Tracker Pixel for Entry

Mad dads making the lawyers move

by Rob Port | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Say Anything | October 28th, 2015


The proponents of family law reform in North Dakota are having an impact. After ballot measure efforts in 2006 and 2014 aimed at changing divorce and custody laws managed to get around 40 percent of the vote, the state’s lawyers are taking action to get ahead of the curve.

A task force created by the State Bar Association of North Dakota will convene in November to address ways in which laws governing divorce and child custody can be reformed. The letter sent out to task force members by SBAND President Joseph Wetch, shared with me by one of the invited members, states that the effort is a direct response to the 2014 Measure 6 campaign.

The activists behind the 2006 and 2014 campaigns have good reason to be skeptical of what this group might actually be trying to accomplish. The bar association spent tens of thousands of dollars to oppose both campaigns and resorted to belittling proponents of the measures with pejoratives like “mad dads” or “deadbeat dads.”

When not hurling insults, the lawyers argued that the measures were unnecessary because the state’s existing laws were fair.

A more objective observer might argue that the legal industry is protecting a status quo that is extremely lucrative to them, in that it leaves room for copious litigation between warring couples, and thus a rich harvest of billable hours.

But the fact that SBAND is being forced to at least acknowledge that there may be room for reforms is progress. They were admitting no such thing previously.

Both ballot measure campaigns may have failed, but the volunteer, citizen-driven efforts won enough votes against a neatly orchestrated and well-funded opposition to get some respect.

That’s far from a victory, but the reformers are moving the needle. And it’s a needle that very much needs to be moved. Under current laws the scales of justice have a decided cant to them away from non-custodial parents.

For example, the state will move mountains to enforce child support obligations. Non-payers can have their wages garnished, their tax refunds seized and their hunting and fishing licenses pulled.

Non-payers can see their names listed on an official website as though they were sex offenders. They can even have their driver's licenses taken away and be put in jail, as if that will help them make their payments. And it doesn’t matter why the payments aren’t happening.

Did you lose your job? Did you get cancer and wind up in the hospital? It doesn’t matter.

The custodial parent need not lift a finger to get that enforcement. It happens automatically.

While some of the enforcement measures may be dubious, parents should support their children. But shouldn’t the obligations and responsibilities cut both ways?

Try getting the state to enforce court-mandated visitation time. If a custodial parent chooses, he or she can inhibit or even outright deny visitation time almost with impunity. The only recourse a non-custodial parent has is to pay an attorney and go to court where their relief might hinge on which judge is assigned the case and what mood he or she is in that day.

If you think that sounds unfair, it is, and yet thousands of responsible parents are in that situation right now.

That’s just one example of the need for reform.

And speaking of reform, we ought to consider reforming the group that has been opposing these ballot measures. North Dakota has what’s called a combined bar, which handles both the regulation of the legal industry -- licensing the lawyers and disciplining them when they go astray -- and the public advocacy for that industry.

During the 2014 campaign the SBAND actually used dues money -- payments required of lawyers by state law in order for them to maintain their license to practice -- to pay for their political activities against Measure 6.

Ultimately the group was forced to refund money to their members, but that’s not enough. Official regulatory functions and private advocacy should not mix.

If the lawyers want to fight family law reform to protect their profits, fine, but they shouldn’t get to co-opt official regulatory authority to win those battles.

RECENTLY IN

Say Anything

Tracker Pixel for Entry Aaland Law Firm

Recently in:

Alt White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part five in the series on racism in North Dakota. The state is no stranger to hate groups seeking attention, and while Pioneer Little Europe and the Creativity Movement form hit lists of North…

I have purchased many computer printers in my time, some good, some bad, some terrible! It has always been a necessary evil to have a printer on your desk. Early dot matrix printers were a nightmare to keep running, keep the paper…

Friday, April 28, Various timesMarcus West Acres Cinema, 4101 17th Ave, FargoThis movie, based on the award-winning novel by Kent Nerburn, is a story about a road trip through Minnesota and the Dakotas showing the beauty, tragedy,…

We’re living through hard times, but they are hard times with an important basic amenity: strong, tasty beer and ale, brewed by independent craft brewers. When did it all start? Historians are in disagreement. In 1976, the low…

Are we nearing the end of the human race?Moore’s Law is a rather simple observation made by Gordon Moore back in 1965 when he founded Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, two very important computer chip makers. He remarked that he…

The moment of truth has arrived. After seven weeks of sampling and judging some of the finest libations in the area the results for this year’s Cocktail Showdown have arrived. Christopher Larson, Raul Gomez and Sabrina Hornung…

All About Food

​Twist

by Logan Macrae

On Saturday at 4:40pm I headed into Twist to grab a quick bite to eat before work. I was promptly greeted by one of their friendly serving staff. I was in a bit of a hurry as I worked at 5:30pm and I needed to get in and out, and…

By Sabrina Hornung and Tom Bixby sabrina@hpr1.comGoing back in time for one night only, the Sidestreet Grille presents a powerfully nostalgic show. You’ll remember where you were and what you shouldn’t have done!And how to…

Now on Netflix instant watch and not to be missed is director Keith Maitland’s “Tower,” one of the most memorable and gripping films of 2016. Carefully, even meticulously, constructing a moment-by-moment chronological account…

Arts

Gardens Galore!

by Sabrina Hornung

After months of planning, a theme was chosen. This year the Plains Art Spring Gala totes a decadent Art Nouveau-inspired theme with Gardens Galore. Art Nouveau imagery is known for its flowing, organic, nature-inspired forms as it…

Ovid’s mythological tales undergo dramatic transformation by award-winning director/playwright Mary Zimmerman as Concordia, MSUM, and NDSU deliver theatrical productions of three of her modern takes on his work.Concordia’s…

Humor

​Talking to strangers

by Sabrina Hornung

“I don’t have a tour, like, on the back of a sweatshirt,” comedian Paula Poundstone says. “I go out every weekend. This weekend I went out Friday, Saturday and Monday. Mostly it’s Friday/Saturday or Thursday through…

If you are at all like me, you have been itching to fire up the grill and get down to some outdoor cooking. If you and I are really alike, you probably almost always have a beer in one hand when there’s a grilling utensil in the…

What are essential oils anyway? Have you been hearing a lot about them, smelled them, and perhaps even purchased them but have no idea what they are or what they do?You are not alone. The essential oil industry is a booming one,…

Live and Learn

​The other shoe

by HPR Contributor

By Elizabeth Nawrotnawrot@mnstate.eduI look up from my hotel lobby breakfast astonished to see a framed print of Wassily Kandinsky's "Mit und Gegen,” a masterpiece of color and composition that just happens to be my favorite…

The North Dakota State Water Commission has violated state law more than 600 times in recent years by issuing permits for industrial use of water (read: fracking oil wells) from the Little Missouri State Scenic River. Employees…