Yesterday we got news that proponents of shared parenting – a presumption of shared parental responsibilities in the absence of evidence that one or both parents are unfit – had turned in their petitions.
But whether or not the petition will be on the November ballot is a doubtful thing as it stands now.
Currently, to qualify for the statewide ballot, a statutory measure must have 13,452 signatures. The shared parenting folks turned in 13,521. Given that hundreds of signatures are routinely disqualified by the Secretary of State’s office due to issues like duplication and illegibility, I’m not sure they have enough.
The petitioners say they have more signatures coming, but their deadline (one year from when the petition was approved by the Secretary of State for circulation) is June 18th, which is tomorrow.
Anyway, if the petition does make the ballot here’s what it will insert into state law:
It is the policy of the State of North Dakota that no requesting biological or adoptive parent shall be denied equal parental rights and responsibilities, equal parenting time, equal primary residential responsibility, and equal decision making responsibility of a child in a custody case. It is the policy of the State of North Dakota to presume that parents are fit and an award to both parents of equal parental rights and responsibilities, equal parenting time, equal primary residential responsibility, and equal decision making responsibility of a child is in the best interest of the child. The presumption of fitness as a parent shall only be rebutted upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence. The court shall support departures from equal parenting time with written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Fit parents may petition the court for a hearing which the court shall grant to support this statute. The provisions of this section control other provisions of state law that conflict with or are contrary to its provisions.
The measure, which you can read in its entirety here, also defines equal parenting time as “a rebuttable presumption of approximate and reasonable equal time-sharing of a child with both of the child’s parents or a mutually agreed and signed parenting plan between the parents.”
If you’re thinking this all sounds familiar, a similar measure was voted down in 2006 53% – 46% after a heavy lobbying effort against it by the state’s lawyers through the North Dakota Bar Association which spent big money on an advertising campaign against it.
You can see the text of that measure, for comparison, right here.
The argument from the lawyers and other opponents at the time was that the measure would overly complicate child custody situations leading to needless legal fees (an argument you don’t often hear from people who make a living from legal fees). There were also claims that the measure’s requirement for a parenting plan (something that is actually in North Dakota law today, though not as a requirement) would force divorced parents to work together even when there are claims of abuse.
Plus, the state’s health care bureaucrats claimed that changes to how child support is calculated would put some of the state’s federal funding at risk.
It really is amazing, looking back, that the 2006 measure got even 46% of the vote given the forces lined up against it.
The measure as proposed for this November’s ballot makes no such requirement for a parenting plan. As you read above, it simply states that there is a presumption of equal parenting rights unless one parent or the other is disqualified by evidence.
But if this makes the ballot, expect a red-hot debate over it.