The 50% divorce myth

Everyone “knows” half of all American marriages end in divorce, and that was indeed the case in the 1970s and 1980s.  But it isn’t true today:

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot).

There are many reasons for the drop in divorce, including later marriages, birth control and the rise of so-called love marriages. These same forces have helped reduce the divorce rate in parts of Europe, too. Much of the trend has to do with changing gender roles — whom the feminist revolution helped and whom it left behind.

“Two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women,” said William Doherty, a marriage therapist and professor of family social science at University of Minnesota, “so when you’re talking about changes in divorce rates, in many ways you’re talking about changes in women’s expectations.”

[…]

The delay in marriage is part of the story, allowing people more time to understand what they want in a partner and to find one. The median age for marriage in 1890 was 26 for men and 22 for women. By the 1950s, it had dropped to 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2004, it climbed to 27 for men and 26 for women.

Perhaps surprisingly, more permissive attitudes may also play a role. The fact that most people live together before marrying means that more ill-fated relationships end in breakups instead of divorce. And the growing acceptance of single-parent families has reduced the number of shotgun marriages, which were never the most stable of unions, notes Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College and author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

The child support clawback

In several Canadian provinces (including Nova Scotia) child support payments are deducted from social assistance.  A group of single mothers in British Columbia has launched a court challenge against this policy:

The case will argue that the deduction of child support payments from income and disability assistance violates single parent’s right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights an Freedoms.

Milne said the law is unconstitutional because it conflicts with the purposes of the child support system, denies the children of parents on income or disability assistance the right to benefit from their child support, and has a disproportionately negative impact on parents with disabilities and single mothers.

“Other kinds of families are better able to earn other kinds of income and they are allowed to keep some of it before it is deducted from their income or disability assistance,” said Viveca Ellis of the Single Mothers’ Alliance of B.C. “Meanwhile, these vulnerable children have an opportunity for better lives through their child support, but they are not allowed to benefit from it and their parents experience additional financial consequences.”

I’m not aware of any court rulings on this issue, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this one. (There is a PEI Human Rights Panel decision which found that the clawback was not discriminatory, but that wasn’t a Charter case.)

His condition was updated to “alive”

1990: man mysteriously disappears without a trace.

2000: his grieving wife reluctantly has him declared legally dead, and begins collecting his pension.

2010: man reappears, claiming he had amnesia. Now he has commenced legal action to recover the pension:

…four years ago — 20 years after he disappeared — he came home. Bright said it wasn’t for a reunion.

“All he talked about was money,” she said.

Court documents show her husband filed a petition to prove he’s Winston Bright and to win back his pension, CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported.

He was not only alive but well, and teaching in San Diego with a new identity — “Kwame Seku.”

In his court filing, the “missing” man said, “I was never returned home but rather found myself in California with no recollection of how I got there or who I was.”

Seku said he suffered from amnesia, but his son A.J. said he isn’t buying it.

“You don’t just walk down the black and catch amnesia,” he said.

I’m not sure how this will play out, but by revealing he was alive all along, Mr. Bright/Seku has opened himself up to a potential claim for child support arrears:

Leslie said if Seku proves he is her husband, she’s taking him to divorce court. She said they’re still legally married and he owes her a lot — money to cover years of child support, for starters.

The end of “custody” and “access”

A survey of Canadian family lawyers shows most opposed to a presumption that children should spend close to equal time with their divorced or separated parents, but overwhelming support for changing the outdated, confrontational terms currently used to describe the “winners” and “losers” in cases involving children:

Canadian family law lawyers and judges reported that an average of 46 per cent of their cases involve some form of equal parenting time (“joint physical custody,” “shared custody” or “shared residence”), in which the children spend at least 40 per cent of their time with each parent. Further, an average of 68 per cent of their cases involve some form of shared parenting (“joint legal custody” or “joint guardianship”). Thus, this survey suggests that roughly two thirds of cases involve some form of what may be broadly viewed as shared parenting.

The respondents also reported a substantial increase in the use of roughly equal parenting time over the past five years (31 per cent said that this had increased substantially, 51 per cent increased somewhat, 17 per cent said it stayed about the same and only one per cent report reported a decrease). Equal time cases, however, are still a minority of shared parenting cases. In only 13 per cent of their cases was there a provision for limited contact with one parent, and respondents report that there is no provision for contact with a parent in only three per cent of their cases.

A clear majority of the respondents (77 per cent) did not support the enactment of a presumption of equal parenting time, as proposed in Bill C-560. However, a substantial majority of the respondents (78 per cent) support the amendment of the Divorce Act to use language other than “custody” and “access,” such as through the of phraseology as “parental responsibility,” “parenting time” or other similar concepts. Of note, the majority of respondents (55 per cent) were from BC or Alberta, where the provincial legislation has already been reformed to include presumptions of mutual parental guardianship and to use the concepts of “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time” as the basis for making post-separation parenting arrangements.

Many of the respondents explained the need to change the language of “custody” and “access” because those terms are “adversarial” and “proprietary.” One respondent commented that “custody … implies that the custodial parent has possession, or control, or ownership rights to the children, while the access parent has something substantially less.” Another observed that they “are extremely dated terms and concepts.”

However, many respondents expressed concern that enacting legislation to a presumption of equal parenting time could cause harm to children. One wrote: “some children do not function well in this type of schedule, and it would lead to substantially more litigation, in my opinion, if we had to start with that presumption.” Another stated: “presumptions have no place in the formulation of the best interests of the child … this is fact-dependent and should be based on a holistic view and the unique factual circumstances implicit with the determination.”

A Halifax couple’s adoption nightmare

After months of work and thousands of dollars spent, Adam and Pam Webber – a couple of good friends of mine – have had their worst dears confirmed:

A Halifax couple says their dreams of adopting a child have been crushed by Russian politics.

Pam and Adam Webber were in the final stages of a year-long adoption process. They thought they’d be flying to Russia this fall to bring home a toddler, but then they heard Canadian adoptions of Russian children were in limbo.

“It’s just heart wrenching and really hard to take,” said Pam.

International adoption was the end of the line for her. She and her husband tried fertility treatment and adopting from within the province with no luck.

“We wanted a family. We wanted a young family. We wanted a very involved family. I was the little girl who asked Santa for her own baby,” she said.

Adam Webber said they chose Russia because they heard the process is quicker.

“Quick being a year or two, as opposed to three or more years like a lot of places,” he said.

[…]

A Russian law banning adoptions by U.S. citizens was rushed through parliament in December and sped to President Vladimir Putin’s desk in less than 10 days in retaliation over a U.S. law calling for sanctions on Russians identified as human-rights violators.

Then, earlier this month, the country stopped adoptions to Sweden because it allows same-sex marriages.

But there was no word on Canada, so the Webbers prepared a toddler’s room and Pam quit her job so she could fly to Russia at a moment’s notice this fall.

Still, they braced for bad news. On Tuesday the Webber’s fears were confirmed by their Ontario adoption agency.

“It’s been a long couple of weeks trying to get answers and officially we found out today that Canada-Russia adoptions are suspended,” she said.

An increasingly nationalist Russia has been shutting the door on international adoptions for quite some time – first against the United States (ostensibly because of some admittedly heartbreaking cases in which adopted children were hurt or killed, but mainly as revenge) and now against other Western countries.  And this is what awaits them in their own country:

Russian authorities have ordered the arrest of two nurses they said severely beat three young children at an orphanage during a night of drinking. According to the authorities, they beat the children to get them to stop crying. One of the victims, a 7-month-old, was wrapped in a sheet and stuffed in a plastic container to muffle the cries.

The other children, a 3-year-old boy and a 10-month-old girl, were hospitalized with multiple injuries, Russia’s Investigative Committee said Thursday. The 7-month-old child was initially in a coma. Their current conditions were not immediately known.

[…]

…critics say little has been done to improve conditions at Russian orphanages or to promote adoptions domestically. More than 600,000 Russian children live outside the custody of their biological parents, many in foster homes. But about 130,000, many with physical and mental health problems, live in orphanages, where they are sometimes neglected and abused.

It was not clear how many children lived at the orphanage in the Khabarovsk region, or whether there had been a history of abuse there.

Investigators said the beatings began after several children awoke during the night and started crying. The children were not found until the next morning, when other workers arrived. Only then were they were taken to the hospital.

More at adoptanewattitude.com.

The divorced parent’s worst nightmare

A Toronto woman had sole custody of her two children, but she allowed her ex-husband to use them in a trip to Europe.  A few weeks later, she received a phone call from them – from Afghanistan:

Zaiba Zaiba has full custody of seven-year-old Mateen and four-year-old Hosna and approved for their father to take them both on a trip to Europe in June.

‘I don’t understand why the government cannot bring my children back.’
—Zaiba Zaiba, Toronto mother
Several weeks later, she unexpectedly received a call from a number in the Middle East and realized her children’s fate.

“When I saw the number I was shocked because I don’t get (many) calls from Afghanistan,” she said. “When I said ‘hello’ and recognized his voice I was in tears and I knew that he took them.”

The weeks since have been an emotional struggle, which she has spent pleading with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the RCMP, Toronto police and even her local member of Parliament for help in bringing her Canadian-born children back home.

“I don’t understand why the government cannot bring my children back,” she told CBC News in an exclusive interview.

Foreign Affairs said it’s been made aware of Zaiba’s case and is continuing to provide “consular assistance.”

But family lawyer Andrew Feldstein said Zaiba will face an uphill battle because Afghanistan is a country that has not signed on to the Hague Convention — an international agreement that, in part, protects children from abduction.

“Which means you would need a court in Afghanistan to agree that the children ought to be returned to Canada,” Feldstein said. “You’re subject to their laws because that’s where, regrettably, the children are right now.”

Here’s a list of countries which have signed the Hague Convention. If your ex is from a country which isn’t on the list, I would take a hard line against allowing him or her to remove the children from Canada.  If the other parent asks for it, say no.  If he or she commences a court application, fight it. If an order allowing their removal is issued, appeal it.

I can sympathise with a parent from outside of Canada who wants the kids to see their ancestral home and meet their extended family.  Certainly, in the absence of any safety risks to the children, access in Canada should be facilitated. But if there’s no legal way to bring the kids back from the other parent’s home country, the risk is just too great.

What I’d really like to know about the Zaiba case is how the father got the children from Europe to Afghanistan. If a person is traveling alone with children, He usually won’t be allowed through customs without documentation confirming that he’s allowed to travel with them.

Unrecommended legal strategies (I)

It’s bad enough when clients wear old jeans and hoodies to court.  This is just a little bit worse:

Heath Campbell is the leader of a pro-Nazi group called Hitler’s Order. He lives in New Jersey, and chose to name his son Adolph Hitler Campbell. Both of his children were taken away from him in 2009, and now he wants them back.

On Monday Campbell was in court fighting to get his children back. The state of New Jersey took them away saying that he was an abusive father, but Campbell thinks differently. However he may not be helping himself by wearing a Nazi uniform to court.