March 23, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Moving on from Attorney Margaret Zarbano’s divorced-(pun intended)-from-reality-letter I dealt with in my last post, the actual amended version of LB 1000 that’s now pending before the Nebraska Senate Judiciary Committee is actually a pretty good bill. If it becomes law as is, it’ll provide the strongest shared parenting statute in the country. Of course the bill isn’t even out of committee yet, but a letter, also to Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford, from former fence-sitter Angela Dunne, strongly suggests all stakeholders are solidly behind the bill with none in opposition.
Dunne recounts that numerous people with differing views on child custody have worked on the amendment to LB 1000 and have come to an agreement. Importantly, included among those are the two major domestic violence organizations in the state. Likewise, the amended version reflects the views of family attorneys on the matters of approval of parenting plans by courts that would maintain the standard of the “best interests of the child.”
Dunne calls the bill “a good one” and urges the committee to pass it.
That’s good advice. The bill is indeed good – not perfect – but clearly good enough to make a vast improvement in parenting time allocations in Nebraska.
Most importantly, it would require judges to allocate parenting time of no less than 35% to each parent unless certain fairly stringent exceptions exist. Those are things like a finding that the parent’s rights should be terminated, the parent has engaged in a pattern of child abuse or neglect, domestic violence or the like. A pattern of parental unfitness and geographical separation of the parents that makes shared parenting unfeasible also are exceptions to the 35% rule. And of course a parent can agree to less time.
Therefore, if LB 1000 passes as written, essentially no father in the state who divorces after the new law’s effective date will be granted less than 35% of parenting time. Remember, according to the analysis of the Nebraska child custody cases over an 11-year period, there were fewer than 10% of cases in which any of those exceptions to the 35% rule were even brought up by parents and fewer still were proven.
The standard parenting time for fathers now stands at under 20%, so the new law would almost double that time, again, for almost all divorcing dads. That’s a huge step forward.
What’s also vital is that the 35% threshold actually reflects social science on children’s well-being post-divorce. The social science literature indicates that the benefits of shared parenting to children manifest themselves at that level of parenting time. If one parent has less, the benefits begin to fall away. As I’ve said too many times to count, laws and judicial practice on child custody routinely ignore decades of teaching about parenting time and children’s welfare. LB 1000 avoids that trap.
Undergirding the core 35% principle is a statement of public policy:
It is the public policy of this state that each minor child have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the child’s parents separate or the marriage of the parents is dissolved, and to encourage the parents to share the rights and responsibilities or parenthood. It is the right of each child to have as full and complete a relationship with both parents as possible.
Given that statement of policy, in addition to the 35% rule, it would be all but impossible for a judge to simply return to the old, thoroughly debunked way of allocating parenting time. This statement of policy is more than just hortatory; it would have an important impact on Nebraska case law. Several appellate court decisions from the 1980s announced the principle that, in Nebraska, “joint custody is not favored and must be reserved for only the rarest of cases.” It is vitally important that the new law make clear that those precedents are no longer valid. LB 1000’s requirement of, at minimum, 35% parenting time, plus its policy statement, unquestionably demonstrate exactly that.
Clearly enunciating not only that parents have rights to their children but that children have rights to their parents is likewise vital. It’s one of the opposition’s frequent arguments (and a typically weak one) that shared parenting laws are all about the parents and not the kids. The assumption is that fathers’ rights and children’s well-being are opposed, when in fact, the exact opposite is true. But into the bargain, LB 1000 establishes in law the rights of children to the most complete relationship possible with each parent. If the bill passes, from here on out, the anti-dad crowd will be officially anti-child as well.
Like the laws of many other states, LB 1000 would establish certain factors judges would be required to consider in deciding the “best interests of the child.” Here are a few of the important ones provided by the bill:
(7) That each parent encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact between the child and the other parent;
(8) That each parent facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship with the other parent, to honor the time sharing schedule, to allow frequent associations with the other parent, and to be reasonable when changes are required;
(9) That each parent allow the other to provide care without intrusion, and respect the other parents’ rights and responsibilities, including the right to privacy;
So judges will be required, in addressing the issue of the best interests of children, to look at who promotes the child’s relationship with the other parent. That’s of course directly aimed at parental alienators and those who would interfere visitation.
As it stands now, LB 1000 is that rarest of birds, a good bill and one backed by advocates as diverse as those in favor of shared parenting and domestic violence activists. Those are strange bedfellows indeed and the fact that they’re making common cause on behalf of greater equality of parenting post-divorce is of no small importance.
I suspect that’s all come about because of the perfect storm of events that’s taken place over the past six months or so. First, anti-shared parenting forces were caught lying about Senator Karpisek’s previous shared parenting bill. Second, the state bar was caught illegally lobbying against shared parenting. That resulted in a shocking rebuke to the bar by the state Supreme Court and its complete reorganization under the Court’s aegis, effectively divesting it of power to influence legislation. The final blow came with the data collected by the state on child custody orders. Those demonstrate that the claims of DV and anti-father activists have been hugely overblown.
That perfect storm washed the anti-shared parenting forces ashore with nothing to continue their fight against fathers and children. The result is LB 1000.
The iron is hot. Time to strike.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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