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I'm going to get a little political on you here; it's a rare occasion, so don't get too worried about it.

I've been hearing a lot about the Shared Parenting Initiative here in North Dakota. A group of non-custodial parents wants the child custody and divorce laws to reflect their desires as an absent parent. In summary, they are asking:

In part #1, all parents retain joint custody, legal and physical, regardless of living situtation;

In part #2, parents are required (or court-ordered) to develop a coparenting plan, which may be amended by cooperation at any time;

In part #3, child support shall not exceed the basic level of caretaking.

Despite my liberal leanings, reading their Initiative tells me what's above is a Bad Idea. I won't use my particular experiences as examples, because that's easily disputed as a rare occurence or inconsequestial. However, I'll point out the greediness of the Initiative. When accused of selfishness, the NDSPI replies that, as citizens, they are allowed to take things before the courts for a decision. However, it does not change the underlying selfishness of the Initiative.

The way things are now, in situations of disputed custody, the court assigns physical custody to one parent or the other; for better or worse, it often goes to the mother (although I am evidence of the other; I was granted custody without my exwife being legally determined unfit or abusive). The absent parent retains joint legal custody, which entitles them to all their former parenting legal rights: medical records, attending teachers conferences, talking to coaches or babysitters, and so forth. Absent parents are also expected to pay child support, based on a set percentage of their income.

What this amounts to is: one parent becomes responsible for all day-to-day activities, recieves a portion of the other parent's income to offset the cost of such, and the other can continue to be involved in the child's life, as a whole.

So, let's look at how #1 in the SPI will change this. Joint physical custody for all parents means both parents, including those who do not live in the home, become responsible for the day-to-day lives of the children. However, the Initiative's focus is on equal time to both parents for the raising of the children. In some divorce situations, this may work fine: both parents may live a reasonable distance from the same school, and both may have enough time to truly take half of the child's caretaking duties on. However, the Initiative assumes that this is the only situation: all parents are presumed to have the resources and situation which accomodates joint physical custody, because this is assigned to all parents regardless of the situation. The simplest of problems arises when each parent lives in a different school's area. Which one does the child attend? Neither parent has any legal standing, because neither can say their child lives there any more than the other home. Or, let's say one parent stays at home, and the other works. This situation immediately results in a bias of time to one parent. If one parent even lives 20 miles away, the possibility of reliable or easy exchange of the child becomes at risk. However, remember: #1 assumes all parents are available and able to have 50% physical custody, regardless of situation, unless that parent is determined unfit.

#2 would like to fix the problems of obligatory joint custody: the parents are required, or forced by the courts, to create a cooperative parenting plan, which would account for the shortcomings of one parent or the other by putting accomodations into the parenting plan outlining responsibility. If either parent wants a change, they either must get the other parent to agree, or present their case to the courts.

Under current laws, parents in agreement are perfectly fine; no legal intervention is required. Parents in agreement can create parenting plans all they like, without restraint. #2 addresses conflict. If the parents have a conflict, the SPI requires them to go to court.

Wait a minute: back in #1, they cite: "Acknowledging the long established legal tenet that fit parents act in the best interest of their children..." If neither parent is unfit, because joint custody was put into place, either parent's decisions are equally valid - requiring them to "demonstrate how the modification serves the child

Well put, Derek. Points #1 and #2 appear to be nothing more than window dressing for the real issue: money. It seems that they really want to pay less child support. If #3 were proposed unadorned, it wouldn't have a chance at becoming law. So points #1 and #2 get added so it looks like these people actually care.

--Phil, 08/15/2006 10:30:29

I couldn't agree more. As a single parent in an atypical version of a very typical scenaerio, that measure scares the crap out of me. Its just a bunch of absent parents who don't want to feel guilty about not paying child support or being there for thier kids. No law is ever going to Make people get along.

--Holly , 09/15/2006 22:23:58

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