Current state law unfairly favors mothers in custody disputes, backers say.
“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,” Jill Bjerke, the lead sponsor of the initiative, said when her group turned in signatures in June.
Opponents said current state law focuses on the children involved in the dispute, rather than the parents. They focus on a provision that would require parents to share “residential responsibility” — that is, where the child lives — on an equal basis. That could mean a child is forced to live in two different cities, or two different states, when their parents separate, an arrangement the opponents say can be detrimental to the child.
North Dakota voters rejected a similar measure back in 2006, by a 56 to 44 percent margin. Voters in Walsh County, a small county on the Minnesota-North Dakota border, passed an equal parenting rights measure in 2012, though Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) is challenging that initiative for preempting state law.
All 25 of the sponsors of the 2014 initiative [pdf] are women, and 21 of them hail from Grafton, the Walsh County seat.