North Dakota Parental Rights Initiative (2014)

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The North Dakota Parental Rights Initiative may appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot in North Dakota as an initiated state statute. The measure, upon voter approval, would create a legal presumption that each parent in a child custody case is fit to parent, unless “clear and convincing evidence” demonstrates otherwise. Furthermore, the measure would give each parent in a custody case, unless one parent is proven unfit, equal parental rights and responsibilities, parenting time, primary residential responsibility and decision making responsibility of a child.[1]

Background

North Dakota Measure 3 was on the ballot in 2006. The measure was defeated by voters. The initiated state statute would have entitled each parent to joint legal and physical custody of a child in a child custody case, unless one parent is declared unfit based on clear and convincing evidence. It would have also required the separated parents to develop a joint parenting plan, something which the current initiative does not require. The following is the defeated measure's election results:[2]

North Dakota Measure 3 (2006)
ResultVotesPercentage
Defeatedd No118,04856.41%
Yes 91,225 43.59%

In 2012, Walsh County constituents voted on a similar, but local, measure.[3] The county was the first in the state to vote on a local shared custody-related issue. The measure was designed to establish equal parental rights in situations where parents of a child are separated, unless one is deemed unfit. Mitch Sanderson, who advocated for 2006's Measure 3, was the local initiative's primary sponsor.[4] The following is the approved local measure's election results:[3]

Walsh County Initiative (2012)
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 3,017 66.26%
No1,53633.74%

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) is currently challenging the local measure for usurping state powers since matters related to domestic relations, including child custody, are regulated at the state-level.[5][6]

Support

Arguments

  • Jill Bjerke, the initiative's sponsoring committee chairperson, said that contemporary social norms disproportionately favor the mother in child custody battles. She stated, "It's just the norm, right now, for Mom to get custody. And when that happens, Dad is cut out of the children's lives. Fathers are both extremely important to both girls and boys. And we want to have our children grow up with parts of both parents."[7]

Opposition

Arguments

  • Attorney Erica Shively noted that the current statute places a stronger emphasis on children's rights relative to parental rights. She claimed, "[The initiative] puts the focus in the wrong place. Currently, the focus is on children in North Dakota. And, it basically says we need to look at what's best for them, not for the parents. And it changes that focus to whether or not a parent is fit or unfit. There's many wonderful parents out there where there's not equal residential responsibility because it's not something that works for the child in that scenario."[7]
  • Attorney Lisa Benson, a family law practitioner, issued a similar criticism, saying, "When awarding residential responsibility (physical custody), whether split, equal or primary, the best interests of the children should be paramount, not one parent’s wishes. On its face, the measure gives more weight to one parent’s wishes than what is best for the children."[8]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in North Dakota

The initiative petition was submitted to the North Dakota Secretary of State on June 6, 2013. The initiative was approved for circulation on June 18, 2013. Supporters are required to submit 13,452 valid signatures by June 18, 2014.[9]

On June 16, 2014, the measure's sponsoring organization submitted about 15,021 signatures to the North Dakota Secretary of State.[10] The secretary of state's office has until July 21, 2014 to determine if the signatures are valid.[11]

Similar measures

See also

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References