Category Archives: Legislation

It’s Time To Stand Up Against Unfair Treatment: No Indians Or Dogs Allowed

From D.J., a grandmother:

I would like to share with you a story. One that was told to me by my mother, one that I have never forgotten. My dad was white and my mother was Native American. Before they were married, when they would go on a date, my mother would tell of times that she was not allowed in certain businesses.

Why you might ask. Some businesses back then had signs on their doors that would read…NO INDIANS OR DOGS ALLOWED. Therefore, my Dad would go in alone, while my Mom was forced to stay outside. Hurtful and sad to my Mom? Yes. But that’s not the reason I share this story with you. I share this story because I find strength in knowing that somewhere along the line; someone must have stood up as a group, like the Shared Parenting Supporters, and were successful in changing the laws, so that those signs could no longer exist. As times change, so must the laws.

For the last several years I have watched while my grandchildren are pulled away from their Daddy every two weeks and watch them cry as they hold out their arms to him as they leave. And I have watched my son sit at my kitchen table and cry like a baby after they have gone. Those of you that have children know that your children are your children, no matter how old they are. And when your children hurt, you hurt. Despite the thousands of dollars he has spent in attorney fees, he still has limited time with his children and they with him. He is denied phone calls and is only allowed to talk to them for a few minutes twice a week within a one hour time frame. The children are sent to their rooms if they ask to call their Dad and are punished if they cry when he takes them back to the custodial parent. My granddaughter tells me she wishes she could see her guidance counselor everyday because she says every day she is sad. The same granddaughter shares with me that she has nightmares about her Mom (the custodial parent) chasing her and her friend with a knife! How many five year old girls dream such dreams about their Mom? The court says they are doing what is in the best interest of the children. I beg to disagree. I write this to you today as a proud Native American Mother, Aunt and most importantly Grandmother… because my children and my grandchildren need me to. I stand proud with my son as he struggles to change the custody laws and because the children of North Dakota need me to tell my story.

There are families in your State, North Dakotan’s, father’s mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and yes, children, that have had something that belongs to them taken away…a parent and an entire side of their family, and are hurting because of our outdated custody laws.

It is time for change. I am here today to ask the voters of North Dakota to Please support Measure 6…for the children!

IMG_2202.JPG

#voteyeson6 #northdakota

Advertisements

How the North Dakota Divorce Industry Holds Children For Ransom

In the current system in North Dakota, if you do not have the financial means to hire attorneys to fight for more parenting time, or simply enforce your current order, you and your child(ren) have little to no relationship. There is an unwritten presumption, one parent will be minimized and often, it’s the parent without or simply runs out of the necessary financial resources. And this is how the North Dakota Divorce Industry holds children for ransom from good parents.

This email comes from North Dakota father who supports Measure 6 and just a few of the reasons why. He unfortunately, does not feel comfortable sharing his name out of fear his coming forward will affect what little time he and his son have together. And if you’ll read on, you’ll understand why. His story is not uncommon.

The details may be different for others, but the theme is all the same:

I’m not sure where to start, but talking about this gives me a great deal of anxiety, in no way do I want this to come back to my son. I am afraid of retaliation from his mom as she is extremely vindictive towards me with little consideration towards my boy. But I think sharing my story might help someone in the future.

When she was a few months pregnant we learned that he was going to be born with health complications. I won’t get into the details but he spent a few months in a children’s hospital. He’s had a few surgeries and blood transfusions and fortunately, he is doing great now. She and I sadly just could not make things work and we actually separated before he was even born. She was working as a nurse in a clinic when he was finally healthy and strong enough to come home. But at night and on the weekends, my parents or I would have him because she would be out partying. I’m not saying this to somehow make her look bad when things were really fine. Things weren’t. Our son wasn’t a whole lot more than a year old when she called me at work one day and informed me that she was going to treatment for a substance addiction.

I 100% supported her as I wanted my son to have 2 healthy parents. But over time, I learned she had an addiction to pain meds and had been abusing her role as a nurse. Her nursing license was revoked. She was evicted from her apartment and and while the investigation was going on in regard to this, she asked me to say that I could not handle raising our child should the State’s Attorney General contact me in regard to her role as a mother.

She moved in with her parents to try and recover and in the meantime, proceeded to do everything possible to make me look like a dead beat dad. I am a good dad. I love my son. And until this point, we (my extended family and I) have been our son’s primary caregivers and most stable family unit. But she wouldn’t let me see him (and I had no recourse but to take her to court on this). When I finally did, my son asked me why I was mad at him.

It wasn’t long before her attorney presented me with a stipulation for a custody agreement that I did not agree with so I did not sign it. I could not afford an attorney at the time so her attorney sent the stipulation to the court minus even more time than what was originally offered. The judge signed it as a default. I have since, almost been completely shut out of his life. When I try to work with her to see him, she belittles and harasses me. I have saved messages, emails that show she does nothing but put our son in the middle and uses him as a pawn to punish me for who knows what. I’ve worked with an attorney, it’s gotten me nowhere. I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time before she completely takes him. I get one weekend a month, depending on whether or not she’s mad at me. But most of the time, it’s just one weekend. If I don’t pony up for another court battle and commit to more legal fees, it’s all I’ll ever get as far as I can tell. And there’s no recourse for her, should she choose to not let me see my son, the son I helped see through a very dark time in her life.

I am a great dad, I have a good steady job and a clean kid friendly house for him to come and enjoy. But it’s always empty without him. And I know, based on what he says when we are together, a piece of him is empty without me, too.

The fact is measure 6 will help situations like his. The children raised in these situations are essentially the ones who lose in North Dakota. After all when one parent wins, kids lose.

IMG_2192.JPG

And So We Fight

By Jodi Johnson

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.

~Sigmund Freud

And so we fight.

We fight to be a part of the lives he brought into the world. The lives that were created because he exists. We fight to retain something that is indelibly, rightfully, biologically his. We fight to protect these children from being divided in two by the people who are supposed to be caring for them.
It begs the question WHY? Why must he fight to be in his children’s lives? Why must he prove over and over and over again that he belongs in their lives when he was put there in the beginning by virtue of nature alone?

Married couples don’t have to prove their worth and battle in the courtroom year after year to see their children, to go to their school events or birthday parties or simply have a conversation with them. It’s just what parents do and it’s never questioned…when those parents are together that is. Yet when those parents can no longer co-exist, by no fault of the child’s, one parent is instantly demoted to “visitor;” and in many ways also, “victim.” They are victimized by the court system who makes decisions on the lives of people they don’t know based on one hour’s worth of testimony by whoever is the more believable. They are victimized by the other parent who now sees them as a paycheck instead of a person. They are victimized by society who judges them for not being the constant presence in their children’s lives they truly wish they could be. They are told when and where and for how long they can see their own children. They are told when and how long they can speak to them. They are told they can’t make decisions about the lives they created. And they are told how they feel about it doesn’t apply; that someone else has determined what is in their own child’s best interest and they must comply. And all because mom and dad can’t be married to one another.

And so we fight.

Albeit slowly changing, our society and our court system has long-held, archaic beliefs that women rear the children while the father provides for the family. Particularly in our very conservative corner of the world the notion of the father raising the children is frankly scoffed upon.

It brings to mind the June and Ward Cleaver version of Americana wherein the mother is packing the children’s lunchboxes every morning wearing her ubiquitous apron and has dinner on the table, hot and ready, every evening when Ward comes home from work. A pleasant, slow lifestyle. Well what if June and Ward split up? Naturally June would continue to take care of the kids while Ward provided, right? That scenario made sense in that era because far fewer women worked and they relied on their husbands for support while the men relied on their wives to take care of the domestic end of things.

Fast forward to 2014. June had an affair with the 26 year old neighbor which led to the demise of her marriage with Ward. Ward still works his 8 – 5, home at the same time every night, alone in his cramped one bedroom apartment because half his income still goes to June and he’s sitting there bored, missing his kids. June is working 65 hours a week. She and the kids are running frantic every morning trying to get out the door in time for them to be dropped off ½ an hour early to school because June has a morning meeting. They get a ride home on the bus and let themselves in the house and are there from 5:00 – 7:00 unsupervised. She leaves work at 6:00 to go to the gym for an hour and then goes home to feed them a pre-packaged dinner, check the kids got their homework done and have them get ready for bed by 8:00. And let’s not forget about the weekends when she’s out with boyfriend #4 that year while the kids are home with the Wii.

Meanwhile Ward, the “visitor,” is just wishing he could see them and would sacrifice whatever he could to just spend time with them. But the judge said no. He’s not the better parent. And he can only talk to the kids once a week. And he can only see them for 40 whole hours a month. Despite June never being fully present for the kids, in the court’s firmly held beliefs, June is still the best choice for the kids’ primary caretaker because she bore that child during infancy.

This is a true and clear depiction of the modern day custody situation. No, it’s not every family’s story. But I can tell you undeniably, it’s what we’re living, my husband and I; and it’s true of millions of other broken families world-wide.
We can simply not hold steady to the beliefs, stereotypes, and even laws of the past. They’re antiquated and not representative of the way life is now. In some cases, yes, mom is the better choice. But absolutely in no way should that be the pre-determined presumption. That child was created 50/50 and clearly the mom had, at one point, determined that this man was a qualified candidate to be a father to their child and only now because emotion and jealousy has clouded her judgment and ill-placed resentment has hardened her heart, this child’s father is precluded from being a caring, beneficial presence in the child’s life. And it certainly doesn’t benefit the child, being forced into accepting which half of themselves they get to spend time with more.

The tide is now starting to turn, ever so slowly, because dads are just plain fed up with the discrimination and are speaking out in growing numbers and the women who support them are using their voices to create a necessary balance and get the needed attention. And people, the government and court system included, are starting to listen. We are on the precipice of major change in family law and the view of the parental role in fatherhood in cases of unmarried parents and need those voices to continue to speak; and speak to the people who can effect change as there is still a long and arduous road ahead for these pioneers of father’s rights.

And so we fight.

20140131-133710.jpg

What the New “Shared Parenting ” Bill in South Dakota Will/Won’t Do

By Casey Wilson

20140119-235748.jpg

Many are asking what will this years “shared parenting” bill that is being brought forth in the South Dakota Legislature will actually do to help kids and parents? South Dakota Shared Parenting and it’s members have been split in their support of this bill, and many are wondering what it will actually do, after all it has been brought forth as a compromise between the South Dakota State Bar and South Dakota Shared Parenting. Here is a copy of the bill in its current form.

We can break this bill down and tell you what it will do and what it won’t do.

What the bill will do if passed:

1) It will give judges a standardized set of guidelines to follow to make joint physical custody decisions, those factors include:

-whether a parent has been convicted of domestic violence
-whether a person has alienated or interfered with the other parents parenting time
-whether parents can communicate effectively
-whether parents can agree on how to generally raise their child
-whether one party is leaving child unsupervised with a sex offender
-whether one party has falsely accused another of child abuse
-whether one or both parties are opposed to shared custody
-whether child will suffer if shared custody is not awarded
-whether both parents have actively cared for the child
-whether a child is strongly opposed to shared parenting
-the geographic proximity of the parents

Now these are just considerations a court must take into consideration, not a one check mark and your out type thing. Why are these important? That leads use to our next point

2) We now know the rules to gaining joint physical custody, this is huge, prior to this, no one knew the rules, only the particular judge in which you were assigned.

3) It will help keep vindictive and higher conflict parents in check (if that’s possible)

4) It mentions joint physical custody many times, a term only used one time within statute prior

5) It shows that the State Bar Association is acknowledging shared parenting as a viable option

6) it begins to finally progress the movement of shared and equal parenting in South Dakota, which has never progressed despite many efforts

7) It factors parental fitness before custody is awarded keeping children safe from truly unfit parents

8) Judges need to give findings of fact and conclusions (reasons why) if joint physical custody is not awarded

9) It will give a little more standardization to this process, it is an injustice to the system if the same case was to be heard in two different circuits and entirely different custody outcomes could occur. This bill if in law would help that.

10) It will allow current orders to be modified using the criteria if a significant change of circumstances are satisfied. An enactment of the bill to law does not constitute a significant change of circumstances. Meaning you can use this law in a modification hearing.

11) There is no mention of a custodial or a non custodial parent in the entire bill

12) There is no presumption of a sole physical custodian

13) The court will continue to rule in what it currently calls “the best interest of the child”. It is fair to say the “best interest of the child” standard is based on a decision of one parent winning custody rather than the true “best interest of the child”, which has been proven in research to be as close to significantly equal time with both parents, this is currently not a factor in our so called Fuerstenberg factors which judges use to define the “best interest of the child”

14) in ALL custody determinations the court shall consider joint physical custody as an option.

What does this bill not do:

1) Once the factors have been satisfied it still does not ensure that the judge must award a joint physical custody order

2) One party can still refuse to agree to shared parenting, and this is a factor for a court to consider, but a refusal does not provide enough cause not to grant a shared custody order

3) False domestic violence and falsely filed protection orders are not included in the false accusations section. This is often how lawyers get one parent (usually the father) out of the house or to gain temporary custody in proceedings and is incredibly damaging to the future coparenting relationship, and could possibly be considered as a a factor to consider in alienation

4) Although it does take alienation and interference into consideration, it does not take one parent intentionally causing conflict (another lawyer tactic) into consideration. The simple fact of refusing to communicate can create a vast amount of conflict and this should be considered.

5) It does not automatically grant any parent shared placement

6) the current starting point (presumption)is still minimal parenting time established in the SD Parenting Guidelines

________________________________

I think many in the group are upset as it is not a true equal custody presumption bill, which we have submitted in the past. The truth is it is time to start chipping away at the stone if you will, bit by bit rather than trying to take the entire thing at once. We need to begin making this process more fair one, two, and three steps at a time.

Honestly this is a firm step in the right direction, our group will continue to push for substantial change until equal parenting is the standard in South Dakota.

I think it’s a good sign the State Bar of South Dakota asked our input here, it has never happened before and perhaps it will mean we can work together in the future to make real progress for the kids and families of South Dakota.

In closing, I think it’s fair to point out that contested custody battles occur between two good parents. “Bad” parents usually do not fight for shared or equal custody, they leave or settle for minimal time. Outside of excessive distance between parents’ homes, there is no real justifiable reason a parent should refuse to agree to a shared parenting arrangement if both parents are fit. If they do refuse it should prove that parent to be an alienating parent, as he or she is trying to minimally involve the other parent, and this has been proven in research to be highly detrimental to a child’s well being.

Ten Arguments for Shared Parenting

20131227-150324.jpg

Shared Parenting in South Dakota just makes sense.  Here are ten arguments for shared parenting:

1.        This issue is about fit parents.  This issue is about fit parents.  The statement needs to be repeated because opponents continually equate this issue with protecting children against unfit parents.  Shared parenting advocates are not talking about those parents who are guilty of domestic or child abuse.  Shared Parenting advocates are talking about two people who are innocent and therefore entitled to the privileges of an innocent person.  It is important to not get caught up in the argument that in order to protect our children we need to keep the current system in place.  All of the current safeguards against abusive parents do not go away with shared parenting. 

2.       Every single parent with “standard visitation” in South Dakota also has a 50/50 schedule.  The schedule is for only 3 months out of the year:  Summer Vacation.  Every fall, a child who was with their parent for half time during the summer goes back to 4 days a month during the school year.  It is clear that the current system has no problem “allowing” shared parenting; it is clear that there is some sort of belief that NCPs (noncustodial parent) can’t parent effectively during the school year.  Proponents of Shared Parenting want to be more than vacation parents. 

3.       There is data out there that shows that the more contact that feuding parents have, the poorer the outcomes for children.  There is almost no schedule with greater contact for feuding parents than minimum South Dakota guidelines.  There are 20 points of contact for feuding parents a month with minimum guidelines.  There is absolutely no correlation between greater time spent with NCPs and negative outcomes for children.  There is only a correlation with negative outcomes for children with greater points of contact between feuding parents. Simple changes in a schedule can minimize contact between feuding parents

4.        Opponents to shared parenting make one point again and again:  men are abusive.  Men are not good or equal parents.  They assert that legislators need to assume that they are guilty to protect our children.  Opponents state that if they are good fathers and because men are financially privileged as gender that there is a cheap, fairly straight forward process of getting a lawyer and providing proof that they can co-parent.   I have spent 5000 dollars to get “minimum recommended guidelines” with my child.   None of the “cheap or easy” argument  is true. 

5.       If our state wants to guarantee child support payments then it needs to guarantee greater visitation.  Numerous studies show how increased fatherhood participation increases payments.  Greater visitation does not take away any support for children.  Abated funds are used to support the child in the non-custodial parent’s home. Zero money is taken away from support to a child.  Two homes need the resources (money) to support a child, not just one.

6.       We are talking about fit parents.  We are talking about fit parents.  Not one part of the proposed South Dakota  legislation for Shared Parenting is for children being in homes with unfit parents.  Parents with documented issues do not have the right that fit parents have.   We are upholding a standard of innocent until proven guilty—not the current standard of I don’t like you and so you can’t see your child.   

7.       I am a counselor.  I’ve done marriage counseling and family systems counseling.   This system creates leverage with two things:  money and visitation.  Children are being put in the middle.  Our laws need to take away that leverage from both parties.  There should not be an option for leverage.   Divorce can turn two people into ugly people.  The best” interests of the child” is about creating an environment that encourages the most time, love, and support from both parents.   When a parent wins in our current system, a child loses. 

8.       Parenting plans are part of the new legislation.  If one parent needs to be put in primary charge of medical, religion, and school decisions then that can be part of the plan.  Laws should not give one parent the only ability to make choices—power from the outset.  

9.       This system supports misogynist and outdated ideas about parenting.  There is no longer a “tender years doctrine” because the courts acknowledged that both sexes can care for a child.  Current stats show men and women both care for their children more than they ever have before.  Women don’t rely on men to take care of them.  Despite a lower average wage for women, women’s wages are getting better.  Here are some other points to consider before listening to how poorly women are coping in our modern world.  Six out of every ten persons entering higher education last year were women.  There are more female doctors and lawyers graduating than men.  The unemployment rate is also higher for men.  It’s new world for both sexes.  As much as I know this issue impacts more men, we should not make it a women’s rights issue on the other side.  This issue is about our children’s rights and access to two fit parents.

10.   The best childhood outcomes are from two parent families.  Children need active and engaged parents.  They do not need single mothers and visiting fathers.  As a counselor, I have counseled depressed fathers because they have lost their kids and helped young adults with scars dating back 20 years because of these laws.  These laws are failing South Dakota’s families and children.  The heart wrenching stories from women and men should compel us to do something—not acting is not an option.   The composition of the South Dakota Shared Parenting Coalition is parents:  men and women.  Good people.  The primary stakeholders in this case should not be the lawyers who profit from conflict but the parents and children who are directly impacted by this legislation.  Shared parenting is about two fit parents supporting their children and represents the “best interests of children.” 

20131227-150450.jpg

“Kids and Noncustodial Parents Get Screwed.” – Child Support Case Worker

In working to reforming our current system, I meet great people on a daily basis who see unfairness.

I am not alone in this, of course.

Today’s post is from a Division of Child Support case worker in South Dakota and has contacted me several times concerning South Dakota’s unfair custody laws. She asked to post anonymously as she believes she could lose her job if her superiors knew of her stance. So I post this, humbled she would take that risk and grateful for her insights. I believe you will be too.

This is from the front lines of child support and custody in South Dakota and neighboring states. Our anonymous writer today works with custody and child support on a daily basis.

20130329-223507.jpg

Here is her unedited letter:

“I am a Division of Child Support Caseworker in South Dakota. As such, I speak with other caseworkers in SD and nearly all other states in the US every day, and know there are very few options for “non-custodial” parents who are being denied equal access to their children, unless they are fortunate enough to be able to afford a long and expensive custody battle, which is extremely rare, especially in cases where the parents were never married.
While your group needs to pursue one issue at a time, your particular issue being custody and visitation arrangements after a divorce, I hope that you will also pursue shared parenting and child support arrangements for parents who were never married, as this is an issue that definitely needs to be addressed and rectified.
Before continuing, I will say that I, and all DCS caseworkers, recognize that the “non-custodial” (and we don’t like that term) parent may be the mother rather than the father. In most cases, however, the NCP is dad and the CP is mom, so please forgive my use of general terms such as “she” and “he”. I use them for the sake of simplicity, not out of a lack of respect or understanding that mothers do sometimes get the raw end of the deal, along with their children.
In every state in this country, the child support system is not only broken, but is in desperate need of repair. It is unbalanced and very often unfair. The child support calculation is based on the income of both parents, in every state, although I will admit there could be a state or two that does not do it this way and I am just not aware. In most states, if either parent is unemployed but not disabled, they are presumed to be capable of working 40 hours a week at minimum wage, so their income is imputed at $1275 per month. Following this calculation, if mom is willingly unemployed and dad is employed full time, making a mere $10 an hour, dad has a child support obligation of $357 per month for one child. (I got this number from SD’s child support calculator website and it is accurate.) Every parent, regardless of the relationship (or lack of one) that existed at the time the child was conceived, has a responsibility to provide financial support for their child. That is a fact. But, should dad, making $10 an hour really be forced to pay $357 to someone who is not willing to work? Where is mom’s responsibility in this? In these situations, mom (unless she is actually working 40 hours a week for minimum wage, which is rare), is receiving food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance, so she is sitting back, living a meager life and doing nothing to improve the lives of her children, and not having to lift a finger to do it. In the meantime, dad is working hard and still can’t afford to keep the lights on in his own home.
Most of the dads I speak to are willing to pay the child support, despite the financial stress. They understand that there is a little person out there who needs their help, and they are okay with that. In many of these cases, dad has not seen his child even once since the relationship with his child’s mother demised, and he has no recourse other than to hire a lawyer to get a visitation order. The first problem with this is that dad, making $10 an hour and paying $357 a month in child support has no money left over for to hire a lawyer. The second problem with this is that, even when he does and gets the order, mom can still deny the visitation and there will be no consequences to her for doing so. Sure, dad can take her back to court again, and the judge will tell her to behave, but if she doesn’t, nothing will happen in SD. Dad and the kids are still denied access to one another.
Approximately 2 years ago, the state of Illinois passed legislation that actually puts repercussions in place for CPs that refuse to follow the Illinois State Visitation Guidelines. If the CP denies access to the children to the NCP, her driver’s license can be restricted, and not be reinstated until she complies. What a novel idea. I am beside myself, wondering why every state has not enacted this legislation. We restrict, suspend, or revoke the driver’s licenses (and other licenses) of NCPs when they don’t pay the child support, even when they are unwillingly unemployed, yet we allow CPs to use their children as weapons against NCP, regardless of whether he is paying.
I had two office visits today, both from dads who are doing the best they can and still are being denied access to their children, simply because mom decided she doesn’t like them anymore. The first has a 5 year old daughter that he desperately wants to have a relationship with, but hasn’t been allowed to see since she was 1 year old. At least in that situation, the poor child doesn’t know what she’s missing in not being able to see her dad. The second is much more sad, and it honestly makes me very angry. Dad raised mom’s first child as his own from an infant to 4 years old. In the meantime, they had a child together. They were together for another year or two. For the next several years, dad had BOTH kids – even the one that was not his – for weekend visitation. Not enough, but at least it’s something. Then, mom decided to pull the rug out from underneath dad, with no consideration for her children. Dad has now not seen either child for a year and a half. He and mom were not married, so mom has all the power, unless he can afford an attorney, which he can not possibly afford to do.
As we sat and talked, there were several times that I could see he was struggling not to cry. Ever since mom decided (for what crazy reason no one knows) to withhold visitation, both children, and especially his biological child, have been acting out in school. They’ve been bullying other kids and being defiant to authority. His biological son was finally allowed to see his half sister (that dad had from another relationship) after being denied access to her for a long time. According to his sister, all he talked about was how much he missed his dad and how he is so happy he has all these things that his dad gave him, because it helps him remember his dad. Mom has the kid in therapy, that dad is paying for, and she is apparently oblivious to the reason why the kid needs therapy. I could tell her, but it would probably result in me being fired. Mom has 3 kids by 3 different dads and I would like to talk to her about that as well. Bottom line is mom is sitting back, collecting child support and state benefits, and not doing a damn thing to support her children, but she will be the first to call if a payment is a day late. This is just one case I am telling you about, and it’s not even the worst one; it’s just the one at the top of my mind.
The bottom line is this. We need to have state agencies that provide free services for NCPs to have fair and equal access to their children. We already have state agencies that help people who make no contribution themselves collect child support, and we are screwing kids and NCPs in the process. That is not acceptable in any state. I hope your legislature – and mine – will figure that out. Good luck and God Bless to you and your children.
All that being said, I hope all the NCPs (I really hate that term) understand that your CS case worker is not against you. We are forced to support the order, whatever that may entail. We have no power to help you with anything else, but we really would like to. God bless and God speed to you and your children.”

20130329-221805.jpg

The Lucrative Divorce Industry in South Dakota Keeps Kids From Good Parents

By Casey Wilson
Here is an opinion piece in The Mitchell Daily Republic, on the South Dakota divorce industry. Thanks to the Daily for picking it up.

I will post a response to this made by Fathers and Families Here is the article written by Robert Franklin.

Once again this year the forces for equal parenting in South Dakota tried to get a bill passed enacting that into law. And once again the bill failed. The South Dakota Legislature, like those elsewhere just can’t seem to grasp the basic, simple fact that equal parenting is in everyone’s interest, kids, fathers, mothers and society generally. Enacting equal parenting legislation would hugely benefit the state and save everyone a lot of heartache and money too.

But, despite the willful ignorance of elected officials, those who are determined to see that legislation passed, remain undeterred. They’ll be back next session, and the session after that if need be until their representatives see sense.

And speaking of sense, this op-ed is about as sensible and straightforward as any I’ve read (The Daily Republic, 3/21/13). It’s an accurate statement of facts, a clarion call to support equal parenting, a cogent condemnation of existing law and a spot-on identification of who the culprits are who year after year have their way with the legislature at everyone’s expense. Here’s guest columnist Casey Wilson.

I want to thank The Daily Republic and its staff this past legislative session for covering a very tough subject: kids’ right to as much time as possible with both parents in a divorce (i.e., shared parenting) in South Dakota.

While the bill failed again this year, we hope for continued support, because this issue isn’t going away. Our current standard placement model is keeping great parents and extended family out of our kids’ lives, and the laws are out of date and creating more problems than they solve.

What could be simpler and more accurate? Just because the bill failed doesn’t mean the issue is going away. It’s not. That’s because it’s far too important to vanish into thin air and too many people know it. So they’ll be back come next legislative session. And back again, and back again if necessary. Every session the legislature will look at the issue of equal parenting until it passes. Count on it.

South Dakota’s treatment of its non-custodial parents and their children is about as bad as it gets in the United States.

Under current South Dakota Codified Law 25-4a-11, it says that in initial divorce filings the parent who was majority caregiver shall be named custodial parent, and the other parent shall be named noncustodial parent and given parenting time established in the South Dakota visitation guidelines. Unfortunately, these guidelines advocate for four days per month parenting time for the child with the noncustodial parent.

How could anyone design a worse system for caring for children when their parents have split up. “Yes little Andy or Jenny, the legislature understands that you love your father, rely on him for protection, guidance, love and caring, but that’s just too bad. Your mother is divorcing him and that means you are too. Have a nice life.” That’s the message the state’s elected officials are sending. Sound sensible? Sound caring?

In the first place, where did anyone get the idea that the parent who does the most childcare pre-divorce should get to do essentially all of it thereafter? Don’t they realize that children identify their parents and bond with them within the first weeks of life? Don’t’ they know that children don’t care if Mom does 65% of the hands-on parenting while Dad does 35%? Children bond with both parents and suffer terribly at the loss of either. Does it occur to the legislature that enacting a law that ensures that loss, that heartache and the many deficits children of divorce suffer because of it is bad public policy?

And where did anyone come up with the idea that Dad’s contribution to parenting is irrelevant to the child or its well-being. It’s true that Dad usually changes fewer diapers than does Mom. He prepares fewer meals, takes the child to the park less often, bathes the child less, etc. Generally speaking, those things are true. But here’s what else is generally true: it’s Dad who puts the roof over the heads of mother and child. She prepares the food, but his income buys it. When the child is sick, she takes it to the doctor whom Dad’s salary pays. Mother and child are warm in the winter and cool in the summer because of Dad’s income. Of course I could go on and on, but the point is that Dad’s way of caring for the child is every bit as important as is the mother’s. So why is he tossed aside in divorce like yesterday’s garbage?

Whatever the answer, it has nothing to do with little Andy or Jenny’s welfare. Indeed, the guidelines that provide for the child to see its father four days out of 30 is so contrary to a child’s well-being that it’s been shown by countless social scientists to be deeply harmful and that harm can last long into adulthood.

So why would a legislature be so blind, so willfully injurious to the state’s children? Casey Wilson hits the nail on the head.

Only five spoke out this year against the Kids Need Both Parents bill in committee: three attorneys, the State Bar and a domestic violence group. All of them stand to financially lose if parents are granted more equal time with their children in a divorce. The scare tactics of how terrible it would be to presume it is in a child’s best interest to have as much time as possible with both parents were atrocious, and at best were decades-old arguments that, across the nation, state by state, others are realizing couldn’t be further from the truth.

Rapid City attorney Linda Lea Viken, a member of the State Bar’s Family Law Commitee, was among those to testify against a rebuttable presumption of involving both parents equally at a time of divorce and said “the system works fine as it is.” Viken, in one custody case alone, billed more than $370,000 (Schieffer v. Schieffer) just this past year.

Why would someone who can make quite a living off conflict in a custody case thanks to our current adversarial system want anything to change? Very few parents who want equal and meaningful contact with their kids can afford $370,000.

20130328-111353.jpg

What’s left to say? Divorce lawyers thrive on parental conflict. In fact, if it happens to be in short supply at the outset of the divorce, they’re happy to create some. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Convincing one parent that the other is not the loving parent of little Andy or Jenny, but something closer to the Devil Incarnate is a tried and true method of running up the legal fees. The more animosity, the more motions there are to file, hearings to attend, assessments to order. And with each of those, the meter goes right on ticking. Four, five, six bucks a minute or more.

Of course lawyers couldn’t do that alone, but fortunately for them, they’ve got backup in the form of the legislature and the laws it passes. After all, when one parent stands to “win” sole custody of the child and the other stands to lose almost all contact with the child, who wouldn’t fight like a cornered dog to be the “winning” side. Considerable amounts of social science demonstrate exactly that. Shared parenting tends to ameliorate conflict over time while sole or primary custody does the opposite. No wonder divorce lawyers like sole custody; no wonder they invariably oppose equal parenting. Hey, it’s just like Linda Lea Viken said “the system works fine as it is.” For her and her compadres in the family law bar, in their $1,500 suits and alligator shoes, it works like a charm. For parents and children, not so much.

And let’s be clear. Custodial mothers who go from doing most of the childcare to doing almost all of it, sole custody isn’t exactly a bed of roses. All that extra parenting gets dumped on mothers at exactly the time when post-divorce financial realities mean she’s got to spend more time at work than ever before. The result is a mother who’s got too little energy to be the type of quality parent she was before.

Of course Dad could pick up the slack and passionately wants to, but the South Dakota Legislature decrees that he may not. Sure that’s likely to plunge him into a depression that makes him a worse parent, more likely to be out of work and more likely to take his own life. But why would elected officials notice that?

Kids suffer, dads suffer, moms suffer. But what is that compared to the earnings of a few lawyers? Those are South Dakota’s priorities. Really.

But they’re not the priorities of South Dakotans who know that equal parenting is best for all. That’s why they’ll be back next year, and the year after and the year after. They’re not going away.