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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

November 15, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

That soft thud you didn’t hear was the “impact” of the “Evaluation of the Nebraska Parenting Act” that’s just been made public by the state’s Supreme Court. Its purpose was to compare outcomes for children in custody cases prior to and after the 2007 revisions to the state’s Parenting Act. Here’s a good piece about it (Omaha World Herald, 10/26/15). World Herald reporter Joe Duggan gets to the heart of the matter with this:

When it came to the bottom-line question, however, the answer eluded researchers.

“The (study) could not draw any conclusions about the 2007 Parenting Act revisions’ impact on child well-being,” according to the study, which was conducted by the National Center for State Courts, a nonprofit court improvement organization based in Williamsburg, Virginia.

And that’s a real problem when the most important feature of the 2007 revisions to the Parenting Act were, in the words of the Evaluation, a legislative purpose to protect children.

The Parenting Act reflects a public policy focus on reducing the impact of parental conflict upon children in divorce, custody, and parenting time cases. The general intent of the Parenting Act is to create a legal environment that places the child’s best interests at the center of parental and judicial decision-making.

To sum up, the purpose of the Parenting Act is child well-being as it’s affected by judicial decision-making in child custody cases. The purpose of the Evaluation was to ascertain how children’s well-being is faring under the 2007 revisions. But the NCSC evaluators “could not draw any conclusions” about that. Hence the inaudible thud. The report weighs in at a whopping 336 pages, but has nothing to say about the most important aspect of its raison d’etre.

Why? Because there’s no information to be had about that all-important topic. The Executive Summary of the Evaluation admits that researchers “could not access data on child well-being in cases filed prior to implementation of the 2007 Parenting Act revisions.” And when they attempted to survey parents about post-2007 cases, too few parents responded to produce statistically significant data.

Oh, the Evaluation does produce information, some of it mildly interesting, some of it not even that. So, we learn that, post 2007, the time for a child custody case to be finalized dropped from 293 days to 261. We learn that most parents file a mandatory parenting plan, but that they’re only useful to “break a tie,” i.e. when parents disagree.

Although temporary affidavits are supposedly mandatory in every case seeking temporary orders, few parents or their attorneys filed one. In only 63% of cases were temporary orders sought and in only 24% of those was the “required” affidavit filed. That’s probably a good thing since attorneys agreed that the temporary affidavits contributed greatly to conflict and the sense that the other parent was an adversary.

“Mandatory” parenting classes are in fact attended by fewer than half of all parents in family courts. Those that did attend have a low opinion of the classes as being too basic and not aimed at parents of older children.

There was no statistical difference, between pre- and post-2007 cases, in the percentage of cases that are relitigated after the original final order.

Fewer than 10% of cases go to mediation, but the results of those mediations are hidden behind the same wall of non-information that troubles so much of Nebraska custody cases.

The NCSC could not determine all cases in which a mediator was involved. The information is not required to be collected and therefore it is not consistently contained in the case file. The parties are not required to report to the court whether they attended mediation or whether the parenting plan was developed through mediation. Mediated parenting plans do not always list the name of the mediator or mediation center involved.

And that, my friends, is it. The Evaluation has almost nothing to offer lawmakers, judges or the public regarding its main mission — ascertaining the impact of the 2007 revisions on children’s welfare.

Now, while the NCSC evaluators gladly lay that shortcoming at the feet of parents who refused to take part in their survey, I must ask exactly what they hoped to conclude about children’s well-being simply by asking the parents. After all, parents aren’t exactly an unbiased source of information. Surely custodial parents would tend to say the kids are doing fine, while the non-custodial parents might take a different tack. So even if parents had answered the survey, the usefulness of the data obtained would seem to be dubious at best.

I asked the project director for the NCSC how she hoped to draw meaningful conclusions about child well-being from a single survey of parents, and when she answers that question, I’ll report back.

So the Evaluation was hamstrung in its most important mission, and others, by a lack of information. That makes interesting LB 27, a bill currently pending before the state’s unicameral legislature. It would require attorneys or, if unrepresented by counsel, litigants, to fill out a form whenever parenting time was established originally by a judge or changed. In short, it would, by a simple and almost cost-free process, provide information about how much parenting time each parent is afforded by each original order and each subsequent amendment to that order.

That’s pretty basic, but still valuable information. From that, we’d know to a certainty, how much time each parent is able to spend with his/her kids. In the process, we’d know to what extent the courts are carrying out their mandate by the legislature to “consider equally” the relationship between the child and each parent. LB 27’s passage would be a gold mine for state legislators. In short order, they’d be able to know how effective their 2007 revisions have been.

So, guess who opposes passage of LB 27. The judiciary and the State Bar, according to one reliable source. Yes, it seems that state court judges are none too interested in their actions being submitted to the scrutiny of the public. They don’t want Nebraskans to know whether they’re enforcing the law as intended by the legislature or whether they’re going their own merry way.

Disgraceful as that stance would be at any time, it’s doubly so in the wake of an Evaluation that was largely a waste of time and money due solely to the lack of information Nebraska’s courts made available to those whose job it was to figure out something as important as the well-being of the state’s children.

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

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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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