Options for Establishing Child Custody Arrangements
Custody agreements detail who has physical and legal custody of the children and how parenting time (visitation) is allotted. Nebraska has certain requirements for parents regarding arriving at child custody arrangements. Both parents are required to take a parenting class and then attempt to mediate a parenting plan.
If you and the other parent agree about all the parenting plan functions, then you can provide your proposed custody and parenting plan to the court for approval. If the court finds your agreement to be in the best interest of the children involved, you will save time and money, and spare yourself the emotional pain of fighting over terms in court. Your family law attorney can facilitate conversations and keep negotiations moving forward so that you can keep more control over the outcome.
If mediation is unsuccessful and you and the parents continue to disagree even with further conversations between both parents' family law attorneys, then your attorneys will provide evidence in court and the judge will rule on the terms of the agreement.
Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody
A joint custody arrangement awards both parents legal or physical custody of a child. Sole custody gives one parent legal or physical custody.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Legal custody involves determining who makes decisions for the children about their education, healthcare, religion, and similar important issues. Physical custody addresses the children’s primary residence.
In most cases, the court will make decisions based on what the court believes is children's best interests. It follows that judges will often award joint legal custody of children since the court believes both parents should take part in making major decisions regarding their children. It also follows that judges often award joint physical custody based on the policy that children fare better with a positive relationship with both parents. However, there are issues that may make joint legal and/or joint physical custody difficult. As just one of several examples, the parents may live too far apart to facilitate a joint custody arrangement.
Factors the Court Considers When Awarding Custody
In the eyes of the court, child custody agreements must serve the best interest of the child’s physical health, emotional well-being, as well as their safety, stability, care, growth, and education. They do not serve the best interests of the parents.
Although the court is prohibited by law from awarding custody based on a parent’s gender or disability, it will consider:
- The relationship the child currently has with each parent
- The child’s social behavior, health, and welfare
- The child’s wishes (though children do not make the final decision, a child may have a voice based on the age and maturity level of the child)
- Any credible evidence of parental abuse of the child
Factors the Court Considers When Allocating Parenting Time
With few exceptions, the court believes a child’s best interest is served by having a stable relationship with both parents. To help parents understand the impact of divorce on their children, the state of Nebraska requires both parents to attend a parenting class.
Issues addressed in the parenting plan include:
- Legal and physical custody of the child
- How much time the child will spend with each parent and when they will spend it
- The logistics of transferring the child between parents
- How the parents will ensure that children attend school regularly
- How parents will make day-to-day decisions about the child
- How the plan addresses the child’s safety and that of the parents
- Mechanisms that would trigger future modifications of the plan
Modifying an Existing Child Custody Agreement
Life changes constantly. Custody agreements are based on circumstances current at the time of divorce or separation, but those can and will change later on. If either parent experiences a material change in circumstances and that change impacts the child’s best interests, they may ask the court to modify the agreement. Material changes would include a parent’s loss of a job, income, and benefits. Material changes would also include a parent’s unreasonable denial of the other parent’s court-ordered parenting time or a parent's failure to utilize parenting time.
Why You Need Skilled Attorneys
Raising children is complicated even under the best of circumstances. The process is even more complicated when parents divorce or separate, and children divide their time between their parents. Knowledgeable family law attorneys will help you understand the complexities of child custody agreements and advocate for you and your children throughout the legal process.