Child Custody and Parenting Issues
In any divorce case in which the custody of minor children is an issue, the Nebraska Statute requires that the parents attend and complete a parenting education course prior to entry of a final decree or entry of an order modifying a prior judgment as to custody or parenting time. The District Courts in the state of Nebraska have approved certain parenting classes and you will be sent specific information from the Clerk of the District Court where the divorce is filed concerning the approved classes, when and where they are held and the cost. If you have questions about this, you should address them with one of the lawyers or paralegals in the Firm.
The entry of a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage in Nebraska will require that the court determine both the legal and physical custody of minor children. Legal custody refers to the decision-making process. Physical custody refers to the household in which the child(ren) spend the majority of their time. Nebraska does not have a statutory presumption favoring either the husband or wife as being the better or more fit parent to have custody of minor children. In addition, there is no presumption in Nebraska concerning “joint custody”. Custody and parenting time determinations are based upon the best interests of the minor children. Of some importance in custody determinations is the historical role each parent has assumed in raising the children, work schedules and what custody arrangement will cause the least disruption in the lives of the minor children. Custody and parenting time are also to take into consideration the requirements and principles announced in the “Parenting Act” which was enacted by the Nebraska Unicameral in 2007 and amended in 2008. The Parenting Act requires that the parents agree to a “Parenting Plan” which is subject to approval by the court. The Parenting Act requires that the Parenting Plan delineate the type of custody arrangement the parties have agreed upon, define decision making, provide in some detail arrangements for parenting time throughout the year and address a number of other issues related to ongoing parenting, including how to resolve future disputes. The Parenting Act does place significant importance on the identification of and appropriate resolution of domestic abuse, particularly as it relates to children. There are numerous considerations and financial ramifications involved with formulation of a Parenting Plan and all of these issues will need to be discussed in detail with the lawyers of this office. If of a sufficient maturity to express an opinion concerning custody or parenting time, the wishes of minor children may also be taken into consideration. If the parties are unable to agree on certain aspects of the Parenting Plan and the custody arrangement, it is now mandatory under the Parenting Act that they attempt mediation and the court will so order it. This is discussed in the following section.
As part of the Parenting Plan agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the court, a schedule of parenting time with both parents will need to be delineated. The Parenting Act requires some detail with respect to these arrangements. What kind of parenting time the parties have will depend upon the custody arrangement, the ages of the children, their schooling and activities, the jobs the parents have, where they live and a variety of other factors. The old model of visitation where the non-custodial parent had alternating weekend visitation is not utilized as much as it used to be. In some jurisdictions (such as Lancaster County) there is now a presumption that a 10/4 or 9/5 schedule of parenting time every two weeks is in the best interests of the children. This may or may not be appropriate for your situation for a variety of reasons, including the ages of the children, continuing problems between the parents, work schedules or family logistics. Summer visitation and holidays also need to be spelled out with some specificity in the parenting plan and these arrangements can vary greatly depending upon family dynamics, involvement of grandparents or other relatives, level of activities of the children and the ability of parents or extended family to provide transportation. As discussed in the section entitled “Child Support”, the amount of parenting time each parent has and the custody arrangement may affect how child support is calculated.
In our mobile society, it is not uncommon for people to relocate to another town following a divorce. When children are involved, this becomes a very difficult issue. It becomes especially difficult when the move is outside the state of Nebraska. In the event a custodial parent or a parent with joint physical custody needs to relocate for a job, remarriage or other reason, it will necessarily require a modification of the Parenting Plan and, in some cases, modification of custody arrangements. There is significant Nebraska case law that has developed in the last 20 years that you will need to discuss with our office if relocation appears to be eminent. This should be brought up immediately even if it occurs during the divorce so that it can be addressed. In no event may a parent relocate to another state for purposes of changing the permanent residence of the parties’ children without consent of the court that has jurisdiction over the divorce. These are some of the most difficult cases that courts have to deal with.