Who knows about divorce laws in countries other than the U.S.?


This is crowd-sourced appeal to readers… I’m looking for divorce litigators to interview outside of the U.S. One restriction is that they have to be able to speak English. This is for a book project on which I am a co-author. We’re particularly interested in the following countries: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan. However, we would be happy to learn about other places as well.

This draft chapter shows what we’ve got so far (England, Denmark, Iran, Switzerland).

One thing that we’re trying to figure out is how many countries worldwide make having a child following a casual encounter potentially more profitable than going to college and working. (Easily done in California, Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin, for example.) How many other governments set up these kinds of economic incentives?

We want to know if other countries have large variations in the profitability of children across provincial boundaries, comparable to the Wisconsin/Minnesota border for example (the child who yields a $20 million profit in Wisconsin will yield only about $200,000 in profit over 18 years, above USDA-estimated child-rearing expenses, across the bridge into Minnesota).

We want to know which other countries assign different cash values to children from the same parent. [From our book: New York can serve as a simple example. Consider a married couple with three children. The wife goes away for a few weeks to help a sick relative. The husband goes to the neighborhood bar, drinks too much, and, by the time the wife returns he has gotten three women pregnant. The first woman to sue gets 17 percent of his gross income. The second woman gets 17 percent of the 83 percent remainder (14 percent). The third plaintiff gets 17 percent of 83 percent of 83 percent (about 12 percent). Roughly 43 percent of his pre-tax income will thus go to satisfy these court orders. Roughly 50 percent of his income will go to pay local, state, and federal income taxes. The three children and the wife of the marriage will thus be living on 7 percent of his income while each extramarital child gets a larger, but different amount.]

We’re curious to know if selling abortions is a standard practice anywhere outside of the U.S. [In case you're not familiar with the practice, here are some excerpts from our draft book:

"The Supreme Court made abortion legal with Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Congress made abortion profitable in 1988 with the federal Family Support Act [that required states to develop child support guidelines],” is how one attorney summarized the evolution of law in the last quarter of the 20th century. The new state guidelines made an out-of-wedlock child just as profitable as the child of a marriage. Our interviewees report that it did not take long for people to put these two legal innovations together and thus began the age of women selling abortions to men. “If the child support guidelines make having a baby more profitable than working,” a lawyer noted “it only makes sense that 5-10 years of the average person’s income is a fair price for having an abortion.”

In many of the jurisdictions where child support is substantially more than the $9,000 per year that the USDA estimates as the actual cost of caring for a child we learned about the practice of selling abortions. From the Massachusetts chapter:

Due to the $40,144 number at the top of the guidelines, the 23 years over which child support is payable, and the convention whereby a defendant must pay a plaintiff’s legal fees, Massachusetts is one of the most lucrative states for the marketing of abortions. In our interviews we learned about a 40-year-old entrepreneur who was dating a seemingly carefree 25-year-old. Two months later, the young woman presented the man with a positive pregnancy test result, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet showing the $923,312 in child support that he would owe over 23 years, plus a likely $300,000 college budget and additional amounts for health insurance, day care, etc. Her attorney offered to sell her abortion for $250,000 plus legal fees and the cost of the abortion itself. The man paid the $250,000, which was tax-free to the woman. Could that be considered extortion? “It is not extortion nor illegal to threaten to have a baby,” responded Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk, when asked to consider the facts of this incident. Asked to comment on the prevalence of abortion transactions in Massachusetts, another attorney said “This is a good state in which to work your mind and education, but it is a great state in which to work your body and child.”

Attorneys report that one issue in abortion sales is establishing paternity. “When I’m involved in an abortion transaction on the father’s side,” noted one lawyer, “I recommend a paternity test if there is any possible doubt. The person who sells an abortion is not necessarily the most reliable source of information.” Is it possible to do a paternity test on a fetus? “Absolutely,” the lawyer continued. “They can do it after a couple of months using the mother’s blood and a blood sample from the father. It’s called ‘NIPP’ [Non-Invasive Prenatal Paternity] and relies on the fact that some of the baby’s DNA makes its way into the mother’s blood.”]

We want to find out which countries have administrative procedures, as opposed to litigation, for ending a marriage and what the typical costs are if the person initiating the divorce does choose to litigate.

We are interested in whether a country has a custody presumption(e.g., 50/50 if the parents don’t agree on something else, mom always wins, mom always wins until the kids are Age X, etc.) and, if favoring one parent with primary custody is common, whether there is a statutory schedule for the child to see the other parent (or if the schedule itself can be the subject of litigation; see the Texas Standard Possession Order for a unique U.S. jurisdiction where parents can’t fight over the details).

We want to know the extent to which it is possible to obtain a de facto divorce via a domestic violence complaint (see “Criminal Law Comes Home” from the Yale Law Journal for how this works in the U.S.; also this more consumer-friendly article by David Heleniak in the Rutgers Law Review).

Basically we need to be put in touch with English-speaking working divorce litigators in other parts of the globe. Thanks in advance for any help.

Most efficient medical record system for dogs and cats: paper


I took Mindy the Crippler, PC for her 12-week veterinary appointment today. The doc wrote everything down by hand on paper to be placed in a folder. I asked “Are electronic health records popular among vets?” She responded that vets used computer systems for reminders and recording vaccinations but generally not for the full health record. “It slows everything down too much [to use a computer],” she noted.

The vet world is mostly uninfluenced by insurance companies and government, so I’m wondering if the fact that computerized records apparently don’t yield net benefits in that domain should make us skeptical that they will pay off in human medicine.

[I might add that, unlike in human medicine, Mindy the Crippler, PC was seen on time and I was able to schedule follow-up visits on dates/times that were convenient for me. What did the vet get paid? Seventy-five dollars, which is about 1/6th as much as my doctor charges as a retail rate and almost exactly the same as my doctor gets paid for an exam (see previous posting about my $83 checkup). The vet might be more profitable because the $75 was collected with a simple credit card swipe.]

Movie review: Maidentrip


Continuing in the category of reviews-of-round-the-world-sailing-trips-by-someone-who-gets-seasick… I watched Maidentrip the other night, a documentary about a 14-year-old girl’s round-the-world solo voyage in a 38-foot sailboat. Aside from the nautical aspects of the voyage, in which the teenager displays far more prudence than most adults, the movie is kind of interesting from a legal point of view.  Laura Dekker was reared primarily by her Dutch father starting at about age 5 (according to the movie, the German-born mom went to live with a boyfriend and left the child [a rational financial decision in Europe, where obtaining custody and collecting child support may not be profitable]). The father was a sailing nut and boat-builder who allowed the girl to take trips commensurate with her skill but unconventional given her age. The Dutch government fought a 10-month lawsuit, ultimately unsuccessful, to try to prevent Dekker from embarking on her journey, which had been approved by both of her joint custodial/biological parents.

Note: the movie is available for streaming from Netflix.

Related: my posting about Wild Eyes (Abby Sunderland’s round-the-world attempt) and All is Lost



For people who are quarantined in their houses or apartments due to the fear of contact with Ebola, how about a service called “e-shutin.com”? With one click you register and get

  • upgraded cable TV subscription with all premium channels
  • higher speed Internet
  • Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription
  • Amazon Prime subscription
  • additional streaming music subscriptions
  • Peapod online grocery delivery subscription
  • a sign for the front door reading “UPS/Fedex: Please leave packages. No signature required.”
  • subscription to Audible
  • upgraded Netflix subscription to 8 disks out at once

Any other ideas?

Government employees’ crew team


It was Head of the Charles this weekend in Boston. Here was a conversation on the Weeks Footbridge:

  • “Did you hear that one of the teams in the Eights is all government workers?”
  • “No. How are they doing?”
  • “Much better this year. They kept coming in last in previous races, so they sent someone to spy on the Harvard and Yale teams to try to find out the secret of their high performance.”
  • “What did the spy tell them?”
  • “At Harvard and Yale they have only one person yelling ‘The rest of you should row’.”



Blogging is 20 years old now


The Guardian notes that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the Weblog (article on Dave Winer).

The standard HTTP/HTML Web was and is great for 3-30-page ideas. Winer was perhaps the first person to see that the world needed some different technical standards to deal with three-paragraph ideas.

[I owe Winer a personal debt of thanks for it was his arrival at Harvard's Berkman Center that resulted in me trying out the Weblog.]

California regulators ruin sofa shopping in Massachusetts


Having spent a childhood with Spaghetti-O’s in the pantry closet and Velveeta in the fridge I tend not to worry too much about industrial chemicals in my life. The same cannot be said for the distaff side of our household. Thus a trip to Crate & Barrel to find a sleeper sofa turned into an education regarding flame retardants. It seems that the wise politicians and regulators in California back in 1975 essentially forced furniture buyers nationwide to bring toxic, yet ineffective, flame retardants into their households. Now, 40 years later, the wise politicians and regulators are forcing furniture manufacturers to go in the opposite direction. See this NRDC page for a summary history.

How does this affect a Massachusetts shopper? Just try asking a retail clerk if a particular sofa was made with particular chemicals…

[And separately, maybe this explains Americans' lackluster performance in school and stagnant wages. The NRDC page says "Americans carry much higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies than anyone else in the world" and "Children exposed in the womb have lower IQs and attention problems."]

Finally… the government seems to want me to go back to my Velveeta-eating roots. The FDA has banned French cheese, such as Roquefort, made according to 1000-year-old recipes (CNN).

Interesting article on change of venue for the prosecution of a Boston Marathon bomber


Harvey Silverglate has published an interesting article on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, previously welcomed by one U.S. government agency with fast-track citizenship and now being prosecuted by a different government agency, should be tried in the Boston area or elsewhere.

Americans unable to think globally get upset about their falling share of global wages


One of the top economic writers of the New York Times and his editors have published an article entitled “The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century”. There is no mention of the fact that there is a global market for labor. Here’s a comment that I posted in response:

Why the narrow focus on the U.S.? “The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century” is certainly not a headline that would make sense to someone in China or Botswana. The pool of money for wages worldwide has grown dramatically in the 21st Century and people all over the world are enjoying dramatically better lives as a consequence. If I am not getting the share of this pool to which I feel entitled, perhaps my resentment just proves the adage “When the market gives you an answer you don’t like, declare market failure.”

Could it actually be that one reason we don’t get our former share of global wages is that we are unable to think globally?

[And, as a minor point, if employers provide health insurance to employees and the cost of that insurance has gone way up, isn't that itself a substantial increase in compensation? Perhaps there has been wage growth in the U.S. but it isn't noticeable unless we have to go to the hospital.]

Portrait Photography then and now


A friend is going to be giving a TED talk soon. He asked me what it cost to get a family portrait done in the 1850s and guessed “In today’s dollars I expect it was >$1000?” He didn’t say why he was interested but I am assuming that it was part of an argument about the wonders of technological progress.

That set me to searching and I found this page on daguerreotypes, which was the first photographic process that was practical as a consumer product. It turned out that $2 was the price to have a family portrait done by Mathew Brady, whose work today is sought after by art museums. Adjusted for inflation with http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ that’s about $55 today, i.e., about half what you’d pay to have a 19-year-old do a portrait session with a few prints at your local J.C. Penney.

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