Thursday, December 27, 2007

Massachusetts Appellate Cases of Last Twenty Years Now Free Online

The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries blog, Massachusetts Law Updates, reported here today that the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries now provide online, for free to all, each and every Massachusetts appellate case, from 1986-1996, here at, in supplement to the effort of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which already provides all Massachusetts appellate cases from 1997 to date (also free to all) on its website here. As a result, now all of the past twenty years of Massachusetts appellate cases, both Court of Appeals and Supreme Judicial Court opinions, are easily accessible for free to all online at these two websites.

"Late last summer, we surveyed our users to find out what legal information you would find most useful online. Over 68% of you wanted Massachusetts cases from the past 20 years. Cases from 1997 to date are already available on the web from Lawyers' Weekly, so over the past five months, the seventeen Trial Court Law Libraries have worked together to prepare a group of older Mass. cases to mount on the web. We are pleased to announce the availability of all Supreme Judicial Court and Mass. Appeals Court cases from 1986-1996 at Cases are accessible by citation, case name, or through a Google custom search on the site. The collection also includes hundreds of the most-cited older Mass. cases...."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Divorced Parents Do As Well As Married Parents, Canadian Study Suggests

Thanks to this recent California Divorce and Family Law blog post for pointing me to the following LiveScience article, by Jeanna Bryner, about the results of a recent Canadian study which suggests that divorced parents may be just as good at parenting their kids as married parents are: Study: Divorced Parents Do a Good Job - By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience.

"Divorced parents do just as good a job as married couples in raising kids, a new study claims.

This new research overturns a commonly held belief that families fractured by divorced parents become inferior havens for children compared with stable homes.

'My findings that parenting practices are unrelated to divorce appear to fly in the face of accepted wisdom,' said Lisa Strohschein, a sociologist at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Some divorced couples may overcompensate for a split-up by focusing more attention on their kids, which could partially explain why divorced and married households scored similar child-caring marks.

'Some parents may overcompensate and be extra-conscientious, and there are definitely some parents who do have problems parenting afterwards,' Strohschein told LiveScience. 'But on average, parents don't change their behavior.'

Strohschein examined data collected as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NSLCY) in 1994 and 1996. The surveys followed about 5,000 Canadian children living in two-parent households as of 1994 and compared changes in parenting practices among the 200 households with subsequent divorces and those that remained intact...."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Divorce & Family Law Page, Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Search of the Kinder and Gentler Divorce: Mediation and Collaborative Divorce vs. "Traditional" Divorce

What is the best way to get a divorce? It appears there are more options these days than ever. What used to be called simply "divorce" is now being labeled "traditional divorce" as purportedly new methods of resolving divorce disputes are increasingly being promoted, through marketing efforts which are surfacing throughout the media.

Everywhere I turn, I am reading articles about what advocates tout as alternatives to "traditional divorce." Most of these articles appear to be warmed-over press releases from proponents of the purportedly new methods of divorce, including mediation (which is not really new but which has received a great deal of recent attention in the media), and that latest flavor of the month, which is known as "collaborative law" or "collaborative divorce." Mediation and collaborative law may be the right choice for some divorcing individuals, but they will definitely be the wrong choice for many others.

On December 19, the following article, by Associated Press writer David Crary, appeared everywhere, or at least in two of the many reading spaces I regularly visit, namely, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette - Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "Divorce doesn’t have to mean going to war in court; Collaborative approach or mediation replacing more costly litigation," By David Crary, Associated Press, December 19, 2007 - and This Associated Press article is a great place to start if you want to know something about collaborative law and particularly if you want to know how its champions are promoting it.

To get a more balanced perspective, however, you should also read Caryn Tamber's recent article in the Maryland legal periodical, the Maryland Daily Record, Maryland Daily Record: "Proponents love it, but traditional divorce lawyers see little use for ‘collaborative divorce’" by Caryn Tamber, which examines some of the most troubling problems, both practical and ethical, with the collaborative law method, and projects a helpful spotlight on the inflated claims and hype surrounding collaborative law.

Last week, when I first saw the AP article in the online version of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, I also did the accompanying online collaborative law poll on that website (see below). This poll had only a small sample of respondents (60 including me) at the time I did the poll to get the results you see here. Nevertheless, these results, which show far less faith in the success of collaborative law than the accompanying article does, may be closer to the truth than the article is. Of course, neither the poll nor the article is scientific, and neither provides the answer to the question of whether collaborative law will be successful in any given case.


Most people, including even "traditional" divorce litigators like me, are fond of saying it is best to resolve differences and settle divorces "out of court." Indeed, I think lawyers are the most likely to want to avoid personally ending up in a strange court, just as doctors are perhaps most likely to fear landing in a strange hospital, because lawyers and doctors are most aware of all the things that can and do go wrong in their respective arenas.

Yes, it's true that we should try to stay out of court whenever possible. But what do we mean when we say that? It's not as simple as is often imagined. Divorce is a legal process that, at least to some degree, must be handled in court. At a minimum, there must be approval by the court of the divorce agreement of the parties, after mediation or some other process, whether involving litigation or not, has led to such an agreement. Furthermore, divorce is also a process that almost always requires some form of negotiating, involving compromise and mediation of some sort, and ultimately settlement, whether it is through "traditional divorce" or "collaborative divorce" or "mediation" and whether issues are hotly contested and litigated or not.

It is the rare case on which nothing is agreed upon and everything is determined by a trial. In fact, it is the rare case, even among the hotly litigated ones, that results in any trial at all. However, most divorce cases actually do end up "in court" for at least one or two contested hearings, before final resolution of the divorce is reached by agreement of the parties.

I always ask prospective clients who have come to me if they have attempted family counseling to save their marriage, and if they have attempted mediation or other "outside of court" methods to resolve their marital disputes. Most of them say either that they have indeed already done so, and it was a waste of time and money,or that they have not done so, as it would have been a waste of time and money, or that the other party would not agree to do so.

As my law practice does not offer mediation services, but only "traditional" divorce, I am more likely to encounter people who have the more difficult problems that require some litigation of various issues in court. Most people who come to see me are indeed in that very uncomfortable, unfortunate situation - that is, they will need to attend one or more hearings in court, even though they will most likely never need a full-blown trial.

It is great when people can be mature and "divorce well," but that is not often the case. To understand why, you must simply consider that divorce for most is inherently a deeply personal, painful, and unwelcome disruption. Even "no-fault" divorce is described as an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage" to use the Massachusetts legal language, as divorce involves the severing of a most important relationship that affects all aspects of a married person's life. Consequently, there is certainly some truth to the cliché "criminal defense lawyers handle bad people on their best behavior, and divorce lawyers handle good people on their worst behavior." (I should know, as in my practice, I handle both criminal defense and family law. But I would actually amend that cliché as follows: Divorce lawyers handle all kinds of people on their worst behavior.)


And, despite what you may read to the contrary in some of the articles on this subject, it is not only the toughest cases - involving mental health issues or accusations of abuse - in which parties to divorce are unsuitable for collaborative divorce or mediation. All it takes is for one of the two parties to a divorce to be very angry, confused, or unreasonable, and you have a situation in which the so-called "kinder and gentler" means of divorce (mediation and collaborative divorce) either won't work, or will actually both not work and cost litigants more time and money than "traditional divorce" as the parties will ultimately have to use both methods, one followed by the other.

And what is so inherently expensive and necessarily vexatious about the traditional divorce process, anyway? In Massachusetts, the divorce procedure, for contested divorce, has some built-in provisions to encourage parties to resolve their disputes "out of court": there is a six-month waiting period after the filing of a contested action for divorce before one may mark the case for a pretrial conference.

Before the pretrial conference, at which a trial date is set if the case has still not been settled by that point, there must be a four-way meeting, in which both parties and their attorneys are required to sit down and try to resolve every issue in the divorce. At any point in the litigation of a contested divorce case, the parties and their attorneys may decide to have a four-way meeting even when not required, or otherwise resolve their divorce through negotiation between the attorneys, and settle the case, much as would a couple through mediation or collaborative law.

In fact, in many of my divorce cases, which are often litigated to some degree as contested cases in court, at least one party frequently chooses not to do complete discovery, or otherwise chooses not to do all that is presumed to be required in litigated cases, either out of the belief that there is full knowledge and disclosure of relevant information needed about the other party, or on account of some degree of trust of the other side regarding basic issues or information. That is so even though there may nonetheless be one or two difficult issues to resolve, and thus there remains a need for the pressure of litigation, and the uncertainties of a pending trial, to help bring the other side to the negotiating table before any trial actually takes place.

In collaborative law, the lawyers agree at the outset not to litigate, and voluntarily exchange information, rather than engage in formal discovery, all with a view toward reaching an agreement that will preclude the need for litigation in court. But many times, such cooperation and efficiency is similarly possible between parties and their attorneys in traditional divorce cases, in which a contested divorce complaint is pending in court. In my experience, a lot of these so-called traditional divorce cases end up being as cheap or cheaper than they would be if handled by lawyers formally trained in collaborative law, and are often conducted in a much similar manner, although without the built-in difficulties of formally renouncing many of the normal tools of the attorney's trade, as in collaborative law.

There are so many variables in divorces, and really, any good divorce lawyer should be able to handle divorce in a collaborative law manner, or in a hotly litigated manner, as the case may require. That is just good lawyering, in my view. I am indeed very impressed with some of those who are highly skilled in mediation and collaborative law, as the more tools in an attorney's toolkit, the better. And on those occasions when my prospective clients do seem to be good prospects for mediation (but not collaborative law, which I think can be performed quite well by me or by any other good "traditional" divorce lawyer), I send them to a good divorce lawyer who practices mediation.


I would only say, at the risk of sounding self-serving, that one should avoid divorce mediators who are not lawyers. In my experience, such mediators have often misled clients in applying the law to the facts of their cases. I have had more than one case in which a psychologist acting as a mediator helped divorcing individuals to reach an agreement, only to have one of the parties discover after going to an attorney (like me) "just to check over the agreement" that the agreement had incorrectly calculated child support, or otherwise had included provisions which were really not "fair" to one of the parties, as these provisions would not have been negotiated by equally informed and equipped attorneys knowledgeable about the law and how it is applied in the courts by judges. Then the parties had to revise their agreements, or start over in their negotiations, with a competent mediator, or with two "traditional" lawyers.

Lest you assume I am self-serving to my profession in this stated preference for lawyers as mediators, I should add that I often express a bias in favor of mental health professionals over lawyers when suggesting or choosing guardians ad litem, to investigate issues of custody and parenting time, because I have found mental health professionals are more likely to be competent in that particular task, and for the same reason - i.e., their training has prepared them for it. Divorce is a legal process, involving the law of divorce. Divorce mediators should be lawyers.

Those who are contemplating a divorce should know that whether they ultimately decide they need a mediator, a collaborative lawyer, or a traditional lawyer, for their divorce, they should always pick a lawyer who is experienced and knowledgeable in the area of divorce law, and preferably one who has had recent experience in the family court where their divorce case will be heard, no matter how simple or complex they think their divorce may be, and even if they think their case can be handled mostly "out of court."

When so much is at stake, divorcing parties owe it to themselves and to their family to try to do their divorce right the first time. Simplistic slogans are not to be believed. All who are contemplating divorce should go alone to see a good divorce lawyer who can explain all of the options and give them a clear idea of their individual rights and obligations, and an honest assessment of their particular legal situation. Then, and only then, will they be confidently able to determine if they should use a mediator, collaborative lawyer, or traditional lawyer for their divorce.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Great Article on Recent Federal Sentencing Developments

I have recently commented on the US Supreme Court and the US Sentencing Commission's recent positive moves in the area of sentencing for crack cocaine offenders in posts last week and last month. But finally, on Wednesday, Mark Allenbaugh, an expert in the field of federal criminal sentencing, has published an article on which is a must-read for those interested in the topic: FindLaw's Writ - Allenbaugh: A Positive Development in All the Sentencing Insanity.

For information and links related to Massachusetts criminal law (not federal) see the criminal defense page of my law firm website.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Governor Patrick Issues Executive Order Creating Watchdog Child Advocate Office

Gov. Patrick is to create an Office of the Child Advocate that will track cases of child abuse and neglect, and that will oversee the Department of Social Services, Department of Youth Services, and other agencies with responsibilities relating to children. This is a good idea, especially given the problems we have had with the performance of our state agencies. Such oversight authorities have already been set up in some other states. There is justified hope that this new office may improve the competence and effectiveness of our state agencies. See today's Boston Globe article on this news by Andrea Estes: Patrick order will create watchdog child advocate office - The Boston Globe, December 20, 2007, by Andrea Estes

"Governor Deval Patrick today will create the state's first Office of the Child Advocate, a watchdog with power to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect and to monitor state agencies that provide services to children, state officials said yesterday.

The office will not have the broad powers of child advocates in some other states, who can issue subpoenas, hold public hearings, and even sue state agencies.

Nonetheless, Massachusetts child welfare advocates said it was an important move after a spate of high-profile abuse and neglect cases in recent years.

'Finally,' said MaryLou Sudders, president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. 'You need someone who can ask tough questions and has the backing of the governor. The office of child advocate is in response to a series of tragedies and legislative oversight hearings. There's no question about it.'

The state agency that handles foster care, the Department of Social Services, has come under fire for several high-profile tragedies in recent years. In 2005, 4-year-old Dontel Jeffers died at the hands of his foster mother. Haleigh Poutre was left comatose in 2005 after a beating by her adoptive mother, who was under DSS supervision. And 4-year-old Rebecca Riley of Hull died after being given an overdose of psychotropic medications in 2006 by her parents, who had been monitored by DSS...."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Page of my law firm website.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Starting to Make Sense in Sentencing Crack Offenders: Supreme Court & Sentencing Commission Do Some Good

Both the US Supreme Court and the US Sentencing Commission did some good things this week, and are helping to move our federal system a bit closer to sanity in the treatment of federal drug offenders. However, draconian mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses remain, and we will continue to spend lots of tax dollars to lock up lots of people in this country for a long time. Don't think too much has changed, but this is welcome news. Read the CNN article of yesterday, Panel says 19,500 crack inmates can seek reduced sentences - (Panel says 19,500 crack inmates can seek reduced sentences; Panel votes unanimously to make change in sentencing guidelines retroactive; Monday Supreme Court ruling allows judges to ease harsh crack sentences) for news on both developments.

My previous post on this issue can be found here. For basic information about criminal law in Massachusetts (not federal law) see the criminal defense page of my law firm website.

"WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to allow some 19,500 federal prison inmates, most of them black, to seek reductions in their crack cocaine sentences.

Advocates argue that crack-cocaine offenders are unfairly targeted under sentencing guidelines.

The commission, which sets guidelines for federal prison sentences, decided to make retroactive its recent easing of recommended sentences for crack offenses.

Roughly 3,800 inmates could be eligible for release from prison within a year after the March 3 effective date of Tuesday's decision. Federal judges will have the final say whether to reduce sentences.

The commissioners said the delay would give judges and prison officials time to deal with public safety and other issues.

U.S. District Judge William Sessions of Vermont, a commission member, said the vote on retroactivity will have the 'most dramatic impact on African-American families.' A failure to act 'may be taken by some as particularly unjust,' Sessions said before the vote.

The seven-member commission took note of objections raised by the Bush administration, but said there is no basis to treat convicts sentenced before the guideline change differently from those sentenced after the change.


In two decisions Monday, the Supreme Court upheld judges who rejected federal sentencing guidelines as too harsh and imposed more lenient prison terms, including one for crack offenses.

In the crack case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's majority opinion said Derrick Kimbrough's 15-year sentence was acceptable, although guidelines called for 19 to 22 years. 'In making that determination, the judge may consider the disparity between the guidelines' treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses,' Ginsburg said.

Kimbrough is black.

So are 86 percent of the 19,500 inmates who might see their prison terms for crack offenses reduced after the commission approved retroactive easing. By contrast, just over a quarter of those convicted of powder cocaine crimes last year were black.

The sentencing commission recently changed the guidelines to reduce the disparity in prison time for the two crimes. New guidelines took effect November 1.

'The Kimbrough decision is a tremendous victory for all who believe that the crack and powder cocaine disparity is unjust,' said Mary Price, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Kimbrough's case, though, did not present the ultimate fairness question. Congress wrote the harsher treatment for crack into a law that sets a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for trafficking in 5 grams of crack cocaine or 100 times as much powder cocaine.

Seventy percent of crack defendants get the mandatory minimum.

Kimbrough is among the remaining 30 percent who, under the guidelines, are supposed to receive even more prison time for trafficking in more than 5 grams of crack.

Neither the court's decision nor the commission's guidelines affect the minimum sentences, which only Congress can alter.

In previous years, the sentencing commission reduced penalties for crimes involving marijuana, LSD and OxyContin, which are primarily committed by whites, and made those decisions retroactive."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Joanna Grossman on Rhode Island Supreme Court's Denial of Same-Sex Divorce

For an excellent article critiquing the majority decision of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, in Chambers v. Ormiston, which ruled that a lesbian couple, married in Massachusetts, cannot get a divorce in Rhode Island's Family Court, for lack of jurisdiction, see Hofstra Law Professor Joanna Grossman's findlaw article of today, "The Rhode Island Supreme Court Denies a Divorce to a Same-Sex Couple That Was Married in Massachusetts: Why This Case Was Wrongly Decided" by Joanna Grossman.

As Grossman explains, state courts are obliged, for the purpose of considering claims for divorce, to recognize couples joined in marriage under other state's laws, even though state laws on marriage and legal restrictions and requirements for marriage differ greatly among the states. I basically agree with Grossman's points, and also question the Rhode Island Supreme Court majority's reasoning on the same basis. I think the dissenters had the better view, but read the majority and dissenting opinions and decide for yourself.

I disagree with this Rhode Island ruling, even though I also recognize problems with the reasoning of Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health et al., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision which established gay or same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. (Despite my issues with the reasoning in Goodridge, I do, however, celebrate the resulting expansion of marriage to include gay and lesbian marriage, which I think has been a good thing, for gay and straight alike.)

But whatever you may think about the Massachusetts case establishing same-sex marriage, you must realize that it is this very Massachusetts decision that has created the current conflict of laws issue, by expanding greatly the definition of "marriage" in Massachusetts in a way that has had, and will continue to have, an effect far beyond the borders of the Bay State. It remains to be seen how exactly, and to what extent, gay marriage - and divorce - will become a part of the life of the rest of the nation. This Rhode Island case hardly provides an answer to that question, or any end to such jurisdictional questions. This story is far from over.

For more on this Rhode Island case, including links to my previous posts, news articles from the Providence Journal, and to legal briefs filed in the case, see my most recent post, Rhode Island Supreme Court Decides Lesbian Couple, Married in Massachusetts, May Not Divorce in Rhode Island.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see Law Offices of Steven Ballard.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Rhode Island Supreme Court Decides Lesbian Couple, Married in Massachusetts, May Not Divorce in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has just ruled that the Rhode Island courts may not grant a divorce to a lesbian couple married as a same-sex couple in Massachusetts, but now living in Rhode Island (see below). The high court found that its state's Family Court has no jurisdiction to grant the divorce, based on the fact that Rhode Island does not itself recognize this "same-sex marriage" as a "marriage" and the couple would not have been able to marry in Rhode Island. If these two women want a divorce to be issued by a court, they may have to come back to Massachusetts, where our highest court, in 2003, established the right to marriage by same-sex partners in Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health et al. (2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Opinion).

For more information, in my previous posts on this case, see Having married in Massachusetts, may a lesbian couple now get divorced in Rhode Island? and Amici Briefs in the Rhode Island Case.

"R.I. high court rules against divorce in same-sex marriages," The Providence Journal, by Edward Fitzpatrick, December 8, 2007:

PROVIDENCE — In a 3 to 2 decision, the state Supreme Court yesterday ruled that two Providence women who married in Massachusetts cannot get divorced in Rhode Island.

The court’s majority concluded that Family Court lacks jurisdiction to grant a divorce to Margaret R. Chambers and Cassandra B. Ormiston because under the law that lets Family Court handle divorces, the word 'marriage' means just one thing: the union of a man and a woman.

"It is possible that today’s members of the General Assembly might have an understanding of the term ‘marriage’ that differs from the understanding of those legislators who enacted [that law] in 1961, but our role is to interpret what was enacted and not to speculate as to what some other not-yet-enacted statute might say or mean," Justice William P. Robinson III wrote for the majority.

"There is absolutely no reason to believe that, when the act creating the Family Court became law in 1961, the legislators understood the word marriage to refer to any state other than ‘the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex,’” Robinson wrote, citing definitions of marriage from 1961 dictionaries.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams and Justice Francis X. Flaherty joined Robinson in the majority while Justices Paul A. Suttell and Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissented.

Suttell said he and Goldberg saw no need to consult 46-year-old dictionaries to answer the legal question before the court. “A brief survey of current dictionaries reveals that the same definition of the word ‘marriage’ predominates today as it did when the Family Court Act was enacted in 1961,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, the majority, in our opinion, overlooks the one central and unassailable fact upon which the certified question is predicated,” Suttell wrote. “On May 26, 2004, Ms. Chambers and Ms. Ormiston were lawfully married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” And Family Court can grant divorces whether or not a marriage is considered legally valid in Rhode Island, he said....

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Is Raising Kids a Fool's Game? Business Week Asks

A recent article by Karyn McCormack in Business Week discussed the high cost of raising a child: Is raising kids a fool's game? - ("Is raising kids a fool's game? Parenting is fulfilling, but the financial burden can be overwhelming" Business Week, November 14, 2007). As the article points out, and as many of those who complain about high child support payments often fail to acknowledge, the actual direct costs to raise a child are very substantial. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest survey, for the year 2006, USDA Report: Expenditures on Children by Families, 2006, shows those in the top-third income bracket (gross income of $118,200 average) will spend approximately $289,380, or about $17,000 a year (in 2006 dollars) until their child is 18. That is nearly 15 percent of gross income for the extra costs for one child. The increased costs of housing, child care, education, and health care have taken an increasingly greater share of the earned income in most families over the past several decades.

And for this group of high earners, that may not be all. "Indeed, the USDA survey is probably understating the cost of raising kids," according to the article. "Considering extras like sports equipment, summer camps, private school, Disney vacations, and a full-time nanny, raising a child through age 17 could cost $1 million or more. Some parents throw extravagant birthday parties and won't hesitate to buy their kids the latest video games and cell phones and splurge on Spanish and painting lessons."

As for those below the top third, it is my suspicion (though I haven't yet looked at the recent data from the latest Agriculture Department Study myself) that those in lower income brackets spend an even greater percentage of their incomes on child-related costs than do those in the high income brackets.

Furthermore, the costs for parents, at all income levels, to raise a child do not end when the child is 18, if the child attends a college or other post-secondary institution. And of course, in addition to these direct expenses there are the hard-to-quantify "opportunity costs" of having a child: parents generally could earn more if they had no children to raise.

For some informative links regarding the costs of raising a child, including a link to a helpful "What does it cost to raise a child?" calculator, scroll down for the links in the bottom, righthand column of the child support worksheet page of my law firm website, at Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Interactive Worksheet Page.

"....The Agriculture Dept.'s latest survey found that households in the top-third income bracket (with average pretax income of $118,200) will spend $289,380 by their child's 18th birthday—or about $17,000 a year (in 2006 dollars).

Parents' largest expense is housing, which makes up roughly a third of expenditures, given that it costs more for a larger home in a town with good schools. In terms of growth, the outlays for child care and education have climbed from just 1% of overall expenses in 1960 (when the USDA started tracking these costs) to 10% in 2006.

In 1960 education costs averaged around $362 per year (out of total expenses of $25,229 for middle income families). Health care is also sucking up more of parents' hard-earned cash given that premiums and co-payments have been rising, says USDA economist Mark Fino...."

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Bush Regime: Human Rights Violator & Home Wrecker

“Families is where
our nation finds hope,
where wings take dream.”
George W. Bush, Oct. 18, 2000

Another great article by Human Rights Watch attorney Joanne Mariner appeared today, this one on the current, open question of whether our US Supreme Court will do the right thing, six years too late, for some of the unjustly imprisoned at Gitmo, in her findlaw article The Supreme Court Faces the Kangaroo Courts.

Also today, one example of our government's sad moral failure at Gitmo is chronicled in the Boston Globe opinion piece of Boston attorney Sabin Willett, who describes how the Bush administration, and our federal court system, have played the role of homewrecker in the case of one particular family man, whom our government will not release from incarceration even though our military has repeatedly admitted he is innocent. Consequently, this poor innocent man, who is concluding he will never be allowed to leave Guantanamo to return to his family, has decided to "release" his wife. 'I will never leave Guantanamo' (Op-Ed Piece in today's Boston Globe, by Sabin Willett).

Kids, the moral of this story is: It's hard to practice family values when you're violating human rights.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

When Child Support Doesn't Get to the Children - Another Way Our Children Are Being Left Behind

Today's New York Times article on child support by reporter Erik Eckholm deserves to be read in full: Mothers Skimp as States Take Child Support - New York Times (December 1, 2007 New York Times Article, By ERIK ECKHOLM)

Not often can one read such an intelligent discussion of the child support collection system. This article examines a particularly troubling current nationwide failure of our child support collection system - that is, the particular failure of our child support collection system within the lower income population of child support obligors and recipients. Sadly, our current system of collecting child support on behalf of poor custodial parents, which does not simply pass on child support to poor custodial parents but funnels collected money first back to the government to reimburse the government for public assistance benefits and collection costs, has failed miserably to do what it was originally designed to do - i.e., actually support children.

As the information in the article suggests, budget and political priorities have stood in the way of reforms desperately needed to protect those who have the weakest political voice, namely the poor, both mothers and fathers, child support recipients and obligors alike. Our child support collection system, even though increasingly effective in collecting more and more money, is about as effective in helping the poor as is "No Child Left Behind" - you know, that educational national law/policy that doesn't put its money where its mouth is, gives unfunded mandates to the states, and is more appropriately called "No Child Left Untested." But of course we are told we have more important things to do, like, for example, we have a few wars to pay for right now....Class War too, you say?

"MILWAUKEE — The collection of child support from absent fathers is failing to help many of the poorest families, in part because the government uses fathers’ payments largely to recoup welfare costs rather than passing on the money to mothers and children. Close to half the states pass along none of collected child support to families on welfare, while most others pay only $50 a month to a custodial parent, usually the mother, even though the father may be paying hundreds of dollars each month. Critics say using child support to repay welfare costs harms children instead of helping them, contradicting the national goal of strengthening families, and is a flaw in the generally lauded national campaign to increase collections.... "