November 3, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Tomorrow, North Dakotans have an opportunity to improve the well-being of the children of the state. They can also make history. They can do so by voting ‘Yes’ on Measure 6 that establishes a presumption of equal parenting after divorce or separation. No other state, province, territory or nation has ever done so.
Measure 6 allows children to maintain close relationships with both parents when they divorce. As things stand now, divorce means one parent, usually the father, becomes a mere visitor in his child’s life. The child goes from seeing that parent every day to seeing him only every other weekend. The parent goes from daily protector, provider, mentor, guide and friend to what sociologist Susan Stewart has called a “Disneyland Dad,” more of an entertainer than a parent.
The social science on the children of divorce is well settled. For decades it’s shown that children of all races, classes and ethnicities do better with two parents than with one. Children with two parents are less likely to drop out of school, commit crimes, be unemployed and use drugs or alcohol than are those with a single parent. That’s as true after the parents divorce as it is during marriage. As the world-renowned scholar Dr. Edward Kruk has written, “Equal parenting is most in keeping with an evidence-based, child-focused perspective of children’s interests.”
The only group to oppose Measure 6 consists of lawyers. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, they started their organization, Keeping Kids First, on September 4, just two months before Election Day. One month later, they’d raised $70,000, every penny of it donated by lawyers – the State Bar Association of North Dakota and its Family Law Section.
Why are lawyers so intent on defeating Measure 6? The unpleasant truth seems to be that Measure 6 would reduce the fees they earn in child custody cases. Social science demonstrates that shared parenting orders tend to reduce parental conflict. While the current “winner-take-all” system encourages parents to fight each other for custody, shared parenting means that neither loses meaningful contact with the children. The result, in the great majority of cases, is a lessening of conflict between the two.
Lawyers take parental conflict to the bank. The more parents fight each other, the more motions there are to file, the more hearings to attend, the more experts to hire, the more evaluations to assess, etc. No family lawyer ever got rich doing uncontested divorces, which probably explains why family lawyers oppose Measure 6.
Most North Dakotans disagree with them. A recent poll conducted by the University of North Dakota’s College of Business Administration and Public Affairs found broad support for Measure 6. According to it, supporters of the measure outnumber opponents by 15 percentage points, and that support crosses all demographic lines. Men and women support Measure 6 equally as do Republicans and Democrats.
Meanwhile, the lawyers of the state are hoping their money will carry the day. But the battle over Measure 6 is between the well-being of children and the bank accounts of lawyers. For most North Dakotans, that choice is an easy one.
The world should be watching North Dakota tomorrow. Success there may be a harbinger of the future for those who support shared parenting. For too long, state legislators, beholden to interest groups like state bar associations, have spurned efforts to do the right thing for children, mothers, fathers and society generally. In North Dakota, now it’s the people’s turn.
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.
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