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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” .. children and families deserve better.”

On any given morning while I’m working, the Cowboy is sitting across from me at the table talking with other parents – both men and women – who are struggling with the parenting situation they’re in due to a divorce or family split. He does this for awhile. Goes about his day shoeing horses. Then does a bit more work on shared parenting each night. He’s not getting paid. He knows the likelihood it will change his own situation is slim. In fact, we’re told right now from a judicial insider, it may be one of the biggest hurdles we face in regard to getting anything to change in our case. The State Bar wants nothing to do with Shared Parenting and South Dakota judges don’t want to be told they have to consider it’s in a child’s best interest to spend as much time possible with both parents. We’re told they know the Cowboy’s been one of the most vocal advocates for the cause.

Just want to be a dad

He does it though because he prays others won’t have to go what he went through as time marches on. Essentially removing one parent from a child’s life, unless there is really good reason, the Cowboy says to me, is just not right. I wholeheartedly agree. But it is more often the norm in our world than the exception. And until moms (the majority of the time) realize they have a role in this as well, recognize it’s in their kids best interest to spend as much time as possible with their dad (or the other parent when roles are reversed) when and if possible, to bring that discussion to the table in resolving custody issues instead of waiting for it to be forced on you as if somehow it’s a horrible thing or something to be ashamed of – that you’re sharing custody and placement, and for both parents to get along and drop the perpetuation of drama and ongoing conflict, will anything change. It’s not about you. It’s what is shown now time and again, when you can work together, to be best for your kids. So why, when the conditions are right, are we doing things so wrong? Would moms sit back and take it if the majority of time there were custody decisions made, they were told it was in their kids best interest to only see them every other weekend? Why, when the roles are reversed, does it seem to be okay? Most dads don’t want to be shut out of their kids lives, nor do the majority of kids want to have little contact with their dads.

Sure, there are exceptions. But they are exceptions.

“If there are two really good parents willing to parent, why don’t you let them?” the Cowboy says as I ask him why he keeps doing this.

I knew this group was out there, Leading Women for Shared Parenting. I read about the group’s launch earlier this year. But after some recent discussions within our own family and with some others, this group and what we might do to be more vocal on the cause – has been on my mind. I don’t know that this is the answer, but it’s another great place to have the conversation. Please consider joining. http://lw4sp.org

LW4SP’s mission:

“We believe, in the absence of abuse, neglect or abandonment, children’s desires, needs and interests are best served when they grow up loving equally, and equally loved by, both their parents.  Further, children benefit equally from the diversity of both mothers and fathers and from the maximum involvement of both parents.  Millions of family members, both women and men, have silently suffered the loss of children they love and care deeply about as a result of misguided laws and family court practices which systematically restrict a child’s access to one parent and half of their extended family.  Both children and families deserve better than to be forced into an adversarial process with policies that encourage the minimization of one parent in the lives of their children.  It is our aim to change this system.  The first step is endorsing the statement below.  The next step is inviting your friends and family members to do the same.”