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February 20, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Sometimes courts get it right – even Nebraska courts.

In the case of Alberts vs. Alberts, both the trial and the appellate court made the right decisions.  Thomas and Joan Alberts were married in 1997, had two children, separated in 2011 and Joan filed for divorce in 2013.  There were multiple issues at trial about marital property and of course about child custody.  Predictably, the trial court’s temporary orders gave Joan primary custody and allowed Thomas only every-other-weekend visitation.

But during their separation Thomas always cared for the children at Joan’s house after she left for work and after the kids returned from school in the afternoon.  Thomas was a fit, loving and caring father.  His provision of care for the children allowed Joan to work long hours and pursue continued education that enhanced her earning potential.

But post-separation, Joan entered onto a campaign to alienate their younger child, Isaac, from his father.  This the court duly noted.
It is the court’s strong conclusion that Joan has actively worked to alienate [Thomas] from his children. It believes just as strongly that [Thomas] puts the interests of his children before anything else. While [Thomas] is not a perfect parent, the Court reposes significantly more trust in his parenting abilities. Given the strong history of discord between these two, the fact that Joan has chosen to disregard the Court’s previous directions aimed at establishing a coparenting relationship between [the parties], and the parental alienation instigated by Joan which is obvious from the record, the Court chooses to award legal custody of the minor children to [Thomas]. Physical custody will be shared on a rotating weekly basis.
That was the right thing to do and both the trial and appellate courts understood the fact.  The two exes were at each other’s throats.  They seem to have hated each other, but loved the children.  Joan actively tried to alienate Isaac from his father, but Thomas did nothing of the sort.  Therefore, giving sole legal custody to Thomas made sense.  He had the children’s best interests at heart and, since the two adults couldn’t work together, reposing sole legal custody in one facilitated the child’s healthy upbringing.

Likewise, equal physical custody was probably the right approach.  A week-on/week-off schedule makes parental alienation difficult or impossible.  As soon as the alienating parent begins to convince the child that the targeted parent doesn’t love them, is violent, crazy, or whatever fiction the alienator chooses, the child returns to the targeted parent and learns once again that the fiction is just that.  It’s one of the great virtues of equal parenting that it all but obviates parental alienation.
While a joint physical custody arrangement might seem at odds with the district court’s award of sole legal custody to Thomas and the court’s emphasis on the “strong history of discord” between the parties, the evidence shows that a physical custody arrangement involving fewer parenting time transitions and a regular, predictable schedule was best for Alika (the older child).  (Parenthetical mine.)
In short, both courts did the right thing by these children and their parents.

Are Nebraska courts starting to “get it?”  Certainly, equal parenting forces in the state have made it hot for those who oppose a child’s right to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents post-divorce.  That’s included a number of initiatives that have by turns embarrassed and brought into disrepute various anti-shared parenting entities in the state.  The decertification of the bar association was one such incident and the public humiliation of its then-president Marcia Fangmeyer for blatantly lying about a shared parenting bill, in which I was a happy participant, was another.  The multiple revelations of the Saini analysis of custody decisions undercut essentially every argument against shared parenting.  Likewise, the lawsuit against the Administrator of the Courts that forced the publication of the “education” received by family court judges in the matter of children’s welfare and parenting time has been of great importance.  That “education” was so at odds with the truth and the shenanigans engaged in by state employees to ensure that judges didn’t hear the truth about the matter couldn’t have set well with the judges themselves, the legislature or the public.

But perhaps the most important factor has been the steady drumbeat of opinion pieces published in all the prominent state newspapers by shared parenting advocates.  That, plus the fact that anti-shared parenting forces have nothing with which to counter those arguments and, at least to a great extent, have stopped trying, just may have pushed Nebraska judges in the right direction.

Whatever the case, a win’s a win and Alberts vs. Alberts is a win.  It’s a win for Isaac Alberts and a win for sanity in the process of deciding custody and parenting time.  And it’s a win for all those who know that parental alienation is a form of child abuse and that alienators must be held to account by the judges in whose courts they appear.

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