October 31, 2009
October 30, 2009
Obesity as a Basis for Losing Custody
A recent case out of the U.K. has brought renewed attention to the issue of whether morbid obesity in children is a sign of abuse and neglect, such that the parents of those children should lose custody.
The latest case to make headlines concerns a Scottish couple who lost custody of two of their six children on the basis of what was, their lawyer claims, a failure to reduce the kids' weight following warnings from Scottish social services. The couple lost their Oct. 14 appeal in a case that is far from clear-cut — representatives of Dundee City say they would never remove children "just because of a weight issue." But obesity appears to be the primary reason South Carolina mom Jerri Gray lost custody of her 14-year-old, 555-lb. son in May. She was arrested after missing a court date to examine whether she should retain custody after doctors had expressed concern about her son's weight to social services. The boy is currently living with his aunt, and his mother is facing criminal child-neglect charges.
Several other cases in recent years — in California, New Mexico, Texas and New York, as well as Canada — have garnered attention because a child's obesity resulted in loss of custody. "It's happening more than the public is aware of, but because these cases are usually kept quiet [as a result of child-privacy laws], we have no record," says Dr. Matt Capehorn, who sits on the board of the U.K.'s National Obesity Forum. The issue of whether parents should lose custody of their obese children took center stage two years ago with a British television documentary about Connor McCreaddie, an 8-year-old who weighed more than 200 lbs. and was at risk of being taken from his mother by authorities. She eventually weaned him off processed foods and retained custody.
Read the Time story here.
Suicide Tourism Under Threat in Switzerland
TimesOnline reports that two draft Bills will be offered for public debate in Switzerland to tighten regulation of euthanasia clinics in Switzerland. Dignitas and Exit, two of the most prominent Swiss euthanasia clinics spurring Europeans to engage in suicide tourism, will have to adhere to the new regulations or shut down operations. Quite a bit of European media coverage has focused on these clinics, highlighting the grotesque apsects of the business of euthanasia, including a 70-hour suicide gone awry.
October 29, 2009
New Issue of Family Law Quarterly Addresses International Enforcement of Child Support
Volume 43, number 1 of the Family Law Quarterly contains an article summarizing the 2008 suggested amendments to UIFSA (the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act), as well as a number of articles about international child support enforcement. To look at the articles, go to
ABA Family Law Section to Offer the Trial Advocay Institute in May 2010
For some time the ABA Family Law Section has offered a Trial Advocacy Institute for lawyers with some experince who want to become better trial lawyers. During this intensive week-long experience students are tutored by some of the best family lawyers in the U.S. This year it will be held at the University of Denver Law School May 22-29. For more information, go to
Are the Dodgers Community Property?
We'll find out soon enough. With the filing of a petition for divorce on Tuesday, Jamie and Frank McCourt have begun what seems likely to become a long and bitter divorce battle. Among the issues raised in the petition for divorce is ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Frank claims he is the sole owner of the team. Jamie claims the team is community property. A 2004 marital property agreement executed just after the Dodgers purchase indicates that the team may be Frank's separate property. No doubt the enforceability of that agreement will be questioned, and there are reports that Frank himself did not believe the agreement made him sole owner of the team. Read early news coverage of the case here and here.
New Frontiers: Scientists Make Sperm and Eggs from Stem Cells
Yesterday's online edition of Nature revealed that researchers
at Stanford have determined the genes that coax human embryonic stem cells into
becoming cells that form eggs and sperms.
As a Reuters article explains, researcher Dr. Kehkooi Kee was able to pinpoint germ cells
(cells that differentiate into either eggs or sperm in the human body) that developed from embryonic stem cells by adding a gene that fluoresced green when germ cells were active.
Once the green fluoresced, indicating the formation of a germ cell,
researchers began silencing and overexpressing genes to determine which ones
were most involved in the transformation of stem cells to immature germ cells. Among the most important genes in this
transformation turned out to be DAZ, DAZL and BOULE. Researchers may redo the process not with
human embryo cells, but with a sliver of human skin. This discovery has major implications for the
definition of the family and the treatment of infertile couples, especially
those who cannot produce their own viable sperm and eggs. In theory, this technique would allow people
to make babies without contributing their actual eggs or sperm. Science, once again, provocatively presents new
issues in family law, public policy, and ethics.
October 28, 2009
Australia Passes New Legislation affecting De Facto Couples
Australia has now joined New Zealand by passing legislation treating certain de facto couples like married couples when the relationship breaks down. Like the New Zealand legislation, the Australian law (which become effective March 1 2009) directs courts to consider a number of factors to detmine whether the couple is a "de facto couple." Articles describing this new law can be found in Volume 23, number 2 of the Australian Journal of Family Law (August 2009).
Study: Childhood Cancer Survivors Less Likely to Marry
A recent study suggests that childhood cancer survivors are 20%
to 25% less likely to marry compared with their siblings and the general American
population. It is suspected that some of
the lingering effects of radiation—such as issues with thinking and memory,
growth and physical functioning—seemed to cause these lower marriage rates
among cancer survivors. Lead researcher
Kadan-Lottick stated, “While it can be debated whether marriage is a desirable
outcome, marriage is generally an expected developmental goal in our society to
the extent that most U.S.
Gay Marriage Accepted in Norway
As of January 1, 2009 gay couples have had the right to marry in Norway. Another change in the law accepted at the same time was an amendment to the Biotechnology Act to give cohabiting or married lesbians access to assisted reproductive technology. The biological mother's partner will be granted co-mother status if she consents to the fertilization of her partner. More information can be obtained at
October 27, 2009
Racial Bias in Adoption
This story describes the work of one advocacy group to call attention to racial bias plaguing the domestic adoption system. Focusing on Texas, the article notes that:
Black and Hispanic children account for more than two-thirds of all Texas youngsters waiting for adoption, according to Family and Protective Services figures.
Half of the 174 children waiting for adoption in Lubbock County last year were Hispanic, even though the county's Hispanic population is 30 percent.
Statewide, a white child waits 28.7 months to be adopted while an African-American youngster waits 31.7 months and a Hispanic child 29.2 months.
Those figures don't surprise Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit group in Alexandria, Va.
"Let's face it, the adoption process reflects the racial prejudices and biases in our society," Wexler said. "An African-American or a Hispanic child is more likely to be taken away from his or her parents than a white child. And when a white child is up for adoption he or she will find a home sooner than an African-American or a Hispanic child."
Those numbers are not all that surprising, and I'd be willing to bet they're quite similar nationwide. What was more interesting to me is the claim that "social workers remove disproportionate numbers of non-white youngsters from families suspected of abuse or neglect, according to state records." No Texas data supporting that claim was given. And of course, it is difficult to judge how meaningful those numbers are given the non-homogeneous nature of abuse and neglect allegations. Still, I do wonder whether the data nationally is consistent. Looking at the numbers (percentages) alone, is it true in all states that non-white families are more likely to have their children removed after an abuse or neglect investigation than are their white counterparts?
Octomom's Fertility Doctor Expelled from a Medical Society
While the legal profession continues pondering the appropriate limits of fertility treatment, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has recently expelled Dr. Michael Kamrava—the doctor who implanted 6 embryos (2 of which split in utero) last year in 33-year-old Nadya Suleman, mother of octuplets. Although the society’s membership is voluntary and therefore does not impact Dr. Kamrava’s ability to practice medicine, the Society stated that Dr. Kamrava exhibited “a pattern of behavior that violated the group’s standards.” The Society’s guidelines recommend no more than 2 embryos for women under 35 and no more than 5 embryos for women over 40. Nadya Suleman already had 6 children when she became pregnant with octuplets following Dr. Kamrava's fertility treatment.
October 26, 2009
Ryznar and Stępień-Sporek: "To Have and to Hold, for Richer or Richer: Premarital Agreements in the Comparative Context"
Margaret Ryznar (yours truly, in the interest of disclosure) and Anna Stępień-Sporek (University of Gdańsk) have posted To Have and to Hold, for Richer or Richer: Premarital Agreements in the Comparative Context, 13 Chapman Law Review__(2010), on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
premarital agreement, perhaps one of the world’s most unromantic
documents, also happens to be quite powerful and complex. Although its
most highly-publicized use has been to control post-divorce property
division, the premarital agreement’s most significant importance is in
its power to circumvent the statutory defaults governing spouses’
rights and responsibilities not only during divorce or death, but also
during marriage. However, the enforceability of premarital agreements
is subject to procedural and substantive review in the United States.
Such agreements also raise universal public policy issues with regard
to the meaning of fairness and the limits on freedom of contract. To
further understand and address these issues, this Article considers
premarital agreements in the comparative context, analyzing the
approach of the United States, as well as that of France, Germany,
Switzerland, and Poland. The resulting lessons implicate the freedom of
contract, the potential characteristics of the regulatory framework
surrounding premarital agreements, and the popularity of such
agreements among prospective spouses.
Fun for your Monday morning - Will California Soon Ban Divorce?
The Los Angeles Times reports on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban divorce.
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen today authorized the backer of an initiative that would ban divorce to begin collecting signatures to put the proposed constitutional amendment before voters.
John Marcotte now has until March 22, 2010, to collect 694,354 signatures of registered voters in order to get the measure on the ballot next year. The proposal would change the California Constitution to "eliminate the ability of married couples to get divorced in California."
Couples could still get their marriages annulled under the proposal.