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Does your race matter in a child-custody case?

When I saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED speech, The danger of a single story, it brought back memories of a divorce case here in Chicago that I dealt with last year. Maybe if the people involved in the case had seen this video, they would have been more aware of their own biases.

Before, whenever people asked me if ethnicity mattered in the outcome of a legal proceeding, my answer was “not at all.” I now say, “It depends… especially if it is a child-custody case.” [click to continue…]

Goethe: Love is an ideal thing…

Venn diagram on Goethe's quote

Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.

—Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy with a bad judgment? It’s normal

A surprising amount of people are happy after their divorce even if the outcome was not ideal. The parties accept the bad outcome and go off on their merry wee way.

It turns out that this is a human trait. We are programmed to like whatever life hands us. [click to continue…]

Gays can now marry in Illinois! Who’s next?

Now that states are falling like dominoes (Illinois being the latest state to fall) for same-sex marriage, the Daily Show opines that the real question is not which state will be next to legalize gay marriage but which state will be last: It’s Mississippi v. Alabama. [click to continue…]

Chicago’s divorce statistics: 1868 v. Now


New York Times advice to 1868 Chicagoans: Think before getting hitched.

On January 5, 1868, the New York Times Op Ed Column “guess[ed]” that Chicago has “the highest proportion of divorces to marriages of any locality in the United States, or of any place in the world.”

The article goes on to analyze how this reflects on Chicago:

It shows that there is something wrong in the style of its men or in the training of its women. It shows a fearful number of foolish matches, and a sorrowful crop of domestic suffering. It furnishes a warning to mankind which deserves to be heeded.

The author clarifies that he is not arguing against marriage “whose divine and beneficent character is seen in its perfect adaptation to the wants of human nature”. Instead the author argues:

…[T]hat unmarried men and women should be careful and discreet in making their decision concerning that which is so closely related to the happiness and usefulness of their lives. Not in haste or mere passion, not without knowledge or judgment, not without something like mutual adaptation of tastes or character, should the sexes form a relationship whose duration properly lasts through their lives.

So, how does Chicago's (Cook County, actually) marriage-to-divorce ratio in 1867 compare to Chicago’s current ratio?

Year 1867
349,966 people (1870 census)
4,120 marriages (from NYT article)
209 divorces
19 marriages for each divorce
.05 divorces for each marriage
Yearly marriages per 1,000 people: 11 
Divorces per 1,000 people: .5

[click to continue…]

Divorce scandal in 1860s Chicago

Don’t let their stiffness fool you. They weren’t that different from us.

In 1860, the Chicago suburb of Naperville received “world-side notoriety” when it hosted the Burch divorce case. At the time, the case “had just about as much notoriety as the O.J. Simpson case does today.” The case was to have been heard in Cook County, Illinois, but it was moved to Naperville so the parties could get a fair hearing.

Ms. Burch, the well connected daughter of a railroad magnate, was divorcing her husband. Mr. Burch alleged that Ms. Burch had committed adultery. Ms. Burch alleged that Mr. Burch was cruel and that he only married her for her money.

Mr. Burch hired “all the attorneys of Naperville” along with many other well respected attorneys. Ms. Burch hired more than five lawyers, the title of two of her lawyers started with “Hon.”, implying that they were current or former judges. [click to continue…]

The beauty of old-fashioned euphemisms


Whether in writing or coffee, sometimes old-fashioned is better.

Sometimes I wish I lived in the old days where euphemisms were used to tactfully describe a whole range of issues that made the author or speaker feel awkward. For example, in the mid-19th century, divorced people were referred to as “victims” of divorce.

According to the book Euphemania by Ralph Keyes, in the 17th century people could be sentenced to the stocks for “unseemly behavior ” an offense which might range from dirty talk with an unmarried member of the opposite sex to kissing your “wife on the doorstep after returning from three years at sea.”

Similarly, you could get in trouble for “enjoying” someone else’s wife on the sofa. [click to continue…]