative, said
there is a limit to what the state can or should do to keep families
change, but we're not interested in promoting an unsafe marriage or a
domestic violent environment," he said. "There are situations where people
need to get out, but the research indicates that is a small minority of the
divorces that are occurring."
E-divorce: A new route for quickie
A story released today by the WorldNetDaily.com reports that a new online divorce site
that is blossoming in America's most populous states is giving couples contemplating
dissolution a new avenue to speed up the process.
CompleteCase.com, a Seattle-based website allows couples looking to break up to simply
log on, fill in the blanks and put a quick and relatively simple end to their marriage.
"Response has been overwhelmingly good," said Randy Finney, founder of
CompleteCase. "I expected more controversy than we've had."
Launched less than a year ago to service Washington state and California, the site has
experienced considerable growth, now operating in Florida and bringing its quick split
service to New Yorkers today and Texans later this month. Finney hopes to be operating in
10 to 15 states before long.
CompleteCase.com bills itself as "the country's first automated online divorce
procedure website providing streamlined and foolproof access to the family law system at
substantially lower costs."
By "lower costs," Finney refers to the $249 price for the service, compared
to the $3,000 to $4,000 dollars he estimates could be spent on attorneys in a courtroom
Couples can use the service to break their marriage contract without ever appearing
before a judge in many cases. They simply mail in signed forms. The site is not geared for
all spouses looking to call it quits, just those with an amicable or uncontested breakup.
"You'll end up seeing people getting divorced who shouldn't be," said Wendy
Wright, a senior policy director for Concerned Women for America. "A lot of hoops [to
jump through] would weed out those who could make their marriages work."
While the page makes it technically easier for people to dissolve their bond, Wright
blasts it for appealing to those thinking about divorce.
"It will fool them make them think that it's easy," she said.
"Divorce is not easy emotionally, and the damage to kids involved is
Finney says he expected more opposition from the legal community since the debut of
CompleteCase last May, but he's received some positive feedback regarding the reduction of
overcrowding in the court system.
He also says he's been praised by people who previously had gone through nasty
courtroom breakups, lauding him for the ease with which their most recent division went.
Kansas lawmakers rejects
restrictions to divorce
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the State Senate of Kansas
rejected a bill Thursday that would have made it more difficult for some couples to
divorce. The vote was 15-25.
Under the proposed bill, the state would permit no-fault divorce only for couples
without dependent children living at home. No-fault divorce allows couples to end a
marriage without one spouse having to allege wrongdoing by the other.
"I don't believe this Legislature can engineer social relationships," said
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood.
State law 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 both spouses agree to the divorce.
Under the bill, couples without dependent children from the marriage who are living at
home could still get what amounts to a no-fault divorce if both were in agreement.
But if there were dependent children from the marriage, or if one spouse objected to
the divorce, then the spouse seeking to end the marriage would have to allege one of nine
grounds -- as was the case before no-fault divorce was adopted three decades ago.
Critics also suggested the bill would be costly.
The state's Office of Judicial Administration estimates that if the bill were enacted,
70 percent of divorce cases would be contested. The office said the state would need to
hire another 29 judges and spend $5.7 million a year.
"This is really a lawyers' welfare bill," said Sen. Greta Goodwin,