2018 Va. family law legislation: Alimony, court reporter reform, abuse prevention, child support, inheritance, violence, legalized adultery?
UPDATED APRIL 10, 2018
MODIFICATION BY THE GOVERNOR
- HB 1351 Joint legal or physical child custody; custody and visitation decisions, communication to parties. Governor added: In any case or proceeding involving the custody or visitation of a child, to enable the child to apply for a state or federal benefit and upon the request of any party, the court shall make any finding of fact required by state or federal law in order for the child to receive such benefit. The existing language, which the Governor did not change, is: "The court shall consider and may award joint legal, joint physical, or sole custody, and there shall be no presumption in favor of any form of custody." The bill's original text, completely replaced as it went through both houses, was, "The consideration of "joint physical custody" means the court shall consider custody and visitation arrangements that are reasonably constructed to maximize a child's time with each parent to the greatest extent possible in the child's best interests." At least the statute still says, "The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children."
ENACTED, SIGNED BY GOVERNOR
- HB 613 Child and spousal support; access to case files.
- SB 101 Erin's Law, having schools educate children to recognize, resist and report molestation
- SB 78 Trust decanting; authorized fiduciary must be disinterested, may be appointed by court, majority of trustees may act
- HB 743 Judges; maximum number in each judicial district and circuit
- HJ 132 Judges; election in circuit court, general district court, etc. [Governor has no role in this]
- HB 754 Elective share claim; calculation of the augmented estate, role of "separate property"
- HB 1142 Qualification of fiduciary without security; asset or amount with no monetary value, tightens bonding requirement that previously allowed $25,000 minimum. [Senate passed, but with amendments -- went into Conference Committee, both houses approved Conference Committee revision]
- SB 540 Spousal support; modification when person reaches retirement age.
- HB 262 Protective orders; cases of family abuse, cellular telephone numbers or other electronic device.
- HB 746 Wills and revocable trusts; eliminating certain inconsistencies so that living trusts, like wills, can be reformed by a court to achieve their intended goals in changed circumstances.
- HB 1360 Child support; guidelines for determination of obligation, child support orders.
- HB 1361 Child support; calculation of obligation, multiple custody arrangements.
- SB 545 Court reporters; prohibited actions, civil penalties: Regulates court reporters' dealings with lawyers and litigants [CONFERENCE COMMITTEE resolved differences between versions, both houses approved conference committee substitute]
- SB 614 Spousal support; modification. -- Makes it easier to change alimony. Any new agreements setting a nonmodifiable alimony amount must say, "The amount or duration of spousal support contained in this [AGREEMENT] is not modifiable except as specifically set forth in this [AGREEMENT]."
- SB 615 Spousal support payments; employer withholding allowed.
- SB 426 Victims of domestic violence; list of local resources. [House committee approved with an amendment removing lines 578, 579, and 580; Senate approved House amendment]
KILLED (incl. passed by, stricken, tabled, continued to next year ...)
- HB 599 Child support; nonpayment, amount of arrearage paid, suspension of driver's license.
- HB 1223 Erin's Law, having schools educate children to recognize, resist and report molestation
- HB 661 Assault and battery against a family or household member; enhanced, penalty. [Passed house, passed senate with substitute, each house insisted on its own version, time ran out for Conference Committee]
- HB 411 Assisted conception; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
- HB 998 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency. [Passed House, continued to 2019 in Senate committee]
- HB 807 Custody and visitation agreements; best interests of the child, violent abuse of other family members
- HB 412 Marriage-related criminal laws; gender-neutral terms, adultery repeal, penalty.
- HB 413 Adoption; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
- HB 414 Same-sex marriage; marriage laws, gender-neutral terms.
- HB 478 Domestic violence-related misdemeanors; enhanced, penalty.
- HB 1237 Assault and battery against a family or household member; first offense, enhanced penalty.
- HB 149 Child support order payee; change in physical custody of child, orders involving DSS.
- HB 1331 Child support; review of guidelines federal compliance.
- SB 64 Custody and visitation decisions; communication to parties required in writing.
- SB 70 Custody and visitation; rights of parents with a disability.
- SB 178 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency.
- SB 596 Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.
- SB 603 Same-sex marriage; gender-neutral terms.
- SB 612 Assisted conception; parentage presumption.
- SB 727 FOIA; exemptions for courts of record, courts not of records and Office of the Executive Secretary
- SB 938 Child support; withholding of income, contracts with an independent contractor.
- HB 216 Guardians, licensed physician, etc.; annual reports to include medical examination.
- HB 383 Missing-heir search firms; void contracts.
- HB 406 Guardianship; protects communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
- HB 406 Guardianship; communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
- HB 1403 Electronic wills; requirements.
- HB 1565 Presumption of death; missing person reports.
Compiled by John Crouch, updated by John Crouch and Sarah Araman
Alabama senate votes to abolish marriage licensing, celebration requirement, but NOT to separate marriage and state
Alabama's Senate has once again passed this bill, now numbered SB 13. It does not separate marriage from government, but couples will now simply register their marriages with the courts, instead of asking the courts to license them and having to have them formally celebrated and then recorded with the court. Having the marriage celebrated will be optional and the government will not be involved with that. But the state would still keep track of who is married, to the limited extent that it already does. Marriage would still have many legal consequences, including laws on bigamy, divorce and taxes.
Currently, all U.S. states require marriage licenses. There is some disastrous misinformation out there saying that not all do, but that is based on some states recognizing common-law marriage, which is very different and can take years to establish; it is no sure substitute for licensing when you want to get married.
Legions of critics endlessly cite the logical flaws and dangers of "Identity Politics" on the left and even on the right, but as Mary Eberstadt points out, they overlook that emotionally, it's deeply authentic and heartfelt. Indeed, it has become the key to its believers' personal identities.
Now, in some ways, politics has always been about identity, but it's been based on identities that people could take for granted and don't have to prove and constantly have affirmed: first, family; then place, religion, and ethnicity. And Americans have always formed like-minded, politically-active voluntary groups, including ones based on minority race and ethnicity.
But looking for the causes of the surging rage and occasional mass hysteria that now swirls around I.P., Eberstadt notes that the normal sources of "identity" throughout history, especially family, have lost most of their power and permanence. We have far fewer people whom we consider "family" in the sense of loyalty, commonality, permanence, and identity. And you don't have to share Eberstadt's traditional Catholic views of sexual and family issues to be concerned about the breakdown of families and what rough beasts are emerging to replace them.
In a case that has gone on for years now, a couple found a sperm donor on craigslist instead of going to a sperm bank or fertility clinic. States have laws that say sperm donors won't be considered fathers, but they require several procedures, standards and safeguards, and a licensed clinic must be responsible for the procedure.
Some media coverage has perpetuated the inhumane, patriarchal, but still widespread notions that children are property to be bought and sold by contract, and that child support is a trade-off for visitation. Fox's WHTI TV 10 in Terre Haute, Indiana says in today's story on the case, "Kansas sperm donor fights back after state forces him to pay child support":
"'Angie and Jennifer are the parents,' Marotta said. The state of Kansas won’t accept that. Despite the fact that the lesbian couple and Marotta signed a contract giving up all parental rights to the child."
"According to Marotta his lawyer has only found one other case in the United States where this has happened, but in that case the sperm donor had changed his mind and requested visitation with the child. Something Marotta’s never wanted, or asked for."
The social services spokesperson quoted in the article has it exactly right:
“If an individual wants to have the protections of a sperm donor, he needs to follow the law. ... Parental rights can not be signed away without following adoption laws.
And that's exactly what those involved should have done, at least after Kansas's Supreme Court upheld a trial court decision recognizing gay co-parenthood in February of 2013. The Court's opinion in that case shows how it differs from this one:
The coparenting agreement before us cannot be construed as a prohibited sale of the children because the biological mother retains her parental duties and responsibilities. The agreement is not injurious to the public because it provides the children with the resources of two persons, rather than leaving them as the fatherless children of an artificially inseminated mother.
I am for freedom of contract and against government interference, far more than almost anyone else I know. But your freedom of contract ends where your children's fundamental rights and interests begin. Including the child's right to parents, recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.* Because of that, courts and other government agencies are in charge of investigating and approving adoptions. That authority is exercised pretty minimally in cases that are based on mutual consent, particularly where one biological parent remains a parent, but it is still crucial for the government to have a role in any change so fundamental as changing who a person's parents are. This gives the state and judges a chance to oversee the process, to verify the parents' informed consent, to step in when it looks like the adoption is not in the child's interests, and to have uniform official records confirming legal parent-child relationships.
*Relevant Parts of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:
The family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community." (CRC Preamble)
The child ... shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. (CRC Art. 7)
States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. (CRC Art. 8(1))
States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child's place of residence. (CRC Art. 9(1))
States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests. (CRC Art. 9(3))
States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. (CRC Art. 14(2))
Last month when Pope Francis held a Synod of Bishops on family and sexual issues, there were news reports of a sudden liberalization of attitudes on divorce and sexual preference. Others such as Glenn Stanton, after reading the Synod's report, assured us that "it is unspectacular, affirming a thoroughly Catholic and biblically faithful sexual, marital and familial ethic." ("The Catholic Synod on Family’s Final Report – No Reason to Freak".)
I've read it, and I say it is news.
First, the liberal elements of the Church's position on family and sexual issues, though they may not be new, would still be news to many people who think they know what the Church says and does. The document emphasizes meeting people where they are, and describes the difficult and demoralized family situations that they are often in. And that homosexuals should be treated with equal dignity and non-discrimination. It is very specific and urgent in calling for acceptance and pastoral care specifically geared to cohabiting, separating, divorced and remarried people, and their children.
Second, the document indicates that there will be further and more specific action in line with its principles at the "Ordinary General Assembly" next October, and possibly before.
Third, non-Catholics like me will always be surprised, in ways that are both refreshing and unsettling, at how the Church approaches the world and its problems. This report gives a deeply loving and insightful assessment, from a very different perspective and background, on family problems and how to begin to heal them. It includes crucial concepts that I've never heard of, such as "affectivity".
There is much fresh wisdom in the report, and much brokenness and suffering in the world's families, which all of our professions and policies have not come anywhere close to resolving. Here are excerpts I think are especially compelling and relevant, as a family-law attorney who is concerned with family breakdown individually and in society as a whole. I generally have left out parts that seem internal to the church's own doctrines and structure, as this blog is about families, not Christianity.
Within the family are joys and trials, deep love and relationships which, at times, can be wounded. The family is truly the “school of humanity”, which is much needed today.
At the Extraordinary General Assembly of October, 2014, the Bishop of Rome called upon the Synod of Bishops to reflect upon the critical and invaluable reality of the family, a reflection which will then be pursued in greater depth at its Ordinary General Assembly scheduled to take place in October, 2015, as well as during the full year between the two synodal events. These proposed reflections, the fruit of the synodal work which took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate points of view which will later be developed and clarified through reflection in the local Churches in the intervening year leading to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015, to treat The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World. These are not decisions taken nor are they easy subjects.
Faithful to Christ’s teaching, we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows. Anthropological and cultural changes in our times influence all aspects of life and require an analytic and diversified approach. The positive aspects are first to be highlighted, namely, a greater freedom of expression and a better recognition of the rights of women and children, at least in some parts of the world. On the other hand, equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by a troubling individualism which deforms family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading, in some cases, to the idea that a person is formed according to one’s own desires, which are considered absolute.
There is also a general feeling of powerlessness in the face of socio-cultural realities which oftentimes end in crushing families. Such is the case in increasing instances of poverty and unemployment in the workplace, which at times is a real nightmare or in overwhelming financial difficulties, which discourage the young from marrying. Families often feel abandoned by the disinterest and lack of attention by institutions. The negative impact on the organization of society is clear, as seen in the demographic crisis, in the difficulty of raising children, in a hesitancy to welcome new life and in considering the presence of older persons as a burden. All these can affect a person’s emotional balance, which can sometimes lead to violence. The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family.
Many children are born outside marriage, in great numbers in some countries, many of whom subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in a blended or reconstituted family. Divorces are increasing, many times taking place solely because of economic reasons. Oftentimes, children are a source of contention between parents and become the real victims of family break-ups. Fathers who are often absent from their families, not simply for economic reasons, need to assume more clearly their responsibility for children and the family. The dignity of women still needs to be defended and promoted. In fact, in many places today, simply being a woman is a source of discrimination and the gift of motherhood is often penalized, rather than esteemed. Not to be overlooked is the increasing violence against women, where they become victims, unfortunately, often within families and as a result of the serious and widespread practice genital mutilation in some cultures. The sexual exploitation of children is still another scandalous and perverse reality in present-day society. Societies characterized by violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime are witnessing the deterioration of the family, above all in big cities, where, in their peripheral areas, the so-called phenomenon of “street-children” is on the rise. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times to be faced and understood in terms of its onerous consequences to family life.
Faced with the afore-mentioned social situation, people in many parts of the world are feeling a great need to take care of themselves, to know themselves better, to live in greater harmony with their feelings and sentiments and to seek to live their affectivity in the best manner possible. These proper aspirations can lead to a desire to put greater effort into building relationships of self-giving and creative reciprocity, which are empowering and supportive like those within a family. In this case, however, individualism and living only for one’s self is a real danger. The challenge for the Church is to assist couples in the maturation and development of their affectivity through fostering dialogue, virtue and trust in the merciful love of God. The full commitment required in marriage can be a strong antidote to the temptation of a selfish individualism.
Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex. Indeed, nowadays a person’s affectivity is very fragile; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution. In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a couple’s relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bonds. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future.
The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that characterizes human existence, even in these times of individualism and hedonism. People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life. We need to know how to support them in their searching and to encourage them in their hunger for God and their wish to feel fully part of the Church, also including those who have experienced failure or find themselves in a variety of situations. The Christian message always contains in itself the reality and the dynamic of mercy and truth which meet in Christ.
Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman and says to the Pharisees that “for your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”(Mt 19: 8). The indissolubility of marriage (“what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” Mt 19:6), is not to be understood as a “yoke” imposed on persons but as a “gift” to a husband and wife united in marriage. In fact, Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana; and announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation which restores the original divine plan (Mt 19:3). At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and with the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11). By looking at the sinner with love, Jesus leads the person to repentance and conversion (“Go and sin no more”), which is the basis for forgiveness.
In accepting each other and with Christ’s grace, the engaged couple promises a total self-giving, faithfulness and openness to new life. The married couple recognizes these elements as constitutive in marriage, gifts offered to them by God, which they take seriously in their mutual commitment, in God’s name and in the presence of the Church. Faith facilitates the possibility of assuming the benefits of marriage as commitments which are sustainable through the help of the grace of the Sacrament, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to new life.
The Second Vatican Council wished to express appreciation for natural marriage and the valid elements present in other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2) and cultures, despite their limitations and shortcomings (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 55). The presence of the seeds of the Word in these cultures (cf. Ad Gentes, 11) could even be applied, in some ways, to marriage and the family in so many societies and non-Christian peoples. Valid elements, therefore, exist in some forms outside of Christian marriage — based on a stable and true relationship of a man and a woman. With an eye to the popular wisdom of different peoples and cultures, the Church also recognizes this type of family as the basic, necessary and fruitful unit for humanity’s life together.
The Church is conscious of the weakness of many of her children who are struggling in their journey of faith. “Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. [...] A small step in the midst of great human limitations can be more pleasing to God than a life which outwardly appears in order and passes the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings”.
In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of the God’s plan for them.The Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.
The Church looks with concern at the distrust of many young people in relation to a commitment in marriage and suffers at the haste with which many of the faithful decide to put an end to the obligation they assumed and to take on another. These lay people, who are members of the Church, need pastoral attention which is merciful and encouraging, so they might adequately determine their situation. Young people, who are baptized, should be encouraged to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage can enrich their prospects of love and they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church.
In this regard, a new aspect of family ministry is requiring attention today — the reality of civil marriages between a man and woman, traditional marriages and, taking into consideration the differences involved, even cohabitation. When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. Oftentimes, a couple lives together without the possibility of a future marriage and without any intention of a legally binding relationship.
In accordance with Christ’s mercy, the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and lost love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm. Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion. Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion. We understand the Lord’s attitude in the same way; he does not condemn the adulterous woman, but asks her to sin no more.
This work calls for not stopping at proclaiming a message which is perceived to be merely theoretical, with no connection to people’s real problems.Proclamation needs to create an experience where the Gospel of the Family responds to the deepest expectations of a person: a response to each’s dignity and complete fulfillment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This does not consist in merely presenting a set of rules but in espousing values, which respond to [people's] needs.
The synod fathers repeatedly called for a thorough renewal of the Church’s pastoral practice in light of the Gospel of the Family and replacing its current emphasis on individuals. For this reason, the synod fathers repeatedly insisted on renewal in the training of priests and other pastoral workers with a greater involvement of families. They equally highlighted the fact that evangelization needs to clearly denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors, such as the excessive importance given to market logic which prevents authentic family life and leads to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence. Consequently, dialogue and cooperation need to be developed with the social entities and encouragement given to Christian lay people who are involved in the cultural and socio-political fields.
Preparation for Marriage
The complex social reality and the changes affecting the family today require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those who are about to be married. The importance of the virtues needs to be included, among these chastity which is invaluable in the genuine growth of love between persons. In this regard, the synod fathers jointly insisted on the need to involve more extensively the entire community by favouring the witness of families themselves and including preparation for marriage in the course of Christian Initiation as well as emphasizing the connection between marriage and the other sacraments. Likewise, they felt that specific programmes were needed in preparing couples for marriage, programmes which create a true experience of participation in ecclesial life and thoroughly treat the various aspects of family life.
The initial years of marriage are a vital and sensitive period during which couples become more aware of the challenges and meaning of married life. In this regard, experienced couples are of great importance to be of service to younger couples.
Pastoral Care for Couples Civilly Married or Living Together
While continuing to proclaim and foster Christian marriage, the Synod also encourages pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives which can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. Pastors ought to identify elements which can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth. A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to it.
The synod fathers also noted in many countries an “an increasing number of people live together ad experimentum, in unions which have not been religiously or civilly recognized” (Instrumentum Laboris, 81). In some countries, this occurs especially in traditional marriages which are arranged between families and often celebrated in different stages. Other countries are witnessing a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church. Simply to live together is often a choice based on a general attitude opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more security in life (a steady job and income). Finally, in some countries de factomarriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values concerning the family and matrimony but primarily because celebrating a marriage is too expensive. As a result, material poverty leads people into de facto unions.
All these situations require a constructive response, seeking to transform them into opportunities which can lead to an actual marriage and a family in conformity with the Gospel. These couples need to be provided for and guided patiently and discreetly. With this in mind, the witness of authentic Christian families is particularly appealing and important as agents in the evangelization of the family.
Caring for Broken families (Persons who are Separated, Divorced, Divorced and Remarried and Single-Parent Families)
Married couples with problems in their relationship should be able to count on the assistance and guidance of the Church. The pastoral work of charity and mercy seeks to help persons recover and restore relationships. Experience shows that with proper assistance and acts of reconciliation, though grace, a great percentage of troubled marriages find a solution in a satisfying manner. To know how to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family life. Forgiveness between husband and wife permits a couple to experience a never-ending love which does not pass away.
The necessity for courageous pastoral choices was particularly evident at the Synod. Strongly reconfirming their faithfulness to the Gospel of the Family and acknowledging that separation and divorce are always wounds which causes deep suffering to the married couple and to their children, the synod fathers felt the urgent need to embark on a new pastoral course based on the present reality of weaknesses within the family, knowing oftentimes that couples are more “enduring” situations of suffering than freely choosing them. These situations vary because of personal, cultural and socio-economic factors. Therefore, solutions need to be considered in a variety of ways.
A special discernment is indispensable for pastorally guiding persons who are separated, divorced or abandoned. Respect needs to be primarily given to the suffering of those who have unjustly endured separation, divorce or abandonment, or those who have been subjected to the maltreatment of a husband or a wife, which interrupts their life together. To forgive such an injustice is not easy, but grace makes this journey possible. Pastoral activity, then, needs to be geared towards reconciliation or mediation of differences, which might even take place in specialized “listening centres” established in dioceses. At the same time, the synod fathers emphasized the necessity of addressing, in a faithful and constructive fashion, the consequences of separation or divorce on children, in every case the innocent victims of the situation. Children must not become an “object” of contention. Instead, every suitable means ought to be sought to ensure that they can overcome the trauma of a family break-up and grow as serenely as possible. In each case, the Church is always to point out the injustice which very often is associated with divorce. Special attention is to be given in the guidance of single-parent families. Women in this situation ought to receive special assistance so they can bear the responsibility of providing a home and raising their children.
A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming. They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of second instance for confirming sentences; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop; and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident. Some synod fathers, however, were opposed to this proposal, because they felt that it would not guarantee a reliable judgment. In all these cases, the synod fathers emphasized the primary character of ascertaining the truth about the validity of the marriage bond. Among other proposals, the role which faith plays in persons who marry could possibly be examined in ascertaining the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage, all the while maintaining that the marriage of two baptized Christians is always a sacrament. In streamlining the procedure of marriage cases, many synod fathers requested the preparation of a sufficient number of persons — clerics and lay people — entirely dedicated to this work.
Divorced people who have not remarried, who oftentimes bear witness to their promise of faithfulness in marriage, ought to be encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life. The local community and pastors ought to accompany these people with solicitude, particularly when children are involved or when in serious financial difficulty.
Those who are divorced and remarried require careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect. Language or behavior which might make them feel an object of discrimination should be avoided, all the while encouraging them to participate in the life of the community. The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but, precisely in this way, the community is seen to express its charity.
The synod father also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Some synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present regulations, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as the teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others expressed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”.
Persons with Homosexual Tendencies
Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church’s teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.”Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).
Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: this is equally so for international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws which establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.
Having and Raising Children
Today, the diffusion of a mentality which reduces the generation of human life to accommodate an individual’s or couple’s plans is easily observable. Sometimes, economic factors are burdensome, contributing to a sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, thus compromising relations between generations and rendering a future outlook uncertain. Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love. In this regard, the Church supports families who accept, raise and affectionately embrace children with various disabilities.
Pastoral work in this area needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human life is to be lived fully. This serves as the basis for an appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation, which allow a couple to live, in a harmonious and conscious manner, the loving communication between husband and wife in all its aspects, along with their responsibility at procreating life. In this regard, we should return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births. The adoption of children, orphans and the abandoned and accepting them as one’s own is a specific form of the family apostolate (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, III, 11), and oftentimes called for and encouraged by the Magisterium (cf. Familiaris Consortio, III, II; Evangelium Vitae, IV, 93). The choice of adoption or foster parenting expresses a particular fruitfulness of married life, not simply in the case of sterility. Such a choice is a powerful sign of family love, an occasion to witness to one’s faith and to restore the dignity of a son or daughter to a person who has been deprived of this dignity.
One of the fundamental challenges facing families today is undoubtedly that of raising children, made all the more difficult and complex by today’s cultural reality. The Church can assume a valuable role in supporting families, starting with Christian Initiation, by being welcoming communities. More than ever, these communities today are to offer support to parents, in complex situations and everyday life, in their work of raising their children.
How Marriage Matures and Fulfills Us
Affectivity needs assistance, also in marriage, as a path to maturity in the ever-deepening acceptance of the other and an ever-fuller gift of self. This necessitates offering programmes of formation which nourish married life and the importance of the laity providing an accompaniment, which consists in a life of witness. Undoubtedly, the example of a faithful and deep love is of great assistance; a love shown in tenderness and respect; a love which is capable of growing over time; and a love which, in the very act of opening itself to the generation of life, creates a transcendent mystical experience.
(I've never spoken my mind on gay marriage in public, and seldom in private. But with my friends and colleagues having a big debate on it here at the State Bar meeting, at least ten years too late, it's time. I thought that if I get a chance to speak I had better prepare carefully, make sure I include the most important things, and boil it down as far as I can. Got it down to a little over three minutes. Wish it could be shorter, as I once performed a Christian marriage in two minutes. But this thing has as many sharp angles and hidden dangers as, well, a Christian marriage.)
[Remarks prepared for a State Bar forum on marriage, June, 2014.]
I’m John Crouch, a divorce lawyer from Arlington. I’m active in the Coalition for Divorce Reform and the Marriage Opportunity Project, which wants to strengthen, deepen and improve marriage for all economic classes, races and orientations.
When gay marriage first came along, they called it “redefining marriage”. That was deeply scary, arrogant and Orwellian, to think government could redefine a basic fact of human life that’s older than government. And thus could redefine it out of existence, or “redefine” other crucial facts of life, such as parenthood. Many people would not have minded keeping marriage the same and just letting more people into it. But they put an immense amount of energy into “defending” marriage that could have gone into improving it and adapting it to modern life.
20 years later, the question is not whether the law should be used to change family life, but whether the law should adapt to changes in life that have already happened. Gay people have formed traditional families and raised kids. Like the rest of us, they want to form binding, exclusive contracts of marriage, which make it safer for each of them to play complementary roles, increase their combined self-sufficiency, and give back more to their children, friends, and communities.
But we lawyers know that it’s not just the result that matters, sometimes how you get to the result is just as important. Because of all the side effects on how other things are done in the future.
If this change happens in constitutional litigation instead of by legislation, it’s probably going to weaken America’s Constitution and weaken marriage for everyone. In the past generation we’ve escaped from the dangerous, lawless idea that the Constitution says whatever the elites want it to say. Liberals and conservatives now look at the text and the intent of the framers, even on tough political issues like campaign finance and gun control. But lately even conservatives, belatedly racing for the exits of the gay marriage debate, are abandoning that constitutional conservatism.
If the courts protect gay marriage rights by agreeing with the great Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, that it’s an unconstitutional impairment of contract to void a marriage without fault or mutual consent, that would certainly strengthen marriage. Or if they decide purely on equal protection grounds, that wouldn’t do violence to marriage. But far more likely and worrisome is if courts find new rights to complete sexual freedom, or say we can’t regulate coupling and uncoupling at all, can’t make marriage exclusive, permanent or binding. That will destroy the fundamental building block of society. The little bit of leverage that family law still has to influence our behavior - - the mild marriage-saving devices built into no-fault divorce laws, the fact that a man can’t marry the other woman until a court has sorted out what he owes his first wife and children - - will be the next dominoes to fall. We’ll have the shallow, adolescent freedom that people have in Las Vegas, to do what we want in the moment and keep our options open. But we won’t have freedom that matters, the adult freedom to truly choose by forsaking other choices, binding ourselves over time, so that others can rely on us.
So don’t make the Constitution the battlefield, and don’t destroy what both sides are fighting for. Conservatives can conserve, liberals can liberate, by ending these lawsuits and legislating to amend the state constitution and legalize same-sex marriage. And then join in a Marshall Plan for marriage, so we can all say we didn’t fight this war in vain.
The provincial Law Societies that govern bar admissions in Ontario and Nova Scotia have decided not to admit graduates of a new law school at a long-established university, Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. But the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and Law Societies in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut have decided to accredit the law school and admit its graduates.
Piecing together what actually is happening by looking at what people on both sides are saying, it seems clear that the reason for the ban is not the issues of quality and professionalism that are typically cited in US accreditation. Rather, the proponents of the ban cite the University's sex policy. It requires students, faculty and staff to sign a "Community Covenant Agreement" to limit “sexual intimacy” to the context of marriage between opposite genders, whether, on or off campus. Penalties for violations may include expulsion or firing.
Lawyer Lea Singh writes, in "Christian Lawyers Are The New Racists": "Support for gay marriage has come to be viewed as obligatory to the point of being a litmus test of whether admission among their numbers will be allowed at all. ... Back in 2005, before same-sex marriage became legal in Canada, supporters of traditional marriage still had the perceived backing of the majority, and our views were treated with (at least feigned) respect and consideration. There were mighty overtures to placate us with reassurances of freedom of speech and freedoms of religion and conscience. ... Less than a decade later, defenders of traditional marriage are being shunned as equivalent, for all intents and purposes, to racists."
Vancouver lawyer Tony Wilson said that in voting to accredit TWU, "Despite being an atheist with 'no horse in this race,' I voted the way I did because of something called the rule of law, which among other things, dictates that courts and administrative bodies like ours shouldn’t cherry pick the laws we like from the ones we don’t. I don’t believe we can choose to disregard the leading case on this issue just because we don’t like the case or we don’t like the covenant. ... [A] 2001 case, from the Supreme Court of Canada, determined that the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny accreditation of TWU’s teaching degree (and those who graduated from such program) because TWU insisted upon a similar covenant from its students. “For better or for worse” the Court said, “tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of a democratic society.” I believe that the benchers must follow the decisions of higher courts, particularly the Supreme Court of Canada. That’s the way our justice system works. Otherwise the law is nothing more than the political, ethical and unpredictable partialities of one judge, and laws developed in this fashion are neither fair, consistent nor predictable." But by the same token, he said, if the Supreme Court changed the law, he would support changing the bar's admission policy accordingly.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, according to Wilson, said "that its commitment to a society in which LGBTQ people are free from unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation did not give anyone licence to discriminate against others on the basis of their conscientiously held religious beliefs, nor to deny them their fundamental freedoms." Non-accreditation, it said, "would result in unlawful discrimination against and infringement of the fundamental freedoms of those who seek only to be able to study law and be allowed entry to the legal profession without discrimination based on their religious beliefs.”
Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada's letter to the Law Society of Upper Canada offered a very thorough exploration of the constitutional issues. It points out that for non-discrimination purposes, some universities are considered arms of the government and some are not, although in many cases the line is not as clear as one might thing. And likewise, it notes, Law Societies are governmental, because they exercise a monopoly "gatekeeper" power over admission to practice law in their provinces. So I thought it would conclude, from that, that there can be no religious viewpoint discrimination against lawyers in bar admissions. But instead, it argues that the Law Societies have delegated that "gatekeeper" function to law schools, so in effect, the law schools are the "gatekeepers" of the right to practice law, and thus they cannot discriminate against gays and lesbians. This overlooks the fact that any single law school is not a monopoly gatekeeper to bar admissions.