Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Russians and Prenups

Some interesting observations from the Moscow Times about the societal view of prenuptial agreements in Russia:

According to official state data, of the nearly 1.2 million Russian couples who registered marriages in 2009, only about 25,000 — or about 2 percent — sealed contracts stipulating the terms of a divorce.

And that's with roughly 58 percent of the country's marriages eventually falling apart.

In the United States, most estimates show that about 4 percent of couples now sign a prenuptial contract, although the divorce rate there is about 43 percent.

The contracts run afoul of Russia's more traditional approach to marriage, experts said. Few can bring themselves to strike a bargain over affairs of the heart.

The country's legal system only introduced the concept of a prenuptial agreement — or marriage contract, as its known in Russian — in 1996, said Alexander Latseiko, a spokesman for the Federal Notary Chamber.

In the Soviet era, there was little need for prenuptial agreements because most people had very little property to contest in a divorce, Tesler said.

But now, with a growing number of affluent Russians, more couples are deciding to settle a question that they hope will never arise.

In the last five years, the number of new marriage contracts has quadrupled from about 5,000 in 2005 to 25,000 in 2009, Latseiko said.

He said no social or age group was prevalent among those who turn to a lawyer before exchanging vows.

"Marriage contracts are the evidence of the country's prosperity," Tesler said.

Legislation on the contracts remains imperfect, however, as it only covers property rights, said Olesya Yermolenko, a lawyer at the Moscow firm Annexus. In the United States and Europe, similar laws also spell out household chores, alimony and the rights to children.

The idea is gradually taking hold, as a 2008 survey by Levada indicated. Of the 1,000 urbanites polled in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk, 59 percent approved of splitting property in a marriage contract. Only 13 percent disapproved of it, while 15 percent admitted to not understanding property issues. Thirteen percent were undecided.

Read the full story here.


June 12, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Obesity's Complications on Childbearing

The New York Times highlights the growing problem obesity poses for childbearing:

As Americans have grown fatter over the last generation, inviting more heart disease, diabetes and premature deaths, all that extra weight has also become a burden in the maternity ward, where babies take their first breath of life.

About one in five women are obese when they become pregnant, meaning they have a body mass index of at least 30, as would a 5-foot-5 woman weighing 180 pounds, according to researchers with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And medical evidence suggests that obesity might be contributing to record-high rates of Caesarean sections and leading to more birth defects and deaths for mothers and babies.

Hospitals, especially in poor neighborhoods, have been forced to adjust. They are buying longer surgical instruments, more sophisticated fetal testing machines and bigger beds. They are holding sensitivity training for staff members and counseling women about losing weight, or even having bariatric surgery, before they become pregnant.

Studies have shown that babies born to obese women are nearly three times as likely to die within the first month of birth than women of normal weight, and that obese women are almost twice as likely to have a stillbirth.

About two out of three maternal deaths in New York State from 2003 to 2005 were associated with maternal obesity, according to the state-sponsored Safe Motherhood Initiative, which is analyzing more recent data.

Obese women are also more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, anesthesia complications, hemorrhage, blood clots and strokes during pregnancy and childbirth, data shows.

The problem has become so acute that five New York City hospitals — Beth Israel Medical Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, Maimonides in Brooklyn and Montefiore Medical Center and Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in the Bronx — have formed a consortium to figure out how to handle it. They are supported by their malpractice insurer and the United Hospital Fund, a research group.

One possibility is to create specialized centers for obese women. The centers would counsel them on nutrition and weight loss, and would be staffed to provide emergency Caesarean sections and intensive care for newborns, said Dr. Adam P. Buckley, an obstetrician and patient safety expert at Beth Israel Hospital North who is leading the group.

Very obese women, or those with a B.M.I. of 35 or higher, are three to four times as likely to deliver their first baby by Caesarean section as first-time mothers of normal weight, according to a study by the Consortium on Safe Labor of the National Institutes of Health.

While doctors are often on the defensive about whether Caesarean sections, which carry all the risks of surgery, are justified, Dr. Howard L. Minkoff, the chairman of obstetrics at Maimonides, said doctors must weigh those concerns against the potential complications from vaginal delivery in obese women. Typically, these include failing to progress in labor; diabetes in the mother, which can lead to birth complications; and difficulty monitoring fetal distress. “With obese women we are stuck between Scylla and Charybdis,” Dr. Minkoff said.

Read the full story here.


June 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Constable: "The Commodification of Intimacy: Marriage, Sex, and Reproductive Labor"

Nicole Constable (University of Pittsburgh) has posted The Commodification of Intimacy: Marriage, Sex, and Reproductive Labor, 38 Annual Review of Anthropology (2009).  Here is the abstract:

Over the past three decades, scholars have paid greater attention to the intensification and complex interconnectivity of local and global processes. Anthropological studies of cross-border marriages, migrant domestic  workers, and sex workers have burgeoned, demonstrating growing scholarly interest in how social relations have become evermore geographically dispersed, impersonal, mediated by and implicated in broader political-economic or capitalist processes. At the same time, intimate and personal relations -especially those linked to households and domestic units, the primary units associated with reproductive labor - have become more explicitly commodified, linked to commodities and to commodified global processes (i.e., bought or sold; packaged and advertised; fetishized, commercialized, or objectified; consumed; assigned values and prices) and linked in many cases to transnational mobility and migration, presenting new ethnographic challenges and opportunities. This review highlights contemporary anthropological and ethnographic studies of the transnational commodification of intimacy and intimate relations, related debates, themes, and ethnographic challenges.


June 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Surrogate Motivations - Money or Mitzvah?

Interesting piece in the Jewish Exponent on what motivates women to become surrogates:

What motivates a surrogate mother to carry a baby that is not genetically related to her through nine months of pregnancy, only to give the child up just moments after it's born?

Elly Teman, an Israeli anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been researching this question -- and other issues relating to surrogacy -- for the past decade. In her recently published Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self, Teman explores the cultural assumptions about surrogacy, debunking some along the way, as well as misunderstandings that surround the controversial process.

"There is a common belief that surrogate mothers bond with the baby they carry, and later decide to keep it," she said in a recent interview. "The truth is that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of cases end up in court. Surrogates don't bond with the babies. They bond with the women -- the women they are making into mothers."

Teman's research focused on Israel, one of the few countries where surrogacy is legal and also tightly regulated. Unlike in the United States, where surrogacy is legal only in select states, close distances between the surrogate and the intended mother in Israel meant that the women were constantly interacting.

"In the U.S., the surrogate could be in Oregon and the intended parents could be in New York, so most of the communication is done through e-mail and the phone," she said. "But in Israel, the intended mother sees the surrogate's belly growing, and she goes with her to ultrasound appointments. The Israeli version is intensified because they see each other so often."

In Israel, some of the intended mothers even started to develop symptoms of pregnancy -- rashes, bloating, weight gain -- because they were so close to the women who were carrying their genetic child.

The costs of surrogacy are prohibitive for many couples in the United States, often running upwards of $100,000, which includes the cost of in-vitro fertilization. In Israel, where IVF is covered by the state, the cost is about half.

Surrogacy has been legal in Israel since 1996; the first baby born to a surrogate mother came two years later. The bill to legalize it passed through the Knesset in record time, and as a result, Israeli law is very strict in regulating the process.

Criteria for the surrogate, as well as the intended couple, are determined by a state committee.

And the committee is strict: a woman must be married to be eligible, and she needs to have gone though at least seven failed IVF attempts or have other medical problems to prove her infertility.

"Surrogates are doing it for the money and for the mitzvah," she said. "These two don't contradict each other, and they don't take away from each other. That's sometimes hard for people to digest.

"People think that if there's money involved, then it's a business transaction, and if there is no money, then it's a mitzvah. But the surrogate gives more than money can buy."

Read the full article here.


June 10, 2010 in Alternative Reproduction | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Study on Helicopter Parents

USA Today recently had an article about helicopter parents:

They may be the only ones to whom this will be news, but "helicopter parents" — those who forever hover over and intervene in their child's life — produce children who are neurotic, dependent and more closed, a first-of-its-kind study suggests.

Read more here.


June 10, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Open Access to Adoption Records

From the Chicago Sun Times on Illinois' new open access to birth records legislation:

In a room full of adoptive parents, children and birth parents, Gov. Quinn signed a law Friday designed to let adult adoptive children finally get their birth certificates.

Birth parents who don't want to be found will have 1½ years to get their names blacked out on their children's birth certificates. But backers expect four out of five birth parents will opt to let their children find them.

The law builds on the state's 1999 birth registry, which facilitates adopted children finding birth parents who don't mind being found. But the new law takes it a step further.

"Today is no doubt the most meaningful day of my life," said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), who had already tracked down her birth mother.

Feigenholtz cried as she said, "I will be able to walk into the state's Office of Vital Records, plunk down my $15, and get a copy of my original birth certificate. On it will be the name of the woman who gave birth to me 53 years ago. To some, it may not sound like a big deal, but it is."

Feigenholtz said the law was modeled after similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire to balance the rights of adoptive children and parents. But some advocacy groups complain that Feigenholtz and other drafters compromised too much.

"It does not actually open adoption records," said Triona Guidry, whose birth mother will not let Guidry get a copy of her birth certificate. Even under the new law, the best Guidry will get is a birth certificate with her mother's name redacted. "Equal rights apply to everyone. Everyone should have the right to go into that courthouse, pay their $15 and get their birth certificate."

But stripping away all privacy rights for parents might make them less inclined to give up their children for adoption in the first place, proponents of the bill say.

A few key provisions of the law:

• Effective immediately, children and parents involved in adoptions that took place before 1946 can get birth certificates.

• For later cases, Feigenholtz and other state officials will spend the next 1½ years notifying birth parents and adoptive children that they need to contact the state and declare whether or not they wish to be found. Notices will go out on Illinois' residents' vehicle renewal stickers and other state documents. After Nov. 15, 2011, people involved in adoption can request birth certificates, and if the other parties involved have filed no objections, the birth certificates will be turned over.

• If a birth parent says no, an adoptive child can ask again in five years and the state will check to see whether the parent has changed her or his mind.

Read the full story here.


June 9, 2010 in Adoption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Census Divorce Statistics

From USA Today:

More than 70% of those who married since 1970 celebrated a 10th anniversary.

That statistic — one of many released Wednesday by the U.S. Census — shows that divorce itself has stabilized in recent decades, neither rising nor falling significantly. But experts say the longitudinal information also suggests divorce remains a threat throughout married life.

"People are at risk of divorce throughout their marriages. That risk probably peaks in years 5 through 10," says Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Read the rest here.


June 9, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Young Couple with Toddler Learn They Are Brother and Sister

Surprising story of a young couple suing a judge and psychologist after learning they are half-siblings:

A young Irish couple with a toddler have been left devastated after reportedly finding out they are, in fact, half brother and sister.

The pair, who grew up far apart and met two years ago, told Britain's The Mail on Sunday newspaper that DNA testing last month revealed they share the same father.

The young man, who is known only as "James", was unable to find out the truth about his family background because of secrecy surrounding Irish family law.

The couple, aged in their 20s, are now planning to undertake a landmark civil case against a judge and a child psychologist who were involved in James's case.

"When we found out that we were half-brother and half-sister, we were devastated," said James, who has decided to keep his family's identity a secret for the sake of their son.

The couple say they still plan to get married and have more children, despite being shocked and pained by the news.

Their decision to marry could present them with legal battles as their relationship is seen as illegal in the eyes of the law, the newspaper reported.

The couple said their decision to remain anonymous was due to fear of ridicule and even more so to protect their son, who they believe would be stigmatised by society and picked on at school.

That they met in the first place was a remarkable coincidence.

"We grew up in separate towns about 100 miles [160 kilometres] apart," said James, of Leinster.

The couple's father, who is known as "Tom", had unknowingly fathered James in a short-term relationship before he settled down with his current family.

Once he found out about James's birth about four years later he proceeded with a legal battle to gain access to his son, The Mail on Sunday reported.

The court ruled that James should have no knowledge of his real father or have any access to him.

The couple said they hoped speaking out would help others in similar situations.

Read the full story here.


June 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

School Expulsion for Marriage

A Pakistani boy has been expelled from school for marrying at the age of 13 so that he would not share intimate details of married life with classmates.  Read the story here.


June 8, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Study Suggests Kids Raised by Lesbians Have Fewer Behavioral Issues

From CNN:

A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers.

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, followed 78 lesbian couples who conceived through sperm donations and assessed their children's well-being through a series of questionnaires and interviews.

Funding for the research came from several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association.

Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the author of the study, wrote that the "funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study."

"My personal investment is in doing reputable research," said Gartrell. "This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it."

Gartrell started the study in 1986. She recruited subjects through announcements in bookstores, lesbian events and newspapers throughout metro Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California, and Washington.

The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy or the insemination process, and additionally when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17 years old. Those children are now 18 to 23 years old.

They were interviewed four times as they matured and also completed an online questionnaire at age 17, focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships and academic progress.

To assess their well-being, Gartrell used the Child Behavior Checklist, a commonly used standard to measure children's behavioral and social problems, such as anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior and social competence.

The answers were coded into a computer and then analyzed. This data was compared with data from children of nonlesbian families.

Children from lesbian families rated higher in social, academic and total competence. They also showed lower rates in social, rule-breaking, aggressive problem behavior.

The involvement of mothers may be a contributing factor, in addition to the fact that the pregnancies were planned, Gartrell said.

The children "didn't arrive by accident," she said. "The mothers were older... they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting."

This also could have occurred because "growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment," Gartrell wrote in the study.

Some of the teenagers reported being stigmatized by peers because of their parents' sexuality. Researchers compared the figures in terms of the psychological adjustment between children who had experienced stigma versus those who did not.

"We found no differences," Gartrell said. "That leads us to asking why and how are young people managing discrimination? That will be the topic of future papers. We'll look into what the ingredients are to allow them to cope despite adversity."

Read the full CNN story here or the study itself from Pediatrics here.


June 7, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Stępień-Sporek & Ryznar: “The Legal Treatment of Cohabitation in Poland and the United States”

Anna Stępień-Sporek (University of Gdańsk School of Law) and Margaret Ryznar have posted The Legal Treatment of Cohabitation in Poland and the United States on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The increasing popularity of cohabitation, as manifested in the recent American and Polish censuses, has introduced various issues to the courts and legislatures in each country—among the most important being the protection of cohabitants after an unsuccessful cohabitation. However, neither country has recognized a comprehensive law on cohabitation, instead permitting cohabitation agreements and unjust enrichment theories to govern the termination of the cohabitation. Many issues, furthermore, are treated collaterally by the law through, for example, paternity laws. Although there are certain disadvantages to such an approach to cohabitation, these shortfalls need to be balanced against the consequences of the increased regulation of cohabitation. This Article considers these various issues, offering a comparative perspective to the discussion regarding cohabitation law.


June 7, 2010 in Scholarship, Family Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hunger Strikes and Child Support

Could they possibly be related?

A Tooele County man behind bars, is on a hunger strike, starving himself because he says he cannot get justice in the court system.

Kenyon Eastin says he's not a deadbeat Dad, just misunderstood. The judge overseeing his case will not lower his child support payments from $800 dollars a month to $525 a month. Eastin claims lowering his payments are necessary for his survival, "It's not that I don't want to pay my child support, I cannot afford what the judge has set and he says I am voluntarily unemployed." The father says he's asked several times but because he's changed his job from a financial adviser to a painter, something he claims the judge says he's over qualified for and will not adjust his payments.

Eastin says he cares about his kids. But when in court last week, when the Tooele man wouldn't give his reasoning for non-payment verbally the judge sent him to jail. Now Eastin is hoping his hunger strike gets people to listen, and lower child support payments.

Read more here.


June 6, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)