September 7, 2016
By: Don Hubin, Ph.D., Member of the National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In 2014, NPO’s Shared Parenting Report Card evaluated each state’s child custody statutes (not case law or the actual behavior of courts!) on the degree to which the laws promoted shared parenting. At that time, Nevada was near the bottom of the pack. It received only a ‘D’, a barely passing grade. To be fair, it had a lot of company at the bottom of the class. Twenty-three states received ‘D’s and two received failing grades.
But Nevada’s Parental Rights Protection Act of 2015 brought about dramatic changes—changes that will greatly benefit Nevada’s children. Attorney Keith Pickard (Henderson, Nevada), who was the principal architect of the bill, brought these changes to NPO’s attention. The changes bring NPO’s grade for Nevada’s child custody statutes from a miserable ‘D’ to a ‘C+’. A ‘C+’ on the NPO Shared Parenting Report Card might not seem like anything to brag about. But only eight other states received a ‘C+’ and only eight states received grades higher than a ‘C+’. None received an ‘A.’ So, in a single legislative act, Nevada has moved from being among the worst states for shared parenting laws to being in the top third.
Attorney Pickard wrote a very helpful guide to the improvements in Nevada’s child custody law. You can read that article at this link, but here are two highlights.
- Nevada statutes now establish a presumption of joint legal custody and a preference for joint physical custody when the parents agree to it (which should be a no-brainer, of course) but, also, when “[a] parent has demonstrated, or has attempted to demonstrate but has had his or her efforts frustrated by the other parent, an intent to establish a meaningful relationship with the minor child” (NRS 125C.002 & 125C.0025).
- Nevada now has uniform rules for relocating children away from the other parent whether the relocation is to another state or within the state but to a location that “would substantially impair the ability of the other parent to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child.” And the rules for relocating when parents have shared physical custody are designed to protect both parent’s relationship with the children.
What should Nevada do next? Here are a few changes that would improve its grade and, more important, improve the lives of children in Nevada:
- Explicitly extend its presumptions and preferences to cover temporary orders, the period during the pendency of the divorce or custody action. Often parenting gets off to a bad start because courts tend to favor a sole custody model during this period.
- Provide a clear definition of “joint physical custody.” We prefer that this phrase be allowed only if each parent is awarded at least one-third of the parenting time.
- Express an aspiration for 50/50 parenting “whenever possible.”
- Change the “preference for” joint physical custody (good) to a “presumption of” joint physical custody (better!).
- Require courts to provide findings of fact in support of custody determinations that do not include both joint legal and joint physical custody (shared parenting).
We should celebrate the progress that Nevada has made but also recognize that there is more work to be done in Nevada. Perhaps attorney Pickard will be instrumental in these additional changes. He is currently running for the Nevada Assembly.
Nevada serves as additional evidence that the tide is running towards shared parenting even if its new law is not perfect.