On August 19, we received a message from one of the major supporters of Measure 6 — the equal parenting measure — threatening us with a lawsuit if we wrote anything that he thought was false. We still have the email as it was sent.
As readers may recall, a parenting measure was on the ballot in 2006 and was defeated. At that time, advocates of the measure tried to shut us up by bringing a lawsuit against us.
This attempt to abridge our First Amendment rights was dismissed by the court and will be dismissed again if the threatened lawsuit is filed.
In any case, we will not be bullied into silence. Therefore, we will proceed with a candid discussion of the measure.
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.
That is why the objectivity of the court system is critical in overseeing the negotiation process between separating parents.
In order to settle the issue of parenting time, both parents are required to make concessions. Painful compromise is the result. There are economic consequences. Lives are turned upside down. Equal time with children is lost. Everybody gets hurt. That is the price of divorce.
In 90 percent of divorces, parents peacefully agree to a division of parenting time. Mothers usually end up with the major responsibility for primary residential parenting.
Measure No. 6 has been proposed by folks who are unhappy with the apportionment of parenting time refereed by the impartial judiciary.
So they are proposing a new rule — equal parental rights and responsibilities, equal parenting time, equal primary residency and equal decision-making, unless the non-custodial parent can be proved unfit beyond a reasonable doubt.
Equality sounds good, but Measure 6 would change the impartial system now in place. And because over 80 percent of parents with primary residential care are women, the burden imposed by this measure would fall primarily on them.
Supporters of Measure 6 have rounded up a sponsoring committee consisting solely of women to disguise the fact that this measure would place a new troublesome burden on women assigned primary residential care.
To fight an unfit parent, women would have to pay for the lawyers and investigators to prove the unfitness of a hostile parent. Unless they can come up with the money, they will have to live with the constant harassment of a disgruntled ex-spouse.
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 spouse and/or children?
All unfitness, such as mental cruelty or spouse abuse, can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under the present system, the impartial judiciary takes into account the degree of fitness, meaning that parents already get the opportunity to demonstrate their fitness for equal involvement.
Measure 6 is for folks who haven’t impressed the judicial system with their fitness and are not granted equal time, equal decision-making, or equal custody.
Fortunately, most questions of parenting time are resolved peacefully between well-meaning parents who want the best for the children in spite of their marital differences.
By demanding a new test for unfit parents, Measure 6 proponents seem to be more concerned with assuaging the feelings of adversarial adults than the welfare of children.
Measure 6 will not be good for custodial parents or children leaving a troubled marriage.
(Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.)