Walsh County, ND Passes Shared Parenting Initiative
For everyone involved in the effort to improve America’s family law system something special happened in North Dakota during Tuesday’s election. For the second time in our nation’s history voters went to the poles to cast a binding vote on the question of whether children of divorce should be able to retain a full relationship with both parents. And thanks once again to the tireless efforts of Mitch Sanderson this time voters in Walsh County, North Dakota decided overwhelmingly in kids favor. In fact, 2/3’s of voters said it’s time kids of divorce are able to spend equal time with both fit parents.
You can read the Grand Forks Herald newspaper article here. What most people are interested in however is exactly what it is that citizens enacted. You can see the exact language of the ballot initiative here. What you will see at the link is the petition that was used to gather enough signatures to put the matter on the ballot.
Anatomy of an Initiative
This section is a brief backgrounder on how the ND initiative came to fruition. There are several processes for bringing an initiative to the state ballot which vary depending on the state where you reside. In North Dakota citizens may bring an initiative directly to the ballot by gathering enough signatures to qualify the question for inclusion. In other states ballot initiatives may be brought after the legislature has enacted a bill that has been challenged by citizens or after the legislature certifies a question/initiative be put directly to the people for a vote. To find out what the process is in your state contact your Secretary of State office.
Ballot initiatives typically require a minimum number of signatures to be gathered in order to qualify for inclusion. Longer term participants in efforts to reform family law will remember the 2006 campaign which brought Shared Parenting to North Dakota’s state wide ballot. During that effort Mitch, ACFC and many, many others worked together to gather over 15,000 signatures. Given the present initiative was limited to Walsh County, fewer signatures were necessary to qualify. This time around several hundred signatures were sufficient to get the initiative before voters in the county. Those signatures were turned in for verification and certification on August 21. In contrast, in a state like California several hundreds of thousands of signatures are necessary to bring an initiative to the ballot.
Back in early March, Mitch and the other two members of the organizing committee drafted initiative language. They submitted language to the Secretary of State on March 26 and were informed on March 28 that neither the Sec. of State, States Attorney or County Attorney would provide an opinion on its legality, or compliance with North Dakota law. In an April 6th email Mitch indicated these folks were none too friendly toward the initiative and were already mentioning a legal challenge should the initiative pass. Over the years it’s been astounding to witness the ongoing resistance of certain government sectors to allow parents to raise their children with minimal interference.
Mitch expressed confidence in the legality of a county initiative indicating the ND Century Code (state statutes) at 11-09.1-04 – Ratification by Majority Vote. Supersession of Existing Charter and Conflicting State Law Note states: “The Charter and Ordinances made pursuant to the charter in county matters must be liberally construed to supersede within the territorial limits and jurisdiction of the county any conflicting state law except…” It’s important that groups or individuals engaging in this type of activity understand the statutory scheme and enabling legislation.
And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. On November 6th citizens in the County of Walsh overwhelmingly passed an equally shared parenting initiative.
At this point it remains to be seen whether the initiative will be challenged in court. There is some question as to whether it goes into effect immediately or within thirty days. One thing is certain however. The people of Walsh County have spoken. They want children to have a full and equal relationship with both parents. They further want all parents who have not had a fitness hearing to be able to return to court for such a hearing, the result being greater access for kids to both parents. Finally they want the he said/she said nonsense of family court to end. The people have said they want parental fitness determined using a clear and convincing evidentiary standard; no more unsupported allegations are admissible.
Our thanks go to Mitch for his efforts on behalf of all of us. Mitch not only gave of his time, he put his money on the line for shared parenting, just like he did in 2006. He and his family sacrificed financially to make this happen. Let’s show our appreciation to Mitch by helping him defray the costs of this effort. Go to www.rally.org/sharedparenting/donate and make a contribution.
Mitch’s efforts help us all. One of the most frequently asked questions we get from legislators when talking with them about shared parenting is – “Where has this been done before?” Now we can point to North Dakota and say it has been done, with the overwhelming support of the citizens.
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