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June 30, 2016
By Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Is the worm starting to turn in Nebraska? All of a sudden it appears that the Legislature may be pointing the finger of blame at the courts and the courts are pointing it right back.

The question arises from a couple of adoption cases that the Nebraska Supreme Court decided on June 24th. The exact nature of the companion cases is too complicated to go into here, but the high points are these:

A woman had a child in Ohio. She and her paramour signed an acknowledgement of paternity that, under Ohio law, resulted in his being legally established as the child’s father. The two lived together for a while and the man cared for the child. Eventually the mother took the child to Nebraska and placed her for adoption. The man objected saying that, under Ohio law, since he was officially the child’s father, his consent to the adoption was required. The Nebraska court ignored its obligation to give full faith and credit to Ohio law and the results of that law in the given case. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that was error, so the man’s consent to the adoption was required.

Again, the two cases are far more detailed, intricate and convoluted than the above description indicates, but what’s most noteworthy comes at the very end of one of them. As quoted in this article, the Supreme Court wrote (Omaha World Herald, 6/25/16),

“We are sympathetic to the heartache that undoing these errors will cause the parties after this much time,” Justice William Connolly wrote. “This situation is partially the result of Nebraska’s statutes that encourage biological mothers to minimize the rights of legal fathers.”

Indeed they do.

But just a year and a half ago, legislators were criticizing the judiciary (Omaha World Herald, 1/10/14).

Noncustodial parents in Nebraska get an average of five days per month with their children, according to a 10-year analysis of judicial decisions in child custody and divorce cases.

The study, released Thursday by the State Court Administrator's Office, said judges are gradually moving toward custody arrangements that more equally divide parenting time.

“Glaciers move too,” said State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, an advocate for equal parenting time.

Ouch! And Karpisek wasn’t the only one complaining.

The Legislature could pass a resolution calling for judges to more equally divide parenting time. Courts already have that authority under a 2007 revision of parenting law, [Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brad] Ashford said.

“I think the Legislature has already spoken and we want more shared time, we want more equality,” he said.

Then there’s the fact that the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court was recently photographed palling around with Susie Buffett, daughter of Warren, whose foundation funds groups opposed to shared parenting and whose aunt Doris is a longtime domestic violence ideologue. When called out on the matter, the photo was deleted from the Court’s website.

In short, about the state of children’s rights to their fathers and fathers’ rights to their children in Nebraska, there looks to be some high-level finger pointing. That can only be a good thing. When the legislature and the judiciary agree that greater contact between fathers and children is necessary, that neither is receiving their due and that the only issue is who’s at fault for not providing it, can reform be far behind?

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