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Divorced dads lose chances to be parentsTell North Platte what you think
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Sen. Galen Hadley
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Sen. Tom Hansen

If takes an act of the Legislature, divorced dads are all for it.

They want to be able to see their children for the same amount of time as the mothers.

And, a bill in the Legislature aims to do just that.

Dustin Karre, a separated dad in North Platte, said he has virtually no control over when his young daughter gets the therapy she has been prescribed.

Like many divorced dads, Karre has custody of his daughter every other weekend and every other major holiday, every other Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

The child’s mother has their daughter the rest of the time, including all the days of the week.

Mom, not dad, makes decisions about doctors and therapists, Karre said.

“I want to be a dad,” he said. “I want to take care of my little daughter, but the law won’t really let me.”

Karre said if Mom is going out of town for a few days and will miss the child’s therapy appointment, he can’t do anything about it except offer to keep the child – an offer that Mom routinely turns down.

The bill, LB 22, would force a divorce court to set up a parenting plan that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making about their child, other things being equal.

Each parent’s respective parenting time must be maximized if the bill becomes law.

Fundamental liberty

The bill states that the Legislature recognizes that parent’s interest in the care, custody, and control of their children “is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests.”

The bill says the court should treat Mom and Dad equally unless there is evidence to the contrary. No parenting plan could be preferred because of the parent's or child's sex.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney introduced the bill.

Hadley has been introducing the bill for three years now, according to an aide in his office. Hadley feels it’s important to see that fit parents have a reasonably similar amount of time and opportunity to be parents.

Sen. Russ Karpisek also believes LB 22 is a priority. Karpisek is a divorced dad with two children of his own. He is from Wilber, a town of 1,200 south of Lincoln.

Karpisek said Nebraska saw more than 6,000 divorce cases in 2010 that involved the custody of children. The father was awarded custody in only 10 percent of those cases.

Karpisek said children who spend less than 35 percent of their time with either parent suffer more from medical issues.

Kristina Guerrero-Sisneroz, a family law attorney in Lincoln, said Nebraska tends to award mothers custody, even though most divorce cases involve two fit parents. If the parents do not agree to joint custody, then the judge must choose between them.

“The dad only tends to win (sole custody) if the mom is unfit or has another issue where the children are not her priority,” Guerrero-Sisneroz said.

Les Veskrna, executive director of the Children’s Rights Council of Omaha, said Nebraska leads the U.S in the number of children in foster care because of a failure to recognize the importance of shared parenting and keeping children with their families.

Hansen: Right thing

Sen. Tom Hansen agrees. He said LB 22 is the right thing to do.

“It would require the court to decide what’s best for kids,” Hansen said. “That should always be the case.”

Like Sens. Hadley and Karpisek, Hansen said regardless of birthdays, holidays and so forth, the courts should come up with a program that allows for joint custody and joint responsibility for the education and care of the children.

However, despite the support of veteran senators, LB 22 stalled in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Hansen said it is not likely to be adopted this year.

“It doesn’t look like we are going to be able to get to everyone’s priority bills,” he said.

The Legislature adjourns on June 5. There are only about 20 working days left this year.

The bill could remain in committee and move ahead next year. It will have a jump start on other bills, because it has already been introduced and discussed.

The Ernie factor

Hansen said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha is slowing down the legislative process with long statements during floor debate. On April 8, Chambers delayed a vote on parole for juveniles who are imprisoned for crimes such as murder and first-degree sexual assault.

The Legislature eventually agreed to open the possibility of parole of those kinds of juvenile criminals, if they spend at least 20 years behind bars.

But the vote could have come hours sooner if Chambers had not insisted on more leniency, Hansen said.

“He prolongs debates; he questions the religious values of other senators,” Hansen said, and sometimes it looks like Ernie will be more obstructive.

The elimination of the death penalty is also scheduled for debate, and that debate will be another long one because Ernie will argue with anyone who disagrees with him, Hansen said.

First published in the Bulletin's April 10 print edition.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/30/2013
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