North Dakota: Lawyers Illegally Use State Bar to Oppose Shared Parenting Initiative

September 17, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

They’re at it again.  Lawyers who don’t know the law are bad enough, but to be expected.  That’s because there’s simply far too much law to know.  Ask a litigator about the fine points of the Internal Revenue Code and you’re likely to get a less than full and perfect answer.  The same is true of any profession whose body of knowledge is as vast and detailed as that of the law.  But still, when it’s the bar association of a state that doesn’t know the law relating to state bar associations, wouldn’t you think we should be able to expect better?

Apparently we can’t.  Recall that last year the Nebraska State Bar got in big trouble for using the resources of the Bar to lobby against the shared parenting bill then before the legislature.  It got in such trouble that the Supreme Court of the state essentially took over its management, reducing fees drastically.  That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory associations can’t use their resources to lobby for or against legislation.  To do so the court said would violate the free speech rights of members who don’t agree with the association’s stance on the particular issue.

At the time I wondered how it was possible for an organization of lawyers to not know the laws directly applicable to the doings of that organization.  My guess is that they’d been doing it for so long that it never occurred to them that the law applied to them.  Or maybe they just didn’t know the law.  After all, Bar President Marsha Fangmeyer demonstrated to everyone in the state in the pages of one major newspaper that she was incapable of reading the four-page parenting bill.  Either that or she was lying through her teeth.  I could never decide which it was.

Anyway, something very similar is going on in North Dakota this very minute.  As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, there’s an initiative on the ballot this November in North Dakota that would establish a legal presumption in favor of the fitness of each parent to a custody dispute and a presumption of equal parenting.

To no one’s surprise, the opposition to the initiative is starting to raise its ugly head, as this article demonstrates (Minot Daily News, 9/13/14).  And of course, without even reading the article we can guess what their objections are.

A coalition of attorneys, clergy, parents and others formed Keeping Kids First to oppose Measure 6.

"We are interested in what’s in the best interests of the children of North Dakota," said chairman Paul Schauer of Wilton, a pastor who became involved with the coalition as a parent.

Schauer said the opposition is based on the premise that there is no "one size fits all" formula that works for kids.

"It’s a blanket response to a very small group of folks," he said, noting that many divorced couples settle on child-rearing plans outside of court. Courts also try to balance the parenting in deciding custody agreements, he said.

Yep, it’s the “one-size-fits-all” claim again.  Of course it’s nonsense here as it’s been every other place the argument has been made.  In the first place, the measure wouldn’t require a rigid 50-50 split of parenting time as the article makes clear.  In the second place, divorcing parents can always agree on a different division of time based on their unique needs.  The claim that such a law would straitjacket judges and parents is simply untrue.

Then there’s this:

"There are practical problems with this," he said of Measure 6, citing the difficulty of equally shared parenting when parents live in different communities. Although these situations can be worked through, in reality, parents aren’t talking and working together in a contentious divorce, he said.

"In joint custody, you are expecting that the parents do communicate with each other in a productive way," he said.

It’s true that problems could arise in particularly contentious divorces, but don’t they anyway?  The social science comparing the current winner-take-all system and shared parenting is unequivocal that the latter tends to ameliorate parental conflict while the former tends to do the opposite.  But more importantly, the prospect of conflict between some parents in no way trumps the many benefits shared parenting has for children.  Judges deal with bickering parents as it is and, with shared parenting they may continue to do so.  But in the meantime, we’ll have ended the scandal of courts effectively removing one parent – usually the father – from the child’s life.

The benefits of shared parenting are so obvious and so well-established, it’s hard not to conclude that opponents must have another agenda.  And sure enough, as in every other state with a shared parenting initiative or bill to be voted on, opponents in North Dakota look to care about something other than kids’ well-being.

The organization leading the charge against children maintaining real relationships with their fathers is called Keeping Kids First.  Who is Keeping Kids First?  Well, it seems to have sprung up from nowhere, but it has a Facebook page that identifies its movers and shakers.  Are you surprised to learn that they’re almost all lawyers, and family lawyers at that?  Nope, neither am I.  Here’s a list of their committee members:

They have a pastor fronting for them, but the reality is that this is the same cabal of lawyers we see in state after state.  Divorce attorneys fear and loathe the prospect of shared parenting for the precise reason that it tends to reduce conflict and reduced conflict between parents means reduced fees for lawyers.  Nothing new there.

But here’s the kicker.  The email address for Keeping Kids First is  And of course that “sband” refers to the State Bar Association of North Dakota.  In short, the state bar is allowing its name and resources to be used to oppose an initiative that will be voted on this November.  And, given that the North Dakota Bar is a mandatory association, that, just like in Nebraska, IS NOT LEGAL. 

Amazing.  The lengths to which lawyers will go to keep dads out of their children’s lives never cease to astonish.  Violating the law to line our pockets and injure your children – your state bar working for you!


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, #equalparenting, #NorthDakotaStateBar, #U.S.SupremeCourt

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