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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

October 9, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

I’ve been reading anti-shared parenting opinions for many, many years. The longer the issue remains in the public forum, the less sense these people make. But even by that remarkably low standard, this piece stands out (Jamestown Sun, 10/6/14). Does the writer, Lloyd Omdahl, former Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota, get anything right? His is as shoddy a compilation of non-facts, special pleading and illogic as I’ve seen in a long time and still it falls flat. I mean, it should be easy to make a compelling argument as long as you don’t restrict yourself to facts and principle, but Omdahl fails even at that.

Needless to say, with the vote on Measure 6 coming up in less than a month, that is Omdahl’s topic. Measure 6 is the North Dakota initiative that, if passed, would establish a presumption of equal parenting for fit parents who divorce.

I asked if Omdahl got anything right, and I can say for certain that he did.

Divorce is a messy business, very emotional for parents and traumatic for children. Parents lose perspective and are unable to deal objectively with the consequences of separation.

Of course many spouses deal very sanely with divorce, but often they don’t, so I’ll grant Omdahl that the process can be messy. So what’s the solution to all that lack of tidiness?

That is why the objectivity of the court system is critical in overseeing the negotiation process between separating parents.

Really? Is that what family courts are? Objective? Is it objective to remove fathers from the lives of their children as family courts do? When we know well that children are harmed by that very thing, does it make sense? With 83% of primary and sole custody going to mothers, how is that objective? Are all those dads just unworthy of continuing as active parents to their children? How’d that happen? How did they go from being perfectly fine, fit parents to being creeps and deadbeats just because Mom decided she didn’t want them around anymore?

Does Omdahl know the first thing about the facts of divorce and custody? Does he know, for example, that when Nebraska examined its child custody cases over a ten-year-period that, in just over 5% of them was any form of unfitness even alleged, much less proven? Does he know that the United States Supreme Court has said time and again that parental rights cannot be abridged by states absent a showing of unfitness? If his beloved family courts are so objective, why do they refuse to order non-custodial mothers to pay any child support at all 71% of the time?

Given that family courts are everywhere required to act in “the best interests of the child,” and that children do better with both parents actively involved in their lives, objectivity would require them to order equal parenting in the vast majority of cases. But equal parenting orders are as scarce as good sense in an anti-dad advocate.

Canadian researcher Paul Millar has pointed out that by far the greatest predictor of child custody is the sex of the parent, not the child’s best interests. Overwhelmingly, mothers get custody and fathers don’t. There’s a word for that, and it’s not “objectivity,” it’s “bias.” The simple fact is that family court judges walk into court with the usual pro-mother/anti-father biases intact. Much social science and countless personal stories by fathers damaged by the system prove the point. Unsurprisingly, Omdahl makes no effort at rebuttal, contenting himself with simply asserting the objectivity of courts and moving on. No one who’s been through the family court wringer is buying it.

In order to settle the issue of parenting time, both parents are required to make concessions. Painful compromise is the result.

Oh? By all means tell us, Mr. Omdahl, what “concessions” do custodial parents make? What compromises? It would take a writer armed with some facts to say so, but 70% of divorces are filed by mothers because they know they won’t lose their kids. That’s hardly the act of someone who knows she’ll be faced with “painful compromise.” On the contrary, the only issue for a custodial parent is how much he/she will be paid by the non-custodial one. Anyone who can read can see what the standard visitation order in the state consists of. Typically it gives between 14% and 20% of the parenting time to the “visitor” and the rest to the custodial parent.

Of course the patent bias of the existing system of child custody can’t be seen by Omdahl who’s blinkered by his own anti-father bias. According to him you see, equal parenting would place an undue burden on mothers. How does he figure? Well, like pretty much everything else in his article, Omdahl’s content to just make the assertion and hope readers will agree. Factual support isn’t exactly his long suit.

Equality sounds good but Measure 6 would change the impartial system now in place. And because more than 80 percent of parents with primary residential care are women, the burden imposed by this measure would fall primarily on them.

How so? After all, when we consider that over 40% of single mothers with children in the household live in poverty that’s partly due their childcare obligations making earning a living difficult, those of us who actually know something about the matter understand that equal parenting would be good for those very mothers Omdahl pretends to care about. Giving more time to Dad would let Mom work, earn and save more. And of course it would allow little Andy or Jenny to keep meaningful relationships with both parents instead of just one.

Little Andy or Jenny? Oh, them. That’s right, they slipped Omdahl’s mind completely. Funny how that happens. A ballot initiative that’s all about children’s welfare is attacked by a man who manages to never mention children in his article on it.

But if mothers’ ability to work, earn and save that would be enhanced by Measure 6 isn’t on Omdahl’s mind, what’s he referring to when he claims the measure’s “burden... would fall primarily on them?”

To fight an unfit parent, women would have to pay for the lawyers and investigators to prove the unfitness of a hostile parent.  

I hate it when that happens. You mean mothers who make legally detrimental allegations about their ex would actually have to prove the matter in court? Say it ain’t so, Joe! But it is so. Yes, exactly as now, when a parent alleges something, he/she has to produce evidence to support the claim or it’s not proven. I don’t know what rock Omdahl has been hiding under, but that’s true in every court in every case in the country. Without evidence, you can’t win your case. It’s one of the most fundamental requirements of due process of law. Just why Omdahl believes mothers should be exempt from the requirement, he doesn’t say, for what I suspect are obvious reasons.

About the only reason I can think of for Omdahl’s unwritten but clear belief that mothers shouldn’t have to be “burdened” with that basic legal requirement is that, for the most part, now they’re not. Again, the rule of child custody cases is that mothers get custody and fathers don’t. It’s not that they prove they’re the better parent or that, even if they are, that Dad should be chucked out on his ear. No, in hundreds of thousands of cases every year, parents who are both fit and loving either receive or are denied custody for one reason only – their sex. Omdahl’s all for that continuing.

It’s hard not to notice that Omdahl doesn’t extend the same solicitousness to fathers. Under the current system, fathers have to prove not only that they’re fit and loving parents, but that their ex is some version of Ma Barker and Typhoid Mary rolled into one. As any family lawyer would be glad to tell him, fathers have to be two or three times as good as mothers to even have a hope of real parenting time with them. And of course doing so costs them money and even when they spend it and even when they prove their cases, all too often they still lose. But, unlike mothers, those dads don’t get Omdahl’s attention. Like little Andy or Jenny, he gives them not so much as a passing mention.

Like other articles that attempt to discredit equal parenting, Omdahl’s is entirely without merit. He has little to say beyond bare assertions even about the points he himself makes. He’s clearly ignorant about both the benefits of shared parenting and the detriments of the current system. But toward the end, he’s reduced to just making stuff up. Recall that Measure 6 would require equal parenting between fit parents (unless they agreed to a different arrangement).

We don’t know what would constitute “unfit” under the standard of “clear and convincing evidence.” Would abuse make a parent unfit? Would an alcohol or drug addict be unfit? How about a convicted sex offender? Or a parent who terrorizes his or her spouse and/or children?

No, Mr. Omdahl, actually we know very well what constitutes unfitness in a parent. Courts across the nation including North Dakota adjudicate matters of fitness every day many times a day. When CPS takes a child from a parent and attempts to terminate parental rights, that’s a question of the parent’s fitness. There is an immense body of law on the subject, which may be why the United States Supreme Court referred to the term when it ruled that the state has no interest in intervening in parental decision making as long as the parent has not been adjudicated to be unfit.

Omdahl is either utterly ignorant of his subject or lacking in candor. None of his points have merit. Much of what he says is bunk, much more is a product of his own anti-father bias and still more is simply made up.

The people of North Dakota, particularly the children, deserve better. They deserve equal parenting. They deserve Measure 6.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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