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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The Email

Who waits until late on a Friday to send out really not great news?

Well, a  lot of people do. After working in the news business for decades, I’ve realized that’s actually when most bad news is typically delivered. Press releases often go out right after the closing of the typical Friday business day (or whatever day it might be). It’s an easy out. If there is one. And it happens so that none of the decision makers can be contacted for comment until Monday and it helps delay having to deal with any fallout. Unless one is relentless in pursuing good sources, has an ‘in’ with those decision makers or you track down someone who’s been affected by the decisions and usually they’re searching for you, wanting to talk, you’re hard pressed to get your story.

I’m not good at waiting until Monday with questions I have about bad decisions made on a Friday. When I have questions, I try to go to the source in any situation as best I can and get answers. Not to be a pain, or create conflict. But to simply get answers.

I hung up the phone after talking with the Cowboy here a couple of weeks ago now. And I called our attorney for his thoughts …

“I don’t know. I really have never seen anything like this. I’m shocked by his decision,” he said. Then he added, “What don’t I know? What sort of history might you have with this judge that I’m not aware of?” he said.

——–

I caught up with a girlfriend early yesterday to go for a ride. She was off the hook to go out and help cut silage for the day – they had some unexpected help. I had enough work in front of me to last a 12 hour day. But I got a ‘please please please please please’ message from her. I couldn’t pass it up. The day was beautiful. Perfect, actually. We all know days like this are numbered as we head toward another South Dakota winter where the wicked winter winds that blow across the prairie make long rides relatively unbearable.

Barn cat

Barn kitty out soaking up the morning sun

Plus, time in the saddle is great to clear your head.

We also hadn’t had a chance to catch up in weeks. She was dying to know what was in the email I last wrote about. She was frustrated I hadn’t followed up yet with another post on what had happened.

“It’s best, while everything is still ongoing, to not say much of anything,” I told her.

IMG_7963

 

It’s why I haven’t written much now for over a year. It’s what our attorney feels is best. He’s probably right.

My problem with that is, and I said this to her … the situation we’re in and that so many others are as well, has just about everyone afraid to talk. If you do, too much is at stake. You don’t ever want to say anything that might piss off a judge who could possibly be ruling on your case. Or any of their buddies on the bench. Because they do talk. They do keep an eye on what you are doing. And they do in turn, have absolute power to change the entire course of your life and on top of that, make you pay. Literally. In so many ways. Regardless of what actual facts in the case may be and the law.

Unless someone knows. Or digs. Or isn’t afraid to pursue what is lawful and based on fact. Or share their story. More people need to share their stories, and it is happening across the country. Because it’s time.

In the meantime, we are quite certain the fact we’ve (more the Cowboy than me) been outspoken advocates for shared parenting in South Dakota and across the nation, has in fact, affected the rulings in our own shared parenting case.

“There’s just no other logical explanation,” our attorney said, shaking his head and looking hard at us in a recent meeting to follow up on ‘the email.’ A shared parenting proponent himself, he felt absolutely terrible leaving things where they were at. He had even helped draft what this year became the new law on Shared Parenting in South Dakota and felt our case was a slam dunk if there ever was one. It is most likely one of the last meetings we’ll have with our attorney. This one …