Nebraska Child Custody Laws

Nebraska Child Custody

Here’s what you should know if you’re engaged in a child custody case in Nebraska.

What are the Types of Child Custody in Nebraska?

The Nebraska Parenting Act applies to parents in a court case involving their children, such as divorce, modification of a previously entered divorce decree, legal separation, paternity, custody, custody modification, or any action involving visitation or parenting time.

The Act generally requires the parents to:

  • Attend a court-approved parenting education class
  • Attend mediation to attempt to create a parenting plan
  • Submit the parenting plan or partial parenting plan to the court for its approval

Both parents must complete a basic parenting education class unless the court excuses participation for a good cause. A certificate of completion must be filed with the court after completing the parenting class. Parents can obtain a list of court-approved parenting classes or approved online programs from the district court clerk.

Nebraska child custody laws protect parents and children. If you don’t set up custody through the court, you can put yourself or your child at risk.  Court-approved custody can protect a child from a neglectful or abusive parent.

Custody is divided into legal and physical custody.  Nebraska courts prefer joint physical and legal custody when possible to preserve each parent’s ongoing and active involvement of each parent which is generally deemed beneficial to a child.

In a joint legal custody arrangement, parents work together to make decisions involving the children. If parents can’t agree, the parent who has custody of the children will decide. Before a Nebraska court approves joint legal custody, both parties will have to testify that they are able to cooperate for the children’s educational, medical and religious needs. Without that testimony, a judge will not enter an order for joint legal custody.

Joint physical custody is where the children move from one parent’s home to the other for a specified amount of time.  The duration and amount of each time spent at a parent’s home are determined by the parents, sometimes with the help of a mediator, or a judge will decide when parents can’t agree.  Schedules can vary based on the parents’ schedules and the child’s needs.

Custody laws in Nebraska do not favor one parent over the other due to sex. So, without extenuating circumstances, they try to award 50/50 joint custody when possible.

In cases where more than one child is involved, the court may occasionally award split custody.  Split custody means that each parent receives physical custody of a different child or multiple  children.  This may be awarded when siblings don’t get along or other extenuating circumstances may this type of custody preferable.  Courts only award this in very rare instances.

Nebraska also recognizes sole custody, but courts avoid this arrangement if possible. This means that only one parent receives custody of the child.  That parent makes all decisions regarding the child’s well-being and the child also physically lives with them full time.  Courts may award this type of custody when domestic violence, substance abuse, or criminal activities are present.

A non-custodial parent may or may not see the child or have limited visitation.  This visitation is often supervised with a third party monitoring all visits.

Courts may set up a visitation schedule for a parent to their children at the parent’s home or in a designated place but always with the child’s safety as the paramount concern.

Guardianship is another type of custody in Nebraska.  Guardianship laws in Nebraska require a child to reside under the care of a competent adult until they turn 19.  A court may award guardianship to somebody other than the child’s parent if both parents die or if neither can care for the child for any reason. It differs from custody, as the courts still recognize the parents even though the child is removed from them.

What is the Wilson Visitation Model?

The standard visitation model in Nebraska is called Wilson visitation. Essentially, this provides for alternate weekend visits from Friday evening to Sunday evening. The parents also alternate holidays. For example, in odd-numbered years, the parent without custody of the children would have visits for the following holidays: Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

The other parent would have the children for the following holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Christmas. The parent without custody of the children might also have some mid-week parenting time.

A similar schedule can include any other family celebrations or religious observances.

What are a fathers’ rights in Nebraska?

Nebraska has laws protecting fathers’ rights, even if they are not married to the mothers of their children. To benefit from that protection, fathers must establish paternity or prove that they are the father.  This is typically done through the courts or by DNA testing.

Read More:  132 Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced and Separated Parents

Determining Child Custody in Nebraska

Courts examine several factors to determine child custody cases in Nebraska.  A judge may use all the factors noted below or weigh some more heavily than others.  The overriding concern is to come up with an arrangement that meets the child’s best interests.

Factors the court uses include:

  • The child’s wishes or preferences as to custody, provided they are mature enough to make such claims
  • The parents’ wishes or preferences as to custody, particularly the willingness to establish a continuing interaction between the child and the other parent
  • Whether there is a history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse
  • The child’s ability to adjust to their home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of the parties involved in the custody case
  • The child’s relationship with their parents, siblings, and other members of the family
  • The outcome of any investigation conducted to determine the nature of care and welfare of the children.

To assist in custody cases, courts may retain an investigator who will gather evidence and report findings back to the court.  Sometimes, a guardian ad litem will be appointed.  This person represents the child’s interests and will also investigate to determine what is the optimal child custody arrangement.

Child custody laws in Nebraska are gender-neutral. The courts may not give any preference to mothers or fathers because there is no presumption in Nebraska that parents of either gender are more fit or more suitable to be custodial parents.

Read More:  How to File for Divorce in Nebraska

What is Nebraska’s Best Interests of the Child Standard?

Nebraska law addresses what judges must consider in determining whether a custody or parenting time arrangement is in a child’s best interest.  The best interest standard means that all decisions are based on providing an agreement that favors the child, not the parents or any third party.  Courts will use the above factors to create a parenting plan that meets this standard fairly and justly.

Parents, and children, in some cases, can make their wishes known to the court, but ultimately the judge has the final say in all custody matters.  The court will want to know that a parenting plan provides for a child’s safety, emotional growth, health, stability, physical care, and regular and continuous school attendance.

Read More:  What to Say (and Not to Say) to Your Children in a Divorce

What to Know About Parenting Plans

Parenting plans are the blueprint that creates detailed instructions about a child’s physical and legal custody.  Courts prefer that parents develop a plan on their own or with the help of a mediator or family law attorney.  When there are unresolved disagreements, the court will step in and decide on areas of dispute.  Regardless of how the plan is created, Nebraska law dictates that the court will review and approve the plan, assuming it meets the best interests standard.

Every plan is different, but at a minimum, it should address the following:

  • Physical custody details, including the number of overnight visits for each parent.
  • Legal custody and how those responsibilities are allocated between parents.
  • Holiday and school break schedules
  • Vacation and travel approval and advance notifications
  • How will a child communicate with both parents
  • How is communication between parents handled?
  • Contact with other family members and friends
  • How are tuition, medical costs, school activities, hobbies, and recreational activities expenses handled?
  • Child support payment amounts and recourse if a parent falls behind.
  • The manner of exchanging children, including when, where, and time of day
  • Transporting children for visitation and other necessary movements
  • Access to records and information
  • Children’s use of technology and online activities
  • How to address child discipline and mental health issues
  • Guidelines when a new partner is involved
  • Grooming and dress guidelines (extreme haircuts, make-up, etc.)
  • Drinking or drug use in the presence of the children

After the courts approve a parenting plan, it becomes a legal and binding document.  All parties are expected to comply with the instructions in the plan.  If they do not, the court can step in to force compliance.  A parent may face contempt of court charges, resulting in fines, penalties, court costs, and jail time in some cases.

Read More:  How to Prepare for a Divorce Hearing

How Do I Modify a Nebraska Custody or Visitation Order?

Family situations often change over time.  When circumstances change to the degree that a current custody order does not meet the child’s best interests, either parent can petition the court for modification.  To start the process, a parent must file a Complaint for Modification with the court and then notify the other parent that a complaint has been filed.

The parent who files will need to convince the court that there’s been a “material change in circumstances” since the current parenting plan was enacted. Several situations could constitute a material change.

One of the parents may need to move out of state due to an employment change, a parent has become disabled, or domestic violence, substance abuse, or criminal activities may necessitate a modification, among others.

Nebraska Child Custody FAQs

Who has custody of a child when the parents are not married in Nebraska?

Nebraska’s child custody laws treat parents equally regardless of marital status. This means that both parents have the right to seek custody, parenting time, or child support.  Fathers must first establish paternity before being awarded rights.  This can be done through court acknowledgment or DNA testing.

Will a child be asked to testify in court?

Judges try to avoid having children testify in open court, which can be frightening and stressful.  When seeking a child’s input, a judge usually speaks with the child in chambers.  Attorneys and a court reporter will be present, but not the parents.

What if a parent with custody wants to move out of Nebraska?

The parent with custody of the children must get permission from the court before moving the children from Nebraska. A judge will approve the move if the other parent does not object.  If the parent doesn’t have custody of the children objects, a judge will hold a hearing to determine if there is a good reason for leaving the state and if it is in the children’s best interest to continue to live with that parent.

The court will look at the following factors as part of the hearing:

  • Will the move improve the quality of life for the parent and the children
  • Motives of the parent for moving
  • Motives of the other parent for fighting the move
  • Visitation or parenting time of the parent without custody of the children
  • Whether reasonable and realistic visitation schedules can be made if the move is approved.

Can I deny visitation if the other parent is not paying child support or alimony as ordered?

No.  They are separate matters.  You cannot deny visitation in defiance of an existing custody or alimony order.  If you do, you could be held in contempt of court and face potential penalties.

If both parents share custody, does anyone pay child support?

Yes, in most cases.  Even if the parents have joint physical custody, the parent that has higher earnings may be ordered to pay child support to the lower-earning parent.

Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights?

A grandparent will not be awarded custody unless the child’s parents are shown to be unfit and it is in the child’s best interests that the grandparent has custody. That is often through a guardianship action.

Nebraska statutes permit court-ordered grandparent visitation when the parents are denying a grandparent any time with their grandchild.

A judge may grant reasonable visitation to the grandparents if there is evidence of a relationship between the grandparent and the child that is a significant benefit to the child.  The relationship must not adversely interfere with the relationship between each parent and their child.

Helpful Resources

Nebraska Divorce Guide

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