The Challenge of Suicide Challenges

This important guest blog post is authored by current 3L and Family Law student Ashley Hughes:

In today’s world new challenges flood social media constantly enticing individuals to engage in activities that range from silly to dangerous.  From the “cinnamon challenge” to the “backpack challenge” to the “Tide Pod challenge” children are constantly discovering new ways to influence each other over social media.  A recently resurfaced challenge known as “the Momo challenge” brings a whole new level of danger and control over the targeted audience, which in this instance are children.  Momo is a bit of a taboo-horror figure which attracts kids.  Originally a Japanese statue, Momo has bulging eyes, a chilling smile and jet-black hair on a bird’s body.

In essence, the Momo challenge is operated through the WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging app largely popular in the United Kingdom.  Children contact “Momo” by sending it a message through the app, with Momo then responding with various tasks for children to complete to prevent them from being cursed.  Many of the given tasks have an element of self-harm, and also require photographic proof of completion in or to satisfy Momo. By the end of the “game” Momo tells the child to commit suicide.

As of now, there do not appear to be any reports of child suicide in the United States connected to The Momo challenge, however there have been reported incidents of child-produced videos on YouTube containing hidden instructions for how children could commit suicide.  One report from a pediatrician in Florida, Dr. Hess, noted suicide instruction videos have been found in various YouTube videos targeted towards children.  Such videos have not gone unnoticed, and YouTube has commented that it strives to “ensure the videos in YouTube Kids are family-friendly and take feedback very seriously.”

Suicide on its own is an extremely alarming societal concern, but it is especially alarming when social media challenges, such as the Momo challenge, and YouTube Kids videos encourage children to commit suicide.  The question then becomes “What can we do to combat it?”

Dr. Hess has noted that YouTube has improved in removing questionable videos, but regardless the harm could have occurred due to children having already viewing the videos. The responsibility does not solely fall on YouTube and other social media platforms to address these concerns.  In recent years parents have arguably taken a more hands-off approach to raising children, leaving children to go deeper into the online world.

The family can make all the difference here. Encouraging an open dialogue between parents and children would allow these dangerous challenges and videos to be addressed at a much quicker pace, and on a much more helpful and personal level.  Such dialogue would also give parents the opportunity to engage with their children about the topic of suicide and whether their children struggle with feelings that would lead them to entertaining something like the Momo challenge or the clips in YouTube videos.

The Momo challenge and YouTube videos essentially serve to emphasize how media has intertwined itself into children’s lives today, and the importance that strong family support has in addressing such concerns.  With open dialogue, understanding, and support, the Momo challenge and YouTube videos should become nothing more than a way for parents to take a more active role in their children’s lives - as well as showing their children the dangers present in the world today, even virtually.


Teen Courts: An Alternative Disposition for Juvenile Offenders

Recently presented at a Regent Law class was a presentation on Teen Courts, an alternative disposition program for first time minor offense juvenile offenders.  This opportunity offers the offending students peer review of their offense toward restorative options to keep them out of the criminal justice system.  These teen courts can be a great resource for positive juvenile justice initiatives. 

To learn more download and review Teen Courts: Empowerment through Child Participation, in International Perspectives and Empirical Findings on Child Participation (Tali Gal and Benedetta Duramy Eds.) (Oxford U. Press 2015), also available here, and see also Lynne Marie Kohm and Alison R. Haefner, Empowering Love and Respect for Child Offenders Through Therapeutic Jurisprudence: The Teen Courts Example, Sociology and Anthropology 4(4): 212-221 (2016).

When kids are able to participate in their own justice decisions they can be empowered toward respect moving forward.  That’s what family restoration is all about.


International Women's Day #BalanceforBetter

Because Family Restoration naturally improves the lives of women, in honor of International Women’s Day it seems suitable to share some strategic legal scholarship focused on making women’s lives better.  Check out these discussions:

A Christian Perspective on Gender Equality, 15 Duke J. Gender L. & Pol’y 339 (2008) (#BalanceforBetter).

Lynne Marie Kohm, Diane J. Chandler, and Doris Gomez, Christianity, Feminism, and the Paradox of Female Happiness, 17 Trinity L. Rev. 191 (2011) (how to make women’s lives happier).

Rethinking Mom and Dad, 42 Capital U. L. Rev. (2014) (examining why kids still need a female parent).

Kathleen A. McKee & Lynne Marie Kohm, Examining the Associations between Sustainable Development Population Policies and Human Trafficking, 23 Mich. St. Int'l L. Rev. 1 (2014) (protect women from human trafficking).

Lynne Marie Kohm and Sandra Alcaide, Obergefell: A Game-Changer for Women, 14 Ave Maria L. Rev. 101 (2016) (equality and balance in marriage for women).

Sex Selection Abortion and the Boomerang Effect of a Woman’s Right to Choose: A Paradox of the Skeptics, 4 Wm & Mary J. Women & L. 91 (Winter 1997) (baby girls eliminated).

Lynne Marie Kohm and Colleen Holmes, The Rise and Fall of Women’s Rights: Have Sexuality and Reproductive Freedom Forfeited Victory? 6 William & Mary Journal of Women and Law 381, (Winter 2000) (abortion and sexuality).

The Challenges of Teaching Gender Equality in a World of Gendercide, 6 Regent J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 1 (2014) (eliminating baby girls reduces our chances at equality globally).

Roe’s Effect on Family Law, 71 Washington & Lee L. Rev. 1339 (2014) (women affected by abortion’s effect on marriage, parenting and romance).

A Hitchhiker's Guide to ART: Implementing Self-Governed Personally Responsible Decision-Making in the Context of Artificial Reproductive Technology39 Capital U. L. Rev. 413 (2011) (women making great choices with assisted reproduction choices).

On Mutual Consent to Divorce: A Debate with Two Sides to the Story, 8 Appalachian J. L. 35 (2008).

From Eisenstadt to Plan B, 33 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 787 (2007) (fairness for women in divorce).

A Fresh Perspective on Women and Motherhood: The Traditional Values Mother Is One of a Few Good Men, 81 Women Lawyers J. 8 (June 1995) (#BalanceforBetter).

Lynne Marie Kohm and Britney N. Brigner, Women and Assisted Suicide: Exposing the Gender Vulnerability to Acquiescent Death, 4 Cardozo Women’s L. J. 241 (Winter 1997)(protecting women from PAS).

From Eisenstadt to Plan B, 33 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 787 (2007) (examining contraceptive choices).

The New Paradigm for the Feminine Mystique: The Authentic Women’s Perspective, 2 Liberty, Life & Family 259 (June 1996) (#BalanceforBetter).


The Tragic Tapestry of Father Absence & National Strength

Is a nation’s strength and identity affected when fathers are absent from their children’s lives?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 statistics, 30% of American children live in a household with one parent, or no parent. 23% of children are raised in a single parent household where the sole provider is their mother. Several factors account for this, including an increase in the percentages of men and women who made choices for premarital cohabitation, nonmarital childbearing, and expanded sexual options, according to National Health Statistics Reports.  This in addition to divorce, incarceration, and a lack of commitment to financial support has changed families so that fathers are becoming more absent from their children’s lives. 

The short-term effects on individual children who grow up without a dad around are profound, according to David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem.  The National Fatherhood Initiative states, “There is a father absence crisis in America.  24 million children, 1 out of 3, live without their biological father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.”

How might this reality affect a nation generations later? Would a nation of children who are robbed of their fathers really affect the strength and identity of that nation one, two or even three generations later? A recent article by Lynne Marie Kohm and Ashley Michelle Williams, The Tragic Tapestry of Father Absence and National Strength, 13 Liberty U. L. Rev. (2018), examines this question and how father absence could be affecting national strength by considering the circumstances of two very different but nonetheless comparable nations – the United States of America and the eastern European nation of Belarus.  “We examine the plight of 1930s Belarus, the result of somewhere between 200,000 and 1.5 million men being executed en masse, considering how that loss was felt in families across that nation at that time, and how it is still felt today.  Analyzing that nation’s strength and national identity three generations later, this article shows that Belarus continues to struggle with both, setting it as an example of the results of father absence.  Though quite different from how father absence has occurred in America, this article also examines in what manner the illustration of Belarus might nonetheless demonstrate how America’s plague of father absence could have some similar results in two or three generations as those now characterizing the population of Belarus.” 

Download The Tragic Tapestry of Father Absence and National Strength now to discover this comparison and learn some solutions that can work toward family restoration, even for fatherless families. 

A comparative exploration of the devastating effects brought on by father absence in the United States today and the brutal father loss experienced in the forests of Kurapty and throughout Belarus under Stalin rule in the 1930s presents an opportunity for consideration, evaluation, correction, rectitude and mending.  The United States stands at a crossroads in this regard as current public policy may be duty-bound to firmly consider the importance of fathers to the tapestry of a nation




A new movie is debuting March 29: UnPlanned. Watch the trailer here:


In this true story, Abby Johnson becomes the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood, then a life-changing experience turns her into an anti-abortion activist.  
A personal encounter with unexpected facts, and a decision to understand the spiritual implications changes the world of not only one woman, but impacts more than 500 women who thought they were helping others.  
This story of personal transformation illustrates that family restoration can happen for anyone who chooses truth.


Find my publications at SSRN  | Twitter  



The Miracle of Baby Stetson's Beginning

This thought-provoking guest post is authored by 2L and current Family Law student Jackie Aranibar:


Baby Stetson’s birth was a miracle. Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter are a married couple from Texas. When they decided to grow their family they sought the help of a fertility specialist. Little did the couple know that they were about to make medical history.

Dr. Kathy Doody and Dr. Kevin Doody work for CARE Fertility. Together, they came up with an alternative method to traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF) called Reciprocal Effortless IVF. Traditional IVF transpires when one egg and one sperm are fertilized in an incubator in the lab. In this case, however, Bliss Coulter’s eggs were fertilized with donor sperm in the chamber of an INVOcell device and then placed back into Bliss’s cervix. The INVOcell device remained in Bliss’s cervix for five days until the fertilized egg became an embryo. It was then removed from Bliss and frozen. When Ashleigh Coulter’s uterus was ready, the embryo was transferred and implanted, and she became pregnant with the same child. Ashleigh carried the baby and gave birth to Baby Stetson in the summer of 2018.

Reciprocal Effortless IVF is significantly cheaper than traditional IVF because the couple does not have to pay for the use of an incubator. Some bioethics centers raise concerns that there could be harm caused to the embryo in and throughout the transfer process.  At this time there are no scientific studies pointing to any increased harm to a child born as a result of Reciprocal Effortless IVF.  Christian bioethicists warn, however, that this “is not a routine reproductive intervention. Nor is it medically necessary. It is not designed to cure any disease or protect the health of either mother or child. [Rather,] it is medical experimentation upon a future child, without the ethical safeguards put in place to protect human subjects of research.”

Another aspect to consider with this medical advancement is who would be the legal parents of Baby Stetson?  Will he have two moms only? Does he really need a dad? Texas law may or may not be on point with this new technology, but under current Virginia law, Baby Stetson’s mom would most likely be Ashleigh only because she is the woman who gestated the baby, and there are no provisions for two moms under Virginia Code § 20-158 (even if one is genetic and carried the child for several days). Furthermore, Virginia code does not have a statute addressing a same sex couple as legal parents of a child.  There is, however, a current legislative proposal (HB1979) before the Virginia Legislature that could change that and would allow both Ashleigh and Bliss to be the legal parents of Baby Stetson. Currently, this bill has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate. As of now, Virginia’s legislative session will conclude on February 23, 2019, so check back then for an update!

Until then, new reproductive technology will continue to push the boundaries of personhood and parentage challenging traditional notions of the family.  Finding where personal responsibility meets parenthood may be a key, along with remembering that this should be, essentially, all about Baby Stetson.


Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health that might Surprise You

Why do women choose to seek an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy?  A new study out of the University of California, School of Medicine in San Francisco has revealed some surprising answers to this question.
The results of that study revealed that women aged 20-24 were more likely than those aged 25-34 to have a later abortion, and women who discovered their pregnancy before eight weeks' gestation were less likely than others to do so.  Later abortion recipients' experiences logistical delays, such as difficulty in find a provider or raising funds for the procedure and associated travel costs, all of which compounded delays in seeking an abortion.  In fact, most women seeking later abortion fit into one of five profiles: 1) they are raising children alone; 2) they were depressed or using illicit substances; 3) they were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence; 4) had trouble deciding for abortion then encountered access problems; or 5) were young and pregnant for the first time.
Fetal abnormalities were not among the five reasons why women abort late in the pregnancy.  Neither was non-viability a factor in late term abortion choices.  Women who have third trimester abortions do not generally do so for these reasons.  Rather, they do so because they find themselves in one of the five situations listed above. 
The surprise is that women who are aborting late term pregnancies are doing so because they are young and struggling and probably scared; they are not generally making that decision because the child is not healthy.  This empirical perspective on reproductive health changes the narrative on late term abortion justification almost completely.


Kinship Care: Helping children in need while helping family units succeed

This informative and insightful guest blog post is from 2L current Family Law student Carolyn Keist-Gilbert, who has served many children through kinship foster care:


Child abuse and child neglect are prevalent around the world, even here in the United States. In 2017, the AFCARS report listed a total of 442,995 children in foster care in the United States.[1] While many children are eventually reunited with their parents (after meeting requirements implemented by the state), hundreds of thousands of children remain in foster care, waiting for a loving family to adopt them, or in some cases by "aging" out of the foster care system.

There is hope though! Relatives of children in state custody, or foster care, can provide kinship care for the children and receive some financial support and assistance from the state. Since we all know that raising children is expensive, some people may be dissuaded by the idea of caring for a child because they will not be able to support their current family needs financially. Through kinship programs, however, relatives can be encouraged that the state does try to alleviate some of the pressure by offering subsidies, allowances, child care costs, and medical services.

Take Arizona for instance; this state has implemented a program that allows kinship care providers with a vast amount of resources. The state offers the child Comprehensive Medical and Dental Program (CMDP), daily clothing and personal allowance, special payment for children with special needs, and a monthly stipend of $75 for the kinship provider.[2] Additionally, if the child qualifies, the kinship provider can receive additional resources from the local Department of Economic Security office for programs like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families); SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); and WIC (Women Infant and Children).

Unfortunately, if the child does not qualify for such programs, then the brunt of the financial responsibility lies on the shoulders of the relative who takes in the child. Fortunately, there is an alternative option; Arizona offers a kinship provider a chance to become a licensed foster parent. Although the licensing process may seem arduous to some, the additional resources to the relative and the child in foster care may be enormously helpful in maintaining a well-functioning family unit. Once licensed as a foster parent, the relative will receive a monthly maintenance payment which is approximately $600 per child.[3] In addition to the maintenance payment, the child will still receive the CMDP coverage, and the family unit may still be eligible for child care costs. Further, many non-profit organizations in Arizona provide free resources such as clothing, retreats for the family unit,  Christmas presents, and financial support for the child to attend a trade school of their choice.

The kinship program/foster program in Arizona encourages family members to provide temporary support for the child while the parents get the help they need. Although the money received from the state does not entirely offset the cost of caring for the child, the state support relieves some of the pressure that relatives face when deciding if they can provide adequate care and support for the child in need. In my opinion, such programs immensely promote the familial unit and encourage the concept of family restoration allowing that children remain in the care of family members whenever possible.

[1] AFCARS is the Adoption and Foster Care Annual Reporting System https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/afcars, numbers estimated on September 30, 2017.

[2] Kinship Foster Caregivers, Arizona.gov, https://dcs.az.gov/fosteradoption/kinship-foster-caregivers. A pamphlet located online has detailed information regarding the programs including a comprehensive list of benefits and resources available to the child.  https://dcs.az.gov/sites/default/files/CSO-1047A_.pdf

[3] This website provides an overview of some resources and the approximate amount of the programs. https://dcs.az.gov/fosteradoption/kinship-foster-caregivers