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Bill on equal parenting time in divorce cases is unlikely to advance

Bill on equal parenting time in divorce cases is unlikely to advance

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LINCOLN — A state senator seeking compromise on a bill that would more equally divide parenting time for children in Nebraska divorce cases has so far been unsuccessful.

State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber told members of the Judiciary Committee he has been unable to work out the details on a proposal to fix the way courts award visitation in Nebraska.

He acknowledged Thursday that as his bill is written, it's unlikely to advance to the floor of the Legislature.

Legislative Bill 1000 also lacks a priority designation. With the legislative session half over and major bills yet to be considered, bills without priority labels are unlikely to be debated.

Karpisek said that he has been working with lawyers on both sides of the emotional issue of child custody and that they are close to reaching agreement.

The primary sticking point is how to disconnect visitation time from child support payments, said Angela Dunne of Omaha, a divorce lawyer who has been working with the senator.

Under the current system, equal time arrangements would force parents into sharing every expense related to their children, which can lead to a high level of conflict and disagreement.

The bill would require judges to presume equal parenting times for children of divorce if both parents were found to be fit.

Proponents point to research that shows children do better in school and have fewer behavioral problems when they have meaningful contact with both parents. They say problems increase when children spend less than one-third of their time with one parent.

Opponents say that in cases involving domestic violence, equal parenting time arrangements can expose victims to more abuse. Others argue that equal parenting can expose children to more conflict when parents fight over nearly every child-rearing decision.

A 10-year study of the issue in Nebraska showed noncustodial parents get an average of 5½ days monthly with their children. That equates to less than 20 percent of visitation time.

The study, conducted by the State Court Administrator's Office, also found that judges awarded mothers sole or primary custody in 72 percent of cases while awarding shared parenting arrangements in 12 percent of cases.

The lawyers meeting with Karpisek will continue their discussions next week.

Dunne said she hopes that the Nebraska Supreme Court's child support advisory committee, which will convene later this year, will address the issue of child support and visitation time.

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