Robert Franklin: "Yes" On Measure 6 Keeps Both Parents In A Child's Life


A new survey by the University of North Dakota College of Business Administration and Public Affairs reveals that Measure 6 that would establish a presumption of equal parenting following divorce is strongly favored by voters.  Some 44% of respondents favor the measure with only 30% opposed and the rest undecided.  That support crosses all of the usual demographic lines.  Forty-three percent of men support it and 45% of women.  Forty percent of Republicans do, along with 45% of democrats.  The only demographic significantly opposed consists of voters with less than a high-school education, 57% of whom said they’d vote ‘No.’

That’s remarkable news for a measure that’s always had a certain David vs. Goliath air about it.  Proponents have been toiling all year, first to get enough signatures on their petition to get the matter on the ballot, then to get it passed.  They’ve done it all on a financial shoestring.

By contrast, opponents of shared parenting only got around to establishing their organization on September 4th of this year according to filings with the Secretary of State’s office.  Within a month they had $70,000 in their coffers contributed solely by the State Bar Association of North Dakota and the Family Law section of that same State Bar.  Six of the eight members of the executive committee of that organization are lawyers, five of them family attorneys.

That’s no surprise.  In state after state, country after country, when shared parenting legislation comes before a house or senate committee, those lining up to speak against it are mostly family attorneys.  Why?  It’s one of shared parenting’s most important features that it tends to reduce conflict between divorcing parents.  That’s been found by social scientists in the United States and Canada and family lawyers obviously know it.

They of course take parental conflict straight to the bank.  No family lawyer gets rich doing uncontested divorces, but when parents are at each other’s throats, there are always more motions to file, more hearings to attend, more parenting evaluations to assess, etc.  Family lawyers thrive on the very conflict that shared parenting tends to ameliorate.  Hence their opposition to it.

So desperate are opponents of Measure 6 that they’ve apparently gone to extra-legal methods to try to defeat it.  Recall that the only funding their organization, Keeping Kids First, has received has come from the Bar Association and a subset thereof.  But there’s a big problem with that.  According to two United States Supreme Court cases, a mandatory bar association like North Dakota’s is prohibited from using members’ dues to fund anything except activities directly related to the regulation of the legal profession in the state.  To do otherwise would violate the free speech rights of members who don’t agree with the bar’s position on the matter.  Clearly, shared parenting post-divorce has nothing to do with regulating the practice of law, so, just as clearly, SBAND’s funding of opposition to Measure 6 appears to violate Supreme Court rulings.  You’d think an association of attorneys would know that.

Here’s what else those lawyers don’t seem to know:  shared parenting is good for kids, good for mothers, good for fathers, good for society generally and good for the state treasury.

For decades we’ve known that children of two-parent families do better across a wide range of behaviors than do children of single parents.  So children with single parents are more likely to be involved in crime, abuse drugs or alcohol, drop out of school, be unemployed, suffer depression and commit suicide than children with two parents.

Now social science demonstrates that the children of divorce who are consigned to a single parent suffer the same deficits.  As Dr. Edward Kruk, 25-year scholar of child development and the child custody system, has pointed out, the sole custody arrangement “disregards children’s physical, psychological and social needs for the active and meaningful involvement of both parents in their lives.”

So what do family courts do?  They marginalize one parent, usually the dad, in the kids’ lives.  The usual visitation order allows him to visit his kids about 14% – 20% of the time.  As much social science demonstrates, that’s too little time for him to be a real father to his children.  Instead, he becomes what sociologist Susan Stewart calls a “Disneyland Dad,” more of an entertainer than a parent.  Or, as Dr. Kruk points out, social science shows that “[C]hild custody law and policy serves largely to disconnect children from their families of origin.”

By contrast, children who are allowed to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents after they divorce do better on all those same variables than do children in sole or primary-parent arrangements.

Fathers who lose their kids to divorce court suffer from the loss of their status as father, mentor, protector, adviser, role model, etc. to their children.  That loss and their subsequent role as merely a source of money result in a host of emotional problems and behavioral deficits including a greater tendency to use drugs or alcohol and to become unemployed.  Non-custodial fathers are eight times as likely as other dads to take their own lives.

The United States Census Bureau data show that over 40% of single mothers with children in the home live in poverty.  Family courts’ habit of saddling mothers with almost all the childcare duties is a big reason why.  With almost all the childcare to do, those moms are left with little time to work, earn and save.  So they and their children are the most likely of all Americans to fall into poverty.

With all these social and personal problems occasioned by the removal of a parent from a child’s life, the fabric of society is fraying, very much as New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted almost 50 years ago.  The family is now and always has been the bedrock of any healthy society and ours is no exception.  But laws that promote the marginalization of non-custodial parents work daily to erode that foundation.

How much do we spend in our attempt to address all the problems associated with single-parent families?  How much of our state and federal budgets go to combat drug and alcohol addiction, declining educational achievement, emotional problems, crime and the like?  The total is all but incalculable, but it’s certain that, if family courts kept both parents in children’s lives, a vast array of social and personal problems would be, if not solved, at least ameliorated.

That’s what Measure 6 seeks to do in North Dakota.  Amazingly enough, opponents never mention any of the above.  They don’t for the very good reason that it’s impossible to argue for the status quo.  It turns out that their only argument is the money they’re spending to defeat the measure.  That money protects the incomes of family lawyers.  Measure 6 seeks to protect kids.

My guess is that the people of North Dakota will be able to decide between the two.