Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Effect of North Dakota's Shared Parenting Ballot Initiative on Federal Funding Debated

Even before a proposed child custody initiative has been approved for the ballot in North Dakota, an argument is raging about whether its language would cost the state $71 million over two years in federal aid to families. The possibility, raised by a regional U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administrator who was asked to review the measure, has prompted charges of bureaucratic intimidation.  The ballot initiative requires joint child custody arrangements in divorces, if one of the former spouses wants the option and both are considered fit parents. It limits either parent's child support payment to "the actual cost of providing for the basic needs" of the couple's child or children.

Read the AP story from the Grand Forks Herald (last visited August 28, 2006 bgf)

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The ND initiative is one of those ironically-named initiatives. Like a "Healthy Forests Initiative" that calls for fewer trees, more pavement. The bill was drafted by someone who has no idea what they're doing. Imagine this: The law says child support based upon "the parenting plan" (whatever that means) and can "not be greater than the actual cost of providing for the basic needs of the child(ren)". Think about that. It's the "actual cost" and not an "average cost" or an "annual cost." And it's only to provide for "the basic needs of the child(ren)." Can someone tell me what are the "basic needs of" children? I suppose there's a minimum subsistence amount of calories a child needs to survive. And some might say "heat and water" are "basic needs." But others might disagree. I think people can fight about the definition of "basic needs" until those North Dakota cows come home. But "actual cost" seems non-debateable. The only thing debateable about the "actual cost" is how often the "actual cost" will be determined. I think it should be determined weekly. People are much too likely to lose all their receipts if it's only done monthly. And "daily" seems excessive. And I can't imagine a court saying "Well by 'actual cost' the voters obviously meant 'average cost.'" Language has to be vague before it can be interpreted by courts, right? "Actual cost" seems pretty clear to me. I'm excited to see what kind of huge government bureaucracy will have to be established to sort through 60,000 obligees' receipts every month to determine what is and what is not a "basic need" so that an "actual cost" can be nailed down. Weekly. And I can't wait to see meet all the new judges we'll get here in North Dakota. There's no possible way the disputes over "basic needs" and "actual costs" can be handled by our already overworked judges. And I haven't even touched the horrible custody provisions in the initiative.

Posted by: bismarckdems | Oct 7, 2006 10:37:18 PM

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