Nebraska: Major Paper Cites Report on Child Custody, Leans Toward Support for Shared Parenting

January 15, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

I posted a piece recently about the analysis done of Nebraska child custody cases over the eleven years from 2002 – 2012. The study was performed by almost exclusively those who have announced publicly their opposition to a legal presumption of shared parenting. Given that they were the ones doing the analysis of cases, it’s all the more remarkable that their findings essentially demolish every claim they’ve ever made in opposition to shared parenting.

For example, over the years, anti-shared parenting forces have claimed that fathers are too violent and abusive to be trusted with custody. But a funny thing happened on the way to proving that; the findings of the Nebraska analysis show that neither mothers nor fathers think the other is abusive, even when in the throes of divorce, and courts prove them correct. Indeed, in only 6.2% of cases was child abuse even claimed by either party. In only 5.4% of cases did either parent so much as claim the other engaged in domestic violence.

Here are the figures for all types of child and spousal abuse as verified by Nebraska courts over the 11-year period studied.

  • 3.6% of cases had verified abuse or neglect of children in the past;
  • 0.5% had verified ongoing abuse or neglect;
  • 4.3% of cases had verified instances of children witnessing parental conflict;
  • 5.9% of cases had verified previous domestic violence incidents;
  • 0.3% had verified ongoing DV incidents;
  • 1% of cases had verified instances of stalking or threatening behavior by one spouse against the other.

As I said in my previous post on this, it takes next to nothing to have a case fall into the “verified” category. “Verification” was ruled to have occurred when,

"there is some official corroboration that the event occurred such as known witnesses with affidavits, police involvement and / or court involvement."  

In other words, all Mom has to do is call the police and – presto! – her allegation of abuse is “verified.” She can achieve the same by getting her best friend, current boyfriend, sister, etc., to file an affidavit to the effect that Dad is an abuser.

So, given that astonishingly low standard of verification, we can safely conclude that there are far fewer child custody cases in which abuse has actually occurred than the anti-dad crowd would prefer. It’s fair to say that the very looseness of the definition of the term “verified” by the Nebraska group stands as mute testimony to their desire to establish as fact high incidences of abuse. They completely failed.

Then there’s the claim that shared parenting is inappropriate in “high conflict” cases. As I’ve said before, that conveniently ignores the fact that much social science on conflict and parenting time post-divorce shows that shared parenting actually tends to reduce conflict. As we see so often, those opposed to fathers spending time with their kids and kids spending time with their fathers never let a little thing like scientific fact interfere with their opinions.

Now we have the data from Nebraska that show only 12% of the cases studied to be “high conflict” ones. But even that is highly misleading in that the figure vastly overstates the likely nature of conflict during or prior to divorce.

First, the analysis admit that,

In family and domestic relations court case management, there are currently few reliable high inter-parental conflict indicators that could assist courts and families to identify and differentiate between levels of interparental conflict in order to guide parents to the services or support they need in a timely and efficient way.

In other words, attempts to gauge parental conflict aren’t very accurate, but the Nebraska group went ahead anyway. They relied on 11 factors to assess conflict levels. Their data came solely from documents filed in court and were divided into conflict that was “alleged,” “verified” and “substantiated.” The term “alleged” means what we’d expect, i.e. someone made a claim without anything else to back it up. The term “verified” can, as we’ve seen, mean that a friend or relative filed an affidavit.

The term “substantiated” is the only one that we can rely on to indicate real conflict. It means that “other corroborating circumstances indicated that the allegations are very likely true.”

Of the 11 different indicia of conflict identified by the report, in just two were there any substantiated instances of conflict and the report obscures the level of substantiation by lumping those instances in with verified ones.

Regarding restraining orders, the analysis found “Verified or substantiated previous or current protection orders were indicated in 10.8% of cases (n=42).” Regarding the parenting ability, “There was a verified or substantiated previous or current lack of parenting ability in 4.1% of cases (n=16).”

So, in only two of 11 categories were there any substantiated findings at all and the authors of the report were unwilling to let readers know what percentages were substantiated and what were merely verified.

Therefore, once again, those who oppose shared parenting are hoist on their own petard. For decades they’ve claimed that there’s too much conflict between parents to permit Dad to have much time with little Andy or Jenny. The trouble is, as the Nebraska data demonstrate, it’s just not true.

Now, one of the state’s most widely read and influential newspapers, the Omaha World Herald, has looked at the data and come out with this very favorable article (Omaha World Herald, 1/10/14). It has a couple of problems, but basically constitutes a blow for shared parenting in the state.

The article quotes state Senator Russell Karpisek, author of the current bill to expand shared parenting, at length. And even notoriously anti-shared parenting Senator Brad Ashford seems chastened by the report.

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.

Maybe judges will listen.

Where the Herald gets it wrong is where those who constructed the study’s methodology wanted them to get it wrong.

The study analyzed 392 cases over the 11-year period. That’s six years prior to the effective date of the 2007 Family Law Act and five years afterward. But in choosing their cases, they did a funny thing; they greatly overweighted cases post 2007 and underweighted those in the years 2007 and earlier. Cases prior to the effective date of the new act numbered on average 28 per year while those afterward came to 39 per year on average.

Why would they do that? So they can claim that the new law is increasing shared parenting, which is exactly what the Herald said.

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.

Actually, the study finds nothing of the sort. There are more cases post-2007 and therefore there are more shared parenting cases. There is nothing whatsoever to indicate an increased rate of shared parenting. The committee conducting the research played the Herald for a sucker.

Into the bargain, the Herald reiterated the standard opposition to shared parenting – parental conflict.

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.

Too bad the Herald writer didn’t actually read the report. If he had, he’d have learned that, in fact, there is next-to-no serious conflict between the state’s parents when they divorce. The astonishingly tiny percentages of substantiated conflict should pose no obstacle whatsoever to greater shared parenting in Nebraska.

Still, the Herald piece is pretty good.

What’s next in Nebraska. The effort to deep-six shared parenting has failed miserably. The reality of divorce and child custody cases is nothing like the claims of those who would separate fathers from children. The only way forward is for the state to admit the truth and enact legislation requiring equal access by both parents to children unless the parents agree otherwise or some form of unfitness is proven.

What will the legislature do? We’ll see.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families,

educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in

children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and

Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared

parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.


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