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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Disclaimer: There are lawyers, judges, social workers, guardian ad litem, counselors, psychologists, researchers, etc that work diligently each and every day to genuinely do what is in the best interest of children and families when it comes to divorce and custody decisions. They are not in it for the money. They want to help make things as right as possible in a situation that has sadly gone wrong. Wherever and whenever you find these people, please share their names liberally.

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For those that have been fighting to change a very broken system in many states – the family court system – I’m not sure yet what this may mean. But the mere fact popular culture seems to now be looking at the disgusting under bowels of what can be one of the most underhanded, crooked, lacking of any continuity, back door, rewarding of mean spirited, unethical, say whatever you want to hurt another party, guilty until you can prove yourself innocent, shut the other parent out, full of extortion, family destroying industries versus trying to help mend what’s broken, perhaps there is some small glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

Check this out: #divorcecorp

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We just wrapped up having our kids, both our kids pretty much half of their entire winter break from school. We consider ourselves lucky in that.

Helping trim the tree

But the Cowboy said to me the other day, the five full days we just had them, was the first time in three years he’s been allowed time split down the middle with their mom – despite it’s what their court order states they should do together as parents, for their kids.

It’s also the most consecutive days we’ve had with the Cowboy’s kids since summer. I hadn’t really thought about that until this discussion. 

We were talking about this after the Cowboy was contacted by someone who was thrilled he was allowed 3 hours with his kids Christmas Eve night and for the first time in years, New Years Eve. No reason other than it’s just what he was being allowed by the child’s mother. He doesn’t have money to take her to court when she keeps the kids from what is supposed to be by law, his time with them. 50% of his income is already going to child support. Without spending money on legal help to force the custodial parent into sharing, there is no recourse. None.  He sadly, takes what she will allow. Three hours. He was moved to tears of joy, over just three hours. 

I asked the Cowboy to write something for me on all this because he was visibly upset, continuing to not understand why any parent would prevent the other, male or female, from having time with their kids. Rest assured that in most cases – both parents sincerely are fit parents and want time with their kids and their kids with both parents.

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“I am feeling so grateful for our kids, my wife and family and the time we’ve had recently. I am the administrator of several equal parenting pages on Facebook and I am just feeling terrible for some of these parents and their kids who are not able to see one another due to two things 1) a selfish parent and 2) the courts.

One father over Christmas posted about having plane tickets purchased for his children to come stay for a visit. The custodial parent who moved out of state, simply did not put the children on the plane. The dad and step-mother left waiting at the airport were out $1500 in airline tickets, the bigger cost was missed time spent together over the holidays.

I am saddened and frustrated that this can go on.  Stories like this happen everyday in every state, not just ours. Confused about how and why this further tearing apart of families is allowed to go on is what spurs me to keep fighting for these people. My own situation is nothing compared to this. I actually, for the first time in three years am getting to share equal time during my children’s Christmas vacation. I am so thankful for this, but I know what it’s like to be alienated from your children. It was only for a period of five weeks but honestly it was one of the worst times of my life.

Just viewed another parent posting pictures of his family and his daughter, he was so excited that he and his daughter got to spend 3 hours together on Christmas Eve. These people are amazing, to be so thankful for something so small. How can the other parent, the court systems allow this to continue?  But it does everyday.

The fact that one parent can mess with the other parents time (with no consequences) or that our courts often grant one parent maximum placement – even when both parents request equal time and placement and on every level it would work well for the kids – is beyond my comprehension.

I miss my children. But I know this isn’t about me. It’s about what is best for them and they need time with their mom as well as me to have the best chance at growing up the healthiest, happiest and well adjusted they can be. If the roles were reversed, the guilt would be overwhelming if I did not give my kids that time with her. I believe this is a core issue in many divorces where children are stuck in the middle – many of these parents have no idea how to feel guilt or to put their children’s needs before their own.

If you are a parent who has intentionally kept the other parent out of your child’s life for any reason other than they are abusive to that child, answer me this, why? There is long term damage being done to your child that will eventually surface. You may not notice it now, but when that child becomes a young adult, the relationship they are lacking will surface negatively in any number of ways. That’s not my opinion, that’s well documented. And I can put you in touch with adults now who were children of divorce and can tell you in no uncertain terms what you are doing to your own children and how it will impact them down the road.

But why should you care. It’s not about what’s best for your kids really, is it? This is more about what’s best for you, right? About trying to hurt someone you feel wronged you? About getting maximum monthly payments that your attorney told you was best, which comes with a consequence of less time for the other parent? About being the one ‘in control’, being able to say yes or no to letting the child see their mother or father depending more on your mood that what’s been legally agreed upon or decided? About proving a point you are somehow the better parent? Most would argue any parent keeping a child from the other parent is not a good parent at all.

Most everyone anyway, but the attorneys and/or judges (often former attorneys). But hey, what do they stand to lose other than your money should you choose to actually do what’s best for your kids and come to some easy agreements with the other parent of your child without hours upon hours, sometimes months if not years of their help.

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It is amazing to think of how many other, better things that money could go toward that would genuinely benefit our children.

Thanks to those that are honest in their work, that help to minimize conflict between parties, help moms and dads see the benefits to the kids of working together, communicating, sharing time as best as possible and allowing the kids to freely love the other parent. It’s all such a crazy concept, isn’t it? But one, that when adults can act like adults .. share (isn’t that what we teach our kids is best) and be nice, actually works.