• Read the full report by the State Court Administrator's Office on Nebraska child custody cases.
* * *
LINCOLN — Noncustodial parents in Nebraska get an average of five days per month with their children, according to a 10-year analysis of judicial decisions in child custody and divorce cases.
The study, released Thursday by the State Court Administrator's Office, said judges are gradually moving toward custody arrangements that more equally divide parenting time.
“Glaciers move too,” said State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, an advocate for equal parenting time.
He and another senator engaged in an ongoing discussion on the issue agreed that five days per month is not enough time for noncustodial parents. But they disagreed on what to do about it.
Karpisek, a divorced father, said he will probably introduce legislation this session to require judges to consider shared custody as the best option for children. Judges should still have authority to award less or no visitation time in cases where one parent is unfit or there is a history of abuse, he said.
“When you look at these numbers, obviously, it's not equal,” he said.
Any such proposal would likely go to the Judiciary Committee, where a related bill stalled last year. Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the committee, said he doubts a major overhaul of parenting law is possible given this year's shorter, 60-day session and other major issues yet to tackle.
The Legislature could pass a resolution calling for judges to more equally divide parenting time. Courts already have that authority under a 2007 revision of parenting law, Ashford said.
“I think the Legislature has already spoken and we want more shared time, we want more equality,” he said.
Advocates for equal parenting time, typically fathers and grandparents, say research shows children who have substantial, regular contact with both parents enjoy better physical and emotional health and perform better in school.
Others say that equal parenting mandates could expose children to more conflict when parents fight over nearly every decision. Research has shown that such conflict is very damaging to children.
The analysis released Thursday involved the review of nearly 400 cases between 2002 and 2012 involving custody disputes between parents going through divorce. The cases originated in all 12 of Nebraska's judicial districts.
Among the findings:
» Judges granted sole custody to mothers about half of the time, joint custody about one-third of the time and to fathers “much less of the time.”
» Joint custody arrangements with shared residence was awarded in 12 percent of the cases.
» Plaintiffs in divorce filings were mostly mothers and the vast majority were represented by attorneys. About half of defendants had attorneys.
» About 12 percent of cases were categorized as “high conflict” cases.
The study also determined the highest percentage of cases with shared parenting arrangements was in the 2nd Judicial District, which encompasses Sarpy, Cass and Otoe Counties.
The 12th Judicial District in the Panhandle and the 9th Judicial District, which covers Hall and Buffalo Counties, had no cases with joint custody and shared parenting during the 10-year study period.
More Legislature coverage, resources
• Map: Find your senator