North Dakota: Judges, Parents Disagree on Shared Parenting

August 21, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s amazing what we learn when the facts come out.

The organization Leading Women for Shared Parenting (LW4SP) asked the Administrator of the Courts for the State of North Dakota for all data on child custody cases in the state’s eight largest counties. The analysis of that data revealed some remarkable things.

For example, much as in nearby Nebraska, a child’s chances of maintaining meaningful relationships with both parents following their divorce depends little on the parents and a great deal on which county the divorce occurs in . Between, for example, Grand Forks and Morton Counties, there’s a whopping 100% differential in rates of shared parenting (28% and 56% respectively).

Now, anyone with a reasonably skeptical turn of mind would want to know the demographics of those two counties. After all, such a marked difference in custody outcomes may well simply reflect differences in education, income, race or other factors having nothing to do with the courts.

But North Dakota turns out to be an all but ideal state in which to compare counties and judicial districts. That’s because it’s one of the most demographically homogeneous states in the country. The state is over 92% white, median incomes in those eight counties are in a tight $11,000 range ($60,000 to $71,000) and between 89% and 95% of adults in those counties have a high school diploma or better.

So demographics don’t explain much, if anything. On the contrary, it looks like kids chances of keeping real contact with both parents seems to be a function of individual judges’ proclivities toward shared parenting. Some like it, but a lot of them don’t.

That of course leaves us wondering about the best interests of the child, the standard by which, supposedly, all cases involving children are decided. But if that were the case, outcomes would be nowhere nearly as judge-specific as they actually are. Again, the demographics don’t explain the outcomes and certainly shared parenting is as good for children in Grand Forks County as it is in Morton County and elsewhere.

But that’s far from all the LW4SP data reveal. Recall that, back in late 2014, North Dakotans placed an initiative on the ballot, Measure 6, that would have established a presumption of shared parenting. The State Bar Association of North Dakota pulled out all the stops to, perhaps illegally, fund opposition to Measure 6, and shared parenting was defeated.

But a funny thing has happened since then – divorcing parents seem to have become educated about the possibilities of shared parenting. Since 2015, the percentage of parents who agree to their parenting order and who opt for shared parenting jumped from 34% to over 44%.

Meanwhile, another funny thing happened. When judges decided custody, the percentage ordering shared parenting dropped from 16.5% in 2015 to barely 10% in 2017. What happened? Did judges take the defeat of Measure 6 as a greenlight to be even more anti-dad than usual? Certainly, judges are lawyers and SBAND virulently opposed the establishment of a presumption of shared parenting. So perhaps they concluded that the initiative’s defeat meant divorcing parents don’t care about shared parenting.

Now we know they do. In passing, I’d like to note that this isn’t the first time that We the People seem to know better what’s good for us than those who make or execute public policy.

Unsurprisingly, courts show a definite preference for maternal custody, ordering sole or primary custody for mothers in over 70% of cases. But again, parents who stipulate to their custody arrangement, thereby avoiding judicial decision-making, only agree to primary maternal custody 44.4% of the time. My guess is that those parents know well who’s a fit and loving parent and that their children need both to remain in their lives if the kids are to thrive. Amazingly, judges order paternal custody in under 15% of cases they decide.

There is simply no reasonable explanation for the astonishingly divergent outcomes of cases decided by parents compared to those decided by judges, except judicial bias in favor of mothers and against fathers.

North Dakotans are well advised to pay attention to which judges tend to order shared parenting and which don’t. Those judges are elected officials and, at present, their orders bear little resemblance to what divorcing parents want or what’s best for kids. It’s far past time for the state’s lawyers to put aside their pecuniary interests and do what science, children’s best interests and common decency require – shared parenting.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#sharedparenting, #primarycustody, #fathers’rights, #bestinterestofthechild

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