Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More puzzle pieces

Received 5 pages of documents from Lutheran Social Service. A summary:

• Bio-Mom was 22. 5'7", 150, brown hair, brown eyes. She mentioned "slightly oily skin, some acne problems."
• She was the 4th of 5 kids, and also the shortest: the others range from 5'10" to 6'6". She had an older brother who was also an electrical engineer.
• She was from a blue-collar family. Bio-Maternal-Grandpa was a factory worker until his heart attack, Bio-Maternal-Grandma worked at a department store. Bio-Mom worked there with her in high school.
• She was descended from Germans on her dad's side and Irish on her mom's. No mention of Czechs or Hungarians, whom I had expected to see.
• She smoked marijuana once but "didn't enjoy it." No word on whether she inhaled.
• The information sheet for Bio-Dad is in a different handwriting than Bio-Mom's, so presumably he managed to visit LSS on his own (weighing against the "rape baby" possibility). His information is sketchier.
• Bio-Dad was 6'2" and working as a stagehand at age 23.
• He had a half-sister who was in 9th grade. He listed no information on the father's side of his family.
• His mom was a teacher: two uncles and his grandfather were M.D.s.
• Bio-Mom provided the following handwritten statement:

I will graduate in 1½ years. My major is electrical engineering. [University of Iowa, Class of 1983?] I am very interested in satellite communications and I would like to get a job in electronics dealing in satellites, or other space programs, such as the space shuttle. [I remember when I was in kindergarten and I kept asking Mrs. Church to show me the new pictures from Voyager 2] History & government & english classes were not interesting to me. [Apple fell pretty far from the tree here.] I enjoyed art class, but found out young I was not talented as for art drawing. I did take violin lessons for a few years and my teacher said I had potential. My little brother is very talented. He plays the upright bass & the bass guitar. I enjoy outdoor activities – camping, canoeing, swimming (though I'm not a good swimmer). I have a very nice bike and I really enjoy riding it. I want my baby to grow up in a fair sized town – like Davenport, but not Davenport. [“not” is triple underlined] I want my baby to be raised a Roman Catholic. My first preference is that the adoptive parents be a couple that will be leaving the state of Iowa. If this can't be arranged, I'd like my baby placed in the northern part of Iowa, as I have a lot of relatives in the Southern and South Central part of Iowa. [Not sure what she was going for here - afraid someone might recognize me?]

I enjoy music – folk, rock, jazz, classical. I was in chorus in high school and was in the alto section. My child may be musically inclined, [hey, she said I might be "inclined," she didn't say I'd be any good!] please encourage these talents, but if she/he is like me, she/he will also enjoy the logic of math. I also enjoy horseback riding & someday hope to have a horse of my own.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Big Deal

"Have you ever thought about finding your birth parents?"

I've heard this question a zillion times, generally as soon as someone finds out I'm adopted. So I really should've expected my doctor to ask it when I told him I didn't have a medical history.

"Kinda sorta."
"Well, it's tough for me to give you a general bill of health unless I know what I'm looking for."
"Yeah, you know, every year, we find out more diseases have a genetic link to them, so a medical history can be very helpful."
"So you're saying I should start looking?"
"If I were you, I would."

I'd always been on the fence about this issue. Normally I love to learn new things, but in this case, knowledge comes with risk. What if my parents are dead? What if they're meth dealers? What if they'll try to sell me on Amway? What if they won't be proud of me? What if I'm the result of a rape? And, as Professor Anderson always said, risk aversion is the true sign of a lawyer.

But with a doctor's suggestion, I figured it might be time for me to sign up for Iowa's voluntary Adoption Reunion Registry. My mom is starting to send me the information she knows, and it turns out she knows more than I'd thought she'd known.

Birth-Mom was a student at the University of Iowa, majoring in electrical engineering (women engineers in 1981!). There would've been a whole generation gap between her and my mom. My parents listened to the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary; Birth-Mom would've listened to The Police and Van Halen.

Birth-Mom specifically requested a Catholic family. That answers one of the big questions I'd always asked myself - considering that Iowa City has had an abortion clinic in town since the 70s, why did Birth-Mom stick it out for nine months at virtually no benefit to her?

Nothing is known of Birth-Dad, so it could have been a one-night stand… or worse.

Birth-Grandpa would be 84 if he's alive, but he'd already had a severe heart attack by the time I was born. Now I'm going to have to feel guilty every time I eat mozzarella sticks.

More remains to be found, assuming Birth-Mom signed up for the registry herself. Did she change her major? Did she graduate? Is she still Catholic? Does she still live in Iowa? Is she of Eastern European ancestry, as I've always suspected? Do I have brothers and sisters?

Would she be proud of me?

Stay tuned…

Friday, July 2, 2010

About time, New York!

New York has finally joined the 21st century and passed a no-fault divorce law.

Quick historical review - in the olden days, in order to get a divorce, one spouse had to go to the court and prove that the other spouse was at fault for ruining the marriage on one of a number of specific grounds. (In Idaho, those grounds included adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion, neglect, and drunkenness.) Note that I said one spouse had to prove the grounds for divorce. If both spouses proved grounds for divorce - wife proves husband is a drunk, husband proves wife cheated - then they had to stay married!

So wife really wants a divorce, but none of those things has happened, so she goes ahead and arrange for husband to cheat on her. That'll work, right? Nope, that's collusion and/or condonation, so they have to stay married.

Since the 1970s, every state has decided this was a ridiculous process, and allowed no-fault divorce, where the spouses just have to prove that they don't want to be married any more. Every state except New York..

Most of the opposition to this law comes from the usual religious sources, but then there was this quote:

“Attorneys who line the wallets of elected officials will benefit legislatively and gain new clients from this heinous law,” said Marcia Pappas, president of the National Organization for Women’s New York chapter.

Pappas called out female legislators “who danced in the aisle as they threw women and children under the bus.”


In a short editorial, Pappas explains why she is campaigning vigorously against the meteor that is about to wipe out the legislative dinosaur of fault-only divorce.

Under “divorce on demand” legislation sponsored by Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, either party can go into court, say the marriage has broken down, and get a divorce — no grounds are necessary. Approximately 95 percent of divorce cases in New York are resolved by the parties themselves, not by the judge, without going to court. This is the best possible process.

This happens in no-fault states, too. The vast majority of my cases settle out of court.

No-fault takes away any bargaining leverage the non-moneyed spouse has. Currently she can say, “If you want a divorce I’ll agree, but you have to work out a fair agreement.”

Fault-based divorce takes away any leverage an abused woman has. Currently she can say, "I'm leaving you," and her abuser can say, "You can't divorce me." Yes, she could prove up extreme cruelty, but that requires gathering a lot of evidence and using a lot of an attorney's time, making it quite expensive. Battered women generally don't have the money to do this.

Or, hypothetical #2, she says "If you want a divorce I'll agree, but you have to work out a fair agreement." Husband responds by saying, "Here's our fair agreement: you give me exactly what I want, or I'll do this," as he punches her in the eye. She reaches for her phone, but he pulls it away and breaks it over his knee. Then he grabs her by the hair, throws her to the floor, and strangles her until she passes out. Clearly wife could've used a third party, such as a lawyer, to help keep her safe during these "negotiations."

In fact, elsewhere in the same set of editorials, a Penn researcher notes that states that adopted no-fault divorce saw a 30% decrease in domestic violence, plus a drop in the suicide rate for women. One would think that the National Organization for Women would be in favor of reduced rates of domestic violence and female suicides, but whatever.

That is not “blackmail” as has been claimed by some no-fault proponents. Negotiating the terms of the breakup of a partnership is the way partnerships are dissolved in the business world. Women should have the same protection.

Partnerships in the business world don't have to prove that one of the partners is at fault for ruining the business. Why not? Because it would cost them a lot of time and money to prove this, and because it would make the partnership dissolution process more bitter.

In fairness, any partner to a marriage should be provided with notice that the other partner wants a divorce and given an opportunity to negotiate the terms for the divorce.

In the no-fault world, to initiate a divorce, the plaintiff has to give the defendant a copy of a summons that tells the defendant she's being sued, and a copy of the complaint that explains what she's being sued for. Then the defendant gives the plaintiff a copy of an answer and counterclaim, explaining what she wants out of the divorce. The parties are then free to negotiate right up until the date of the trial.

I've seen a number of divorce decrees negotiated by parties alone, with no lawyers involved. They frequently leave out assets or debts that they forgot they had (or that one spouse deliberately concealed from the other), or produce totally unworkable and/or unenforceable custody schedules. Sure, a no-lawyer divorce can work if you don't have kids, a house, a business, or a pension, but everyone else probably ought to see a lawyer.

Here in flyover country*, the parties are almost always ordered to see a mediator, who sits down with the parties and helps them negotiate divorce agreements. We have some mediators here who are absolute miracle workers, defusing conflicts and helping the parties come up with solutions they wouldn't have thought of on their own. I see no reason why New York, a state with about 12 times the population of Idaho, wouldn't have a number of qualified mediators available to assist in negotiations.

With “divorce on demand,” not only can the more-moneyed spouse begin hiding assets (which happens even under our current laws), but this spouse can proceed quickly with legal actions before the other spouse, with limited means, even has the time to find and hire an attorney.

Sure, the richer spouse can get a lawyer faster. But in the fault-only world, the richer spouse still has the advantage. The spouse with money can stop making payments on the other spouse's bills, or hide assets (as the author has acknowledged). Furthermore, if the parties are expected to negotiate without the benefit of a court, they won't be able to conduct discovery, the method lawyers use to find out things they don't know about. I've had plenty of clients who never had access to family finances and didn't know how much money was available to them until the case started and we started getting bank records, tax returns, credit applications, and so forth.

We must look at the socioeconomic standing of women in our society. Women clearly continue to be the non- or lesser moneyed spouse, as women continue to give up careers and financial independence for the role of housewife and mother. For this reason alone we must look closely at how divorce affects the lives of women and children and the role that the state should play to ensure that homemakers and children not be left destitute after divorce.

So the author has just said that the wife and the husband are in unequal socioeconomic positions, and yet the author expects the poorer wife, who may have little knowledge of the family's assets and debts, to be able to negotiate, by herself, on the same grounds as a richer, more financially involved, and probably physically stronger husband. No wonder the legislature wasn't persuaded.

*seriously, we try to tell people that Idaho isn't totally backwards and then they come out with a lottery game based on "Cheers"