November 9, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Back in 2014, I posted several pieces on the State Bar Association of North Dakota’s frank opposition to Measure 6 that was on the ballot that November. Measure 6 would have established a presumption of equal parenting for fit, nonviolent parents post-divorce. In violation of well-established constitutional law, SBAND spent some $70,000 to defeat the measure. It was sued by a member and settled, but had accomplished the main goal of defeating shared parenting.
As I’ve said before, lawyers, particularly family lawyers, have a strong aversion to shared parenting because a presumption of equality tends to reduce conflict between parents. Each parent knows at the outset of a divorce that he/she will come out of it seeing their children half the time, so neither will lose contact with their kids. At a stroke, that removes most of the impetus to fight.
Family lawyers make their money on the very conflict that the present winner-take-all system encourages. So naturally, the family sections of state bar associations invariably oppose shared parenting bills. And so it was in North Dakota.
But yet another remarkable thing about the information coming out of Leading Women for Shared Parenting’s analysis of all child custody cases in the state from 2011 through September 11 of this year is the level of naked dishonesty engaged in by those lawyers and their trade association, SBAND. With the figures I reported on yesterday, information from the lawsuit filed on behalf of one North Dakota attorney by the Goldwater Institute and various statements by SBAND, public and private, that dishonesty is now clear for all to see.
Not content with violating its members’ constitutional rights, SBAND has consistently misrepresented pertinent facts to North Dakotans. It now lacks all moral authority to comment on shared parenting or any legislative bill or ballot measure relating thereto.
For example, in April of 2017, four North Dakota family lawyers penned an op-ed in the Grand Forks Herald claiming, among other things,
First, there is not "strident opposition" to shared parenting by family law attorneys.
One of the authors of that op-ed was attorney Jackie Stebbins. Revealed in the Goldwater lawsuit against SBAND, Stebbins had said this in an email just two months previously:
“I know Kelly [Senator Armstrong] likes the “idea” and “concept” of starting with joint, but he absolutely understands that it has to be workable. While we may disagree with him about “starting at joint” – maybe even informally and surely with a presumption, it’s nice for us all to know where he’s coming from.”
So in fact Stebbins and the family bar generally were opposed to shared parenting either as a “starting point” from which a judge could deviate or as a presumption. They opposed shared parenting even “informally.” Given her email, the question arises, “If that’s not strident opposition, what is?” After all, Stebbins’ statement seems to leave no room at all for any form of shared parenting.
One of SBAND’s tactics to convince voters to vote “No” on Measure 6 was to claim that a presumption of shared parenting was simply unnecessary because judges were moving in that direction anyway. Indeed, writing in the Grand Forks Herald prior to the 2014 vote, family attorney Jason McLean had this to say:
And in recent years, “shared residential responsibility” has become more common, often by agreement as opposed to a requirement.
That’s where LW4SP’s figures come in. The truth of the matter is that, in both judge-ordered cases and cases generally, the rate of shared parenting has been dropping. And that was the case when McLean made his statement. In short, McLean was either lying outright or making a statement he didn’t know was true or false.
But McLean wasn’t finished misleading the Herald’s readers. He went on to claim that,
[Proponents of Measure 6] consistently cite flawed and unverified claims about a bias in the system against fathers.
And yet the figures gathered by LW4SP demonstrate beyond doubt whose claims are “unverified.” In fact, in court after court throughout the state, judges favor mothers and oppose paternal custody and shared parenting. When judges decide custody in North Dakota, mothers have a greater than 3 – 1 chance of being named the primary parent. If an election produced such results, we’d call it an unprecedented landslide and rightly wonder if chicanery didn’t play some part in the results. But when it’s fathers losing their children and children losing their fathers, the family law bar brushes the matter aside with casual lies and misrepresentations.
In a moment of email frankness, attorney Jackie Stebbins admitted the reality of life for fathers in North Dakota’s family courts:
Gender issues are alive and well and young moms can do pretty well at shutting dads out.
There are two possibilities. The first is that the overwhelming majority of fathers in North Dakota are so bad, so incompetent, so uncaring, so brutal as to deserve being sidelined in their children’s lives. The second is that many family judges are biased against them. Since we know the former isn’t true, the latter must be. Coincidentally, surveys of family court judges in other states and lawyers practicing in those courts reveal widespread agreement that anti-father bias is quite common, a fact Stebbins admits is true in North Dakota courts.
The claim that mothers and fathers are treated equally in family courts has never had merit. Too many people have observed the workings of those courts at first-hand to be convinced by the specious claims of North Dakota family lawyers whose sole goal is the feathering of their own nests. But thanks to LW4SP, we now know the extent to which they’ll go to protect their incomes at the expense of fathers and children. They’ll violate established law and lie to the people of North Dakota to protect an unjust and destructive system.
But now, thanks to LW4SP, North Dakotans know what motivates the lawyers and that they’ll stop at nothing to keep a system in place that’s bad for mothers, bad for fathers and bad for kids. They’ve forfeited their moral authority and any claim they ever had on the trust of the people of the state.
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.
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