Child custody standards, like many other aspects of divorce and family law, vary by state, so Nebraska courts apply Nebraska laws when deciding custody issues during a divorce. Spouses can agree on the best arrangement, or the court can decide on its own. Either way, the court’s primary concern is finding an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
Nebraska courts award physical and legal custody, and either type of custody may be awarded as sole custody or joint custody. Physical custody addresses the day-to-day care of the child, whereas legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions regarding the child, including where the child goes to school, whether he receives medical treatment and whether he attends religious services. The court can give one spouse sole legal and physical custody, or the court can give both spouses joint legal and physical custody. A Nebraska court can also award a combination of joint and sole custody, such as awarding joint legal custody and sole physical custody. Joint physical custody does not necessarily ensure equal parenting time since it is nearly impossible to divide a child’s time in equal shares.
Since the court is primarily concerned with the child’s welfare, it will not award custody to an unfit parent, no matter how much that parent wishes to maintain a relationship with the child. Before making a custody award, a Nebraska court must determine whether both parents are fit. If only one parent is fit, the court will award custody to that parent. If both parents are unfit, the court may award custody to the child’s grandparents.
Once the court determines both parents are fit, it makes a custody determination in the best interests of the child. The judge may consider certain factors to help him make a determination, including the moral fitness of the parents, environment offered by each parent, the age of the child, the attitude and stability of the parents, the capacity of each parent to satisfy the child’s educational needs and the relationship between the child and each parent. A Nebraska court may also consider the child’s preferences, if the child is mature enough to understand the importance of the situation.
Visitation, or parenting time, refers to a noncustodial parent’s physical time with the child. In most cases, the noncustodial parent will receive some visitation with the child, even when the other parent has sole custody. In Nebraska, a common visitation arrangement includes alternating weekends, an evening or overnight during the week and a portion of major holidays. Like custody, the court awards visitation in the best interests of the child, so it can award supervised visitation if that is in the best interests of the child.