- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) From among the nearly 3,000 victims of September 11, at least one had two wives, some were married, but had children out of wedlock, while many were divorced and remarried. Others, heterosexual and homosexual, lived with long-term partners now in legal limbo.
While the varied family structures reflect the remarkable diversity of American society, they also are creating plenty of complications for lawyers sifting through claims for compensation and inheritances.
"These relationships are not trivial, they're not worth less" than those of married couples, said attorney Helen MacFarlane. She represents an unmarried woman who fears being excluded from federal compensation, even though she lived with the father of their two sons for a decade.
"The fund should recognize people who had long-term relationships, emotionally and financially, and who suffered massive loss," Miss MacFarlane said. "Our compassion should not be limited by some of the more narrow views that we have held historically."
Attorney Bill Mauk of Boise, Idaho, is helping coordinate requests by hundreds of families for legal aid during a four-month, volunteer stay in New York on behalf of the state and national trial lawyers associations.
"The stereotype of a traditional family with a surviving spouse and a couple of kids is probably the exception rather than the rule," he said.
That multiplicity of family forms, including domestic partnerships, is complicating the task of Kenneth Feinberg, who oversees the Federal Victim Compensation Fund and is working on criteria for handling claims.
"I am struck, in meeting with families, by the concept of the extended nuclear family children by multiple spouses, aunts and uncles who were pivotal to the victims' lives," Mr. Feinberg said in a telephone interview.
"The days are over when we could assume that only the next of kin the spouse or the spouse's children are going to get the money."
But while signaling open-mindedness, Mr. Feinberg also sounded a note of caution.
"With the rarest of exceptions, the extent to which these extended families can collect will depend on state law," he said. "I'm not going to be like Solomon don't look to me to be making independent determinations that would trump state law. I don't have the time or resources to handle that."
Yet, as Mr. Mauk observed, "The law, to a significant degree, has not kept pace with the changing family."
Miss MacFarlane hopes Mr. Feinberg will override state statute in the case of her client, Marmily Carbrera, who had lived with World Trade Center victim Pedro Checo since 1990.
They had two sons, Jason, 6, and Julian, 1, and considered themselves husband and wife even though New York unlike a dozen other states does not recognize common-law marriages.
Mr. Checo worked for Fiduciary Trust International at the trade center; Miss Carbrera, 33, works at a bank near their home in Queens. Until Mr. Checo's death, lack of a marriage license had not been a problem.
"Nobody ever asked for a marriage license before, but now they are. I feel bitter. How could other states acknowledge something, and not New York?"
Miss Carbrera said some records listing her as Mr. Checo's spouse were lost when the Fiduciary Trust office was destroyed, and the deceased left no will. Miss Carbrera said officials have told her that his insurance would go into his estate, earmarked for Jason and Julian but not for her.


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