Must Have Information on Child Custody 
Part I: What Are the Best Interests of the Child?

shutterstock_218576749-thumb-500x367-65272Going through a child custody case can be tough for parents, especially if you’re in the dark about Nebraska child custody law.

In this series,Must Have Information on Child Custody, we’ll take some of the mystery out of the law and give you information you need about child custody in Nebraska. 

This week, we discuss the legal concept of best interests of the child, known in lawyer speak as BIOC. 

Splitting the Time, Not the Baby

In the well-known tale of the judgement of Solomon, King Solomon has to decide which of two women is the true mother of an infant boy. Solomon told the women that there was only one fair solution: the infant must be split in two so each woman could have half of the child. 

The boy’s true mother immediately cried:  “Oh, Lord, give the baby to her, just don’t kill him!” Of course the King never intended to split the baby in two. He knew that only a true, loving mother would give up her baby rather than hurt him. 

This story is a popular example of wisdom in judgment among lawyers and judges. It also provides a compelling example of a parent guided by the best interests of her child during a custody battle. 

The judge in your custody case also has no intent of splitting your child in two, of course. But time with your child is another matter. Even if you don’t like the other parent, or he or she has flaws, unless they are a danger to the child, the law favors giving your child the opportunity to have a full relationship with them, which means splitting time. Parenting time is always guided by the individual best interests of your child.

The Recipe for a BIOC Decision

You and the other parent can decide on your parenting plan together through mediation or by working with your lawyers to draft your own parenting plan. If you can’t decide together, the judge will decide for you based on the best interests of your child.

 But what does best interest of the child mean here in Nebraska? Deciphering that can be confusing and frustrating for parents in child custody cases. 

According to the Nebraska Parenting Act

  1. The court’s decision must provide for the child’s safety, health, stability, emotional growth, physical care and “regular and continuous school attendance and progress” for kids who are school-age.
  2. If the court decides there is domestic partner abuse, the parenting arrangement must provide for the safety of the parent being abused. 
  3. Those serving in the roles of parents must be appropriate in their involvement with the child. They also have to help continue relationships between the child and family members who have shown the ability to have a healthy relationship with the child. 
  4. Even if the parents have agreed on a plan to parent the child or children, the court has to find that plan is in the best interests of the child or it will not accept the plan.

If the court rejects a parenting plan, the court has to say, in writing, why the parenting plan is not in the best interests of the child. 

Nebraska law also says, to provide for the best interest of the child, the goal of the entire court process, including mediation, should:

  • minimize the damage parental conflict can do to children 
  • provide parents the tools they need make decisions that are best for the child 
  • provide alternative dispute resolution options that are less combative than traditional court cases tend to be 
  • ensure that the child’s voice is heard and considered in parenting decisions 
  • maximize the safety of family members through the justice process
  • in cases of domestic intimate partner abuse or child abuse or neglect, to put into the parenting plan, the principles of victim safety and sensitivity, offender accountability, and community safety.

But Wait…There’s More

In addition to everything already mentioned, when the court orders custody and parenting arrangements, in considering the best interest of the child, it also has to consider:

  • The relationship the child had with each parent before the court case started or before any hearing in the case
  • What the child wants, so long as the child’s reasoning is sound
  • The general health, welfare, and social behavior of the minor child
  • Credible evidence of abuse inflicted on any family or household member
  • Credible evidence of child abuse or neglect or domestic intimate partner abuse

The best thing you can do as a parent to make sure the parenting arrangement that results from your court case is in the best interests of your child is to remember one thing above all else: no matter how contentious things might be between you and the other parent or how hard the feelings, this process is about doing what’s best for your child, not you. Far too many parents lose sight of that and the child suffers even more because of it.

Don’t Go It Alone

It’s important to have the right support during a child custody case to help you help your child. While friends mean well, most of them probably aren’t legal experts or mental health professionals. A good attorney is crucial, and Hightower Reff can help. Call us at 402-932-9550, or contact us online.

 You may also consider a counselor to help you work through your feelings surrounding the custody case so you can clear your head, so to speak, and truly focus on your child. 

Next Time…

Watch for Part II of our child custody series: Pointers for Prosperity in your Parenting Plan. 

 This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 

The Cost of Trial in Family Law – It’s More Than Just Money

“What’s it like to be in trial?” This is a question we often get from our family law clients.  A trial isn’t easy. In a divorce, child custody modification, or other family law trial, the most important things in your life – your children and your financial security – are at stake. 

Having your voice heard

In a family law divorce or custody trial, the outcome is completely out of your hands, and ours. It’s in the hands of the judge. A settlement agreement, on the other hand, gives you a say in the outcome of your case. It is a chance for your voice to truly be heard – and for your wishes to be incorporated in the final court order that comes from the settlement agreement. 

Sometimes a trial is necessary – but, if the lawyer does her job well, those times can be relatively few in family law cases.  Most often, a settlement is the best way for our clients to have a choice and a voice in deciding what’s best for their children and family.  

That’s one of the reasons why, in most cases, the attorneys of Hightower Reff Law would rather reach a settlement than go to trial with your divorce or child custody case.

Making good settlement decisions

While reasonable attorneys may differ regarding interpretation of the law, an experienced family law attorney has a pretty good idea of what your chances of success are at trial and what expectations are reasonable. 

At Hightower Reff Law, we counsel our clients about those things and give you the advice you need to make reasonable settlement decisions that give you a say in the outcome of your case, and that are in the best interest of your children. We do this because it is part of advocating for you. Being in trial is hard on families. It is hard on our clients. It is all consuming.  

The casualties of trial

In a divorce or child custody modification trial, it’s our job to convince a judge or jury that our side should prevail, but there is never a guarantee. It is the other side’s job to point out how wrong we are about our client and our position.  The other side often will bring up every little negative thing that our client has ever done and make it seem like the worst thing ever – and we will have to do the same to your soon to be ex-spouse or parent of your children. 

A trial is never predictable, and is not for the faint of heart.  It can be a blood bath that causes even more hard feelings than the parties already harbor for one another. It can also make for problems in co-parenting children after the divorce or custody modification trial is over. 

In the end, the true casualties of the battle of trial are often the children because they can suffer when their parents harbor animosities for one another. 

Your peace of mind

Although a trial is sometimes necessary in family law cases, through our years of experience as family law attorneys, we at Hightower Reff Law have found our clients are most satisfied with an agreed upon outcome they help craft in mediation or settlement negotiations. 

After all is said and done, when you reach a settlement agreement in your divorce, child custody, or other family law case, you can walk away with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you stood up for you rights and the best interest of your children – without the lingering scars a trial can cause.

To learn more about Hightower Reff Law, visit our “about” page, or call us today at 402-932-9550.