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April 19, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Family law attorneys in North Dakota are reaching new depths of dishonesty about shared parenting (Grand Forks Herald, 4/16/17). This article actually claims that the state’s family bar members are all for shared parenting, just not a presumption of shared parenting. Pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

The writers, Tasha Gahner, Shannon Parvey, Jackie Stebbins and Jason McLean, are all family lawyers in North Dakota. Their article comes perilously close to being a bald-faced lie. They obviously hope that their readers are ignorant of recent facts, like what happened two years ago when Measure 6, that would have established shared parenting as the default arrangement in child custody matters, went before the voters.

But of course we here at the National Parents Organization haven’t forgotten. Indeed, I wrote pieces about the nefarious goings on at the State Bar Association of North Dakota leading up to the vote. Put simply, SBAND violated federal law for the sole purpose of opposing Measure 6. It did so by using members’ dues to create and fund a shell organization to convince voters to vote against Measure 6. Following the election, SBAND was sued by a family lawyer from the state and was forced to mend its ways.

Needless to say, Gahner, Parvey, Stebbins and McLean make no mention of the above illegalities. No, for them, the family law bar is innocent as a newborn babe.

Nor do they mention the multiple emails sent and received by family law section members discussing how to oppose Measure 6. Sure enough, Stebbins and McLean were on the listserv and avidly took part in the discussions. Funny, neither said a word about supporting shared parenting but simply opposing a presumption thereof. Not one word.

Oh, speaking of not saying a word, neither do the quartet writing the linked-to article let readers know just which family lawyers they’re referring to who supposedly support shared parenting. I’m well aware that there are some scattered here and there around the country. But they’re far outnumbered by those who don’t as evidenced by the fact that no family law section of any bar association in any state in the nation has ever gone to bat for a shared parenting bill. Without exception, those bills are opposed by the family law bar whether legally or illegally.

Indeed, that’s again what happened in North Dakota this year. House Bill 1392 was opposed by the lawyers who were successful in convincing the legislature to amend it to a point at which the excellent Molly Olsen called the bill “hollow.” That of course is just the way the lawyers like it.

In defense of family lawyers’ opposition to shared parenting, Gahner, et al unsurprisingly reprise some of the shoddiest of arguments against it.

What the attorneys who practice family law oppose is a presumption that would place the wishes and desires of a parent above the children's best interests. Scholars who study shared parenting will tell you that the basis for any parenting time must be the best interests of the children.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an opponent of shared parenting stoop to that, but, when you have no legitimate arguments to make, I suppose you make illegitimate ones. What scholars actually find is that, when both parents are fit, shared parenting is in children’s best interests. The idea, peddled by the desperate, that, in some way, the interests of children are opposed to the interests of parents seeking to maintain real relationships with their kids is simply untrue.

That's right: a presumption means a parent who wants equal time does not need to establish that it's actually best for the child. That is not what is best for North Dakota's families.

The parent doesn’t have to prove that shared parenting is in the child’s best interest because the overwhelming weight of social science has already done that. By establishing a presumption, the law would acknowledge the known science on what parenting arrangement is, generally speaking, in the child’s best interests. The argument that we should ignore science and let judges rely on their uninformed biases is too silly to be believed and too destructive of children’s interests to be the law. But the law it is and again, that’s just the way family lawyers like it.

Since the writers claim to oppose only presumptions and not shared parenting itself, do they realize that the presumption now is against shared parenting? After all, any father who wants 50% parenting time and is opposed by his children’s mother, has to prove that such an arrangement is in the child’s best interests. That is, he has to plead for shared parenting and adduce evidence that it’s best for the child. Failure to do either and he doesn’t get the parenting time he wants.

That’s the very definition of a legal presumption. Gahner, et al claim they oppose a presumption of parenting time, but in reality the only one they oppose is that of shared parenting. All others pass muster with them without a second thought.

The only thing positive about the linked-to piece is that is strongly suggests continued retrenchment by family lawyers. Their opposition to shared parenting has taken many forms, all of them disingenuous. But it’s a long way from manufacturing a shell organization and violating the law as they did two years ago, to the claim “Hey, we’re really OK with shared parenting!”

The lawyers are getting desperate. Can that be a bad thing?

Tomorrow I’ll let Molly Olsen explain just how desperate.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

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:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#Sharedparenting, #NorthDakota, #familylawyers, #bestinterestsofthechild

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