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State Child Custody Law: 50-50 Split? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Nebraska TV   

Kevin Yoachim of Hebrom spent Easter Sunday dinner with his two kids, both teens. But now, in the midst of divorce, he worries those dinners will be few and far in between.

"A lot of my friends have told me, you're going to have a really hard time getting custody," he said.

Two bills before state legislators would make child custody in Nebraska a 50-50 split, with some restrictions.  LB423 would mandate a presumption that both parents are fit for joint legal and physical custody unless evidence proves otherwise.

LB589 states both parents should get equal custody unless there is a medical or legal reason why this should not happen.

The bills went before the Judiciary Committee on March 25th.  Attorney Chris Johnson of Hastings testified in support of the bills. Johnson is Yoachim's attorney and said the bills would change how the divorce process begins. Johnson said currently, it's a game of who's the better parent.

"You have to fight, you have to fight, or you're regulated to very little amount of time with

probably the most important thing you have in your life," he said.

Johnson said parents won't fight, at least not as much, if the law gives them 50-50 custody,  presuming they're equally fit to parent.

"Instead of this immediate inquiry as to who's the better parent, the immediate inquiry is 'why can't we share?"' he said.

"It won't work in all cases, that we know, there's cases where mom and dad hate each other,

but where you have two good parents, active parents, it can work," he said.

There's a few catches. The parents would have to live in the same city and the same school district, Johnson said. No problem for Yoachim. He moved out of the house but made sure he was still in the same neighborhood as his ex.

"It does bother me that Courtney spends 70% of her time at her mom's house, when I live two

blocks away," he said.

Yet Grand Island attorney Galen Stehlik said expecting estranged partners, even on good

terms, to agree to a 50-50 split, isn't reality.

"This seems to imply the law is going to create an even playing field," he said. "A lot of times people get a divorce because they can't agree on issues dealing with their children."

He said the children's interest has always been the state's goal.  "It's been a part of our statute since 1974, why keep changing it?"

He said even if the measures pass, the legal system would still have to do its job and figure out what's best for the child.

"You still have to present the evidence, get into court and convince the judge of what is in the best interest of the child. Where would that child be best placed, with mom or dad?"

Both Johnson and Stehlik argue money is a factor, too. Johnson said single parents don't have thousands of dollars to spend on legal fees, and if they can agree on sharing their children at the beginning, they could save money. Stehlik argues parents would spend more money on mediation to find common ground before the court process started.

Johnson argues this system creates harder feelings between the parents, which trickles down to their children.

"It poisons that relationship and hurts the kids for years and years to come," he said.  "The fighting goes on forever and ever and doesn't stop when the kids turn 19."

Yoachim said the current system is why he waited until his kids were older, to finally seperate from his wife.

"That was the reason I stayed five years, so I could see the kids grow up," he said.

Reporter's Notes: Stacia Kalinoski

LB589's author, Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing, told me these bills need a lot more support

to advance, and it wouldn't be this year. He said the issue has come up before, and the latest bill in 2007 never made it out of committee.

Johnson said the topic will keep coming up.  He said the issue is becoming a priority with father's rights groups.


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