Vacanti | Shattuck | Finocchiaro Attorneys

Proposal May Affect Nebraska Child Custody Determinations

Posted on April 6, 2014.

In February, a Nebraska lawmaker introduced two bills to the Judicial Committee that could change how courts award child custody. The proposed changes are meant to equalize the amount of time that separated parents spend with their children.

In a divorce, child custody is one of the most contentious issues. Often one parent receives a greater share of the time with the child or sole physical custody. This parent’s home is usually where the child spends the week and attends school. The other parent receives visitation or parenting time on weeknights and weekends. When parents reside any length of distance from each other this arrangement may be in the best interest of the child.

Proposed move toward joint custody

The bill, LB212, would change custody presumptions. If passed, the bill would allow two “fit parents” to each have 45 percent custody in a separation of divorce. In support of the bill, its sponsor said, “all of the modern research shows that the more time a child spends with a parent, the stronger the relationship is and will be and the healthier the child will be,both mentally and physically.”

The courts would still have the ultimate discretion to adjust the amount of time each parent spends with a child based on the facts of an individual case.

The other bill, LB22, states separated parents would need to work together on legal decisions concerning the child. These decisions usually relate to schooling, medical treatment and religion. Under current law, courts often grant joint legal custody when the parents can communicate in a civil manner.

Advocates argue that a change is law is required to maximize the amount of time both parents have with the child or children. Fathers are many times the ones that see their time with their child or children limited. With an every other weekend parenting time schedule the might only see their kids four days per month.

Similar legislation introduced last year was unable to get out of committee. But those bills also dealt with child support. Supporters of the bill hope to reach the legislative floor this year and remove the winner/loser mentality in custody cases.
Current factors in a Nebraska child custody decision

In Nebraska child custody and visitation cases, the court uses the best interest of the child to guide decisions. If the parents do not agree on joint custody in a parenting plan, the court can still award joint custody if it finds specifically that it is in the best interests of the child.

Joint physical custody is usually only awarded in cases where the parents meet the following criteria:

  • The parents are mature enough that the child will not be able to manipulate the parents
  • A joint custody situation will not confuse the child
  • The parenting plan provides a stable atmosphere for the child and does not continue “turmoil or custodial wars”

The factors for awarding joint physical custody are different from sole physical custody. The court may be more hesitant to award joint physical custody if the separated parents reside in different towns. On the other hand, when parents communicate well and can each arrange to get children to school, a joint custody arrangement might better meet the needs of the children.

If you are considering separating or divorce, contact an experienced Nebraska family law attorney. An attorney can discuss available child custody options and explain how the process works.

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