On life, divorce, custody and Measure 6.

I’ve been trying to figure out what, if anything, I can write that might make a difference in the war being waged right now in North Dakota over the upcoming ballot measure on Shared Parenting. I don’t know that this is it. But it’s the first of several blogs I’ll probably post this week on the topic, because watching and reading some of the material that’s being perpetuated on the issue by opponents of shared parenting reform, is terribly sad and frustrating. And part of our daily conversations right now. And I can’t sit idle and watch anymore.

We’ve been following Measure 6 closely, as there is still a long way to go in shared parenting reform in most, if not all states. It has countless others across the nation watching as well as the discussion unfolds in North Dakota. Why?

Measure 6 really has the chance to do some things right. And do right, by our kids, should it pass.

Opponents (it appears this is most often lawyers, custodial parents themselves and women who just want to support other women who have custody of their kids because, according to so many of their comments, how could a man possibly care for a child nearly as well as a mother) would have you believe it’s the worst thing ever for any child. That Measure 6 will only hurt children who don’t deserve to be stuck in the middle. I hate to break it to you, but they already are. Can we at least agree to start there?

Measure 6 asks judges to consider before knowing anything else, that the best possible scenario for a child caught in the middle of a family separation or divorce, would be 50/50 time and placement when two fit parents are involved. The final ruling doesn’t need to be 50/50, but Measure 6 encourages judges to use it as a starting point. If 50/50  obviously won’t work for reasons of say, perhaps distance between homes, demanding jobs that require a lot of travel or time away from home or for any other logical and proven reason, that the child be offered the chance to maximize time with both parents, however that may look. Along with this, standards need to be met for both parents to be considered ‘fit’.

This law is asking North Dakota voters to agree to a different future for the children of that state and quite honestly for adults, attorneys and judges in the state’s family law system. It asks that everyone try and play better in the proverbial sandbox that more and more families find themselves in. And it also asks that there finally be some accountability for why good parents are otherwise, often completely or nearly completely, shut out of a child’s life.

Why would I care about a shared parenting measure in another state? Well, because important, relevant and universal issues know no boundaries. The conversations on any broad social issues don’t stop at the state line. (If so, you might want to gather those parenting magazines you have lying around the house offering advice and chuck ’em because chances are they weren’t written by anyone in ND.)

I also care because, our family is a prime example of how shared parenting can work, does work and could work even when parents don’t get along or live in different states. At least on the one side. On the other, is an ongoing reminder of why the system needs to change.

Here’s the deal. I’ve tried to limit the number of parenting/shared parenting/etc posts on this blog because, well, because I don’t want the issue to define our lives. But, I could write a post daily. Stories about the beauty of co-parenting. About the challenges along the way. About how we work through them, or not. About how easily 50/50 can work. And if not 50/50, as close to that as possible when it isn’t possible. About how important it is a child feel they’re able to equally love both parents. About, how when that is their norm, having that taken away from them is what tears them up versus starting from that unequal split and trying to reverse it. And what happens when none of the above is present. About the trials and hurt children face when shut out of one good parents life. About the questions they ask when one parent is minimized and how, as a parent, you struggle to find the right answer without putting the other parent down. About the gut wrenching hurt that’s visible in a good dad’s eyes because every attempt to help raise his children is met with a no, you’re not welcome here, but your money certainly is. (Check please!) And about how the only recourse you know you might have when you are consistently shut out or denied time or phone calls or holidays, is to go back to court, to be told once again there aren’t any issues here, mom is doing her best and oh by the way, because she’s such an upstanding parent and seems totally willing to offer you your six days a month and two phone calls per week, you should pay her attorneys fees.

Doesn’t apply to you? You’re lucky if it doesn’t. But chances are you, a family member, a friend, even one of your own children have gone through it on some level. If not, they will. And when that time comes, should you choose to ignore how flawed the current system is, you had better hope you’re on the right side of the current law if you ever want to see your kids or your grandkids. Especially .. especially if there is a vindictive, self-centered, egotistical, self-righteous or narcissistic custodial parent in the mix.

Measure 6 may not be perfect. Nothing ever is. But it follows the logic of what social science experts studying this issue for decades seem to feel is best for our kids. And given what we’ve seen personally, time and again and not just in our home but countless others – shared parenting can work and works well. Far better than the outcomes I’ve seen in families where there is a desire to equally parent but a hefty imbalance of time available for whichever parent it may be (most often, dads). But two parents have to be willing to be okay with it. And the process shouldn’t just get shut down because mom says, ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘this is terrible for our children’ without any proof that’s the case. When a shared parenting agreement is tough to work through initially, that is when parents need help and a voice of reason the most (chances are, you’re already in court for those who say the state should stay out of such decisions – oh, the irony), and that is where a law like this would step in and encourage what’s truly in the best interest of a child. Besides attorneys knowing that co-parenting reform often leads to less litigation (among the reasons the ND State Bar is fighting this measure tooth and nail whether you care to admit that or not), two adults agreeing to act like two adults in this situation appears the biggest hurdle of all.

#VoteYesOn6

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Can’t get along with the other parent? On Shared Parenting…

Chances are you’ve been fighting for awhile and still sharing parenting duties while at home, and still married or ‘together’.

Chances are at some point during your school age years you were assigned a group project with a partner you didn’t like, didn’t hang out with, didn’t care to work with, but you went to school, played nice, got the job done and most likely your grade wasn’t too bad. And then maybe .. just maybe you started to say hello when you’d pass in the hallway and perhaps even become friends at some point.

Chances are, you don’t get along well with someone at work but you both still go in and get the job done everyday.

Chances are as you’ve gotten older, you’ve also gotten wiser. We can only hope. Time has healed old wounds over something you can now hardly recall and you’ve realized there are bigger things in life to worry about than harboring anger over old, insignificant issues.

Chances are, if you can’t figure out a way to get along with someone, you can figure a way around it and still do it well. That is, if you care to try, knowing the reason you’re trying is what’s best for everyone involved.

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I’m rather disgusted and quite frankly tired of hearing adults that I want to think are relatively level headed and well educated, say when it comes to shared parenting, that if the parents can’t get along (this is at the time of divorce – mind you – when custody and placement decisions are being made and emotions are often most high) then shared parenting isn’t possible. Shared parenting meaning maximum time with both parents if not 50/50. Whatever would be in the best interest of the child. And just about every social science study over the past 20 years shows as equal time as possible with both parents is in the best interest of the child, assuming both parents are fit parents.

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I’m not quite sure I get it, and this may just me, because I really don’t see a reason for ongoing conflict. Or despising anyone. Especially when it comes to family situations. If there’s a problem, define and fix it. Get over it. Grow from it. Deal with it. Like an adult. And keep your kids out of it when it comes to what you and your ex still have to work out. While it may be good for kids to see parents sorting through a heated discussion, a debate or a disagreement in a healthy way so they learn emotional intelligence skills as they grow, they don’t need to be put in the middle of your own issues with your own bruised ego, see that you can’t get over being ‘wronged’ or whatever the issue may be.

A question posed by KELO television to its viewers after airing a piece on shared parenting and a bill moving through the South Dakota state legislature right now:

“There is a major push in Pierre this year to pass a law for shared parenting, but can this method of custody work in this state?”

Sincerely, you have to be kidding me. Are parents in South Dakota that unlike parents in other states where this works? Genuine shared parenting – where it’s done, accepted and quite honestly, now promoted – is overall shown to decrease conflict over time and is shown to be better for kids. In any state. This doesn’t somehow stop at the state line of any given state. Unless…  are parents in South Dakota just that much more hard headed and with conviction they don’t want it to work? This conviction not limited to just parents? The comments coming from so called ‘family court’ officials seem unbelievably ignorant to me if you’ve had any conversations or done any research outside the four walls of your respective office. Research done on this topic and covering many families is broad based and not limited to any one state. There seems a deliberate attempt in South Dakota to maintain a system that is alienating of fit, capable and willing parents – most often men but also women. And detrimental to children.

This is nowhere near “in the best interest of any child.”

Bauserman in 2002 and Melli and Brown in 2008 found that inter­parental conflict decreases over time in equal or shared parenting arrangements and increases in sole physical custody arrangements; interparental cooperation increases over time in shared custody arrangements and decreases in sole physical custody arrangements.”

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There is no reason shared parenting can’t work. It does work. In many states. In many places. In many homes. It can work and it does work should two good people choose. Even if one doesn’t choose, without good cause, why should those parents be the one then awarded primary placement? Parents, get over yourself and try. Be open to it. If it doesn’t work.. ?

Worst case scenario: you find yourself in the same situation you’re already in, your kids aren’t doing well and you’re back with family court officials asking for a change in physical placement. Right now this already happens due to any number of reasons – parental alienation, the non-custodial parent fighting for more time. Meantime your kids are confused, not feeling great about their situation in either home and wishing things were different.

Best case scenario: you both, as parents of your children, recognize your kids need something different for them to grow, heal and feel they are getting the best of both of you. And so you work it out. With or without the help of an attorney. It’s civil. It’s cheaper. You all come out better in this situation. You earn trust. Your kids are amazed and find newfound respect for you. And you both get to look in the mirror everyday and feel damn good about the situation you’ve created for your children. That is .. if you genuinely love your children and truly want what is best for them.

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Include the other parent. Allow your children to love their other parent. Share information about school, medical decisions, pictures, the other half of who your child is with the other parent so your children, those beautiful little lives the two of you brought into this world TOGETHER, can somehow still feel whole in a situation you’ve created for them living now, apart. Work together.

It is what’s best.

Chances are … you can make it work. You – and the myriad of family court officials worried more about their matching federal funds for child support shrinking than what is truly in the best interest of the child – just have to be willing to try.

If you’re not, say what you want about anyone else in this situation. But what does that say about you.