Couples end their relationships for a number of different reasons and, regardless of what those reasons are, untying the lives they built together can often be a painful and emotional process. Those couples who share children often have an even harder time, considering they have to also contend with deciding the custody of the child or children they share. When it comes to child custody issues in the state of Nebraska, family courts always make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child involved, including his or her health, safety, emotional and developmental needs.
Best Interests of the Child Standard in Nebraska
When a divorcing or separating couple comes into the Nebraska court system to acquire help with a child custody arrangement, the judge will always base his or her decisions on what is in the best interests of the child involved in the case. This means that neither of the parents begin the legal proceedings with more of a right to the child than the other parent and that the most important decisions made in court will focus on the child, including providing him or her with a stable, safe and nurturing home environment in which to live.
While Nebraska judges have wide discretion when it comes to making decisions in the best interests of the child, there are factors that are designated by state law that help to guide the judge’s choices. These factors fall into some basic categories that are outlined below.
Health and Safety
The Nebraska judge that is overseeing a custody case is tasked with considering any and all issues that may have a direct effect on the physical safety of the child involved in a custody case. The judge looks for any evidence of abuse or neglect from either parent or if one parent has committed abuse against the other parent or another member of the household in which the child lives. Should an abusive past be uncovered, it is possible for the court to only award that parent supervised visitation with the child – these restrictions on visitation could be permanent or temporary should the court determine at a later time that there is no longer any threat to the child’s wellbeing.
Developmental and Emotional Needs
The judge also takes a look at the emotional and developmental factors that are relevant to the case, including the strength of the relationship between the child and both parents prior to their separation and how each parent has remained involved in the child’s life after the separation took place. The child’s developmental abilities and needs will also be considered as well as the parents’ ability and willingness to continue cultural or social traditions that the child has participated in on a regular basis.
The Nebraska court system also recognizes the potential need for visitation with the child from non-family or family members who have played a significant role in the child’s life. This may include grandparents, same-sex co-parents, or stepparents. Should the child be determined mature enough and old enough to understand the current situation and able to make thoughtful choices, he or she may be allowed to state a preference in the child custody arrangement.
Mediation and Parenting Classes
State law in Nebraska requires that all parents going through a separation attend basic parenting classes soon after their case begins. This class provides students with basic information including parenting plans, effects of divorce on children, importance of mediation, and key information in the legal process as it relates to divorce. In some cases, it may be required for a parent to attend more than one of these classes. The family court system also gives parents the opportunity to develop their own parenting plan and, should both parents agree to this plan, the court will generally make it legally binding.
When parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, a third party may be appointed as mediation to help the couple work through their problems. This neutral individual helps to sort out the parents’ issues and help them to develop a plan that they can agree on. Should domestic abuse be a concern for the court, it may appoint a modified mediator to talk to each parent separately to avoid forcing them to meet together. If the parents at this point are still unable to agree, the court will step in.
Child Custody Options in Nebraska
Child custody in Nebraska is broken up into two parts – legal custody, which refers to a parent’s right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, and physical custody, which refers to whom is in charge of the child and his or her welfare as well as with whom the child is residing at any given time. State law requires that judges always consider joint legal and physical custody, but should this arrangement not be in the best interests of the child, judges do not have to use this arrangement in their judgement.
Even if the parents have developed their own parenting plan, the judge must still apply the best interests of the child standard to the plan and determine that it is indeed in the best interests of the child involved in the case. The judge has the option to reject the parents’ plan, but must give written reasons as to why the plan was rejected. In some cases, the court finds that both parents spending equal time with the child is in his or her best interest, but in other cases the court may find that giving the child a primary caregiver and permitting visitation to the other parent is the better option.
Custody Modification in Nebraska
Regardless of how the child custody agreement was decided on, there may come a time when changes to the plan need to be made. When this occurs, the parent or parents will need to get approval from the family court system and have the change approved and made legally binding. Should both parents agree and the court finds the change to be in the best interests of the child, it will likely be approved. However, should one parent not agree to the change, the parent making the request needs to convince the court that the change is needed and in the best interests of the child involved.
Custody and Relocation in Nebraska
Relocation requests often become an issue when one parent has primary custody of the child and wants to move a distance away from the other parent who may only have the child for a small amount of time or only have visitation rights. In these cases, the parent who is wishing to move bears the burden of proof when it comes to convincing the court that the relocation is necessary. Some areas the judge considers when making his or her decision include:
- The reason for the relocation
- The reason the relocation is being contested
- The benefits the child will see from the relocation
- The strength of the relationship between the child and both parents