Over the last few years, there has been a growing sense that the Nebraska Supreme Court is biased against fathers. In light of the mounting evidence, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion. Consider the following:
In August 2016, the Supreme Court agreed with a trial court that rejected a fit father’s attempt to remove his two teenage daughters from the custody of their mother and new stepfather, a registered sex offender who served four years in prison for molesting a teenage stepdaughter from a previous relationship. Before marrying the stepfather, the mother had a live-in boyfriend who molested another of her teenage daughters.
The court reached this result despite a law that presumes it is not in the best interest of a child to live in the same home as a registered sex offender. This decision was heavily criticized all around the world, including by newspapers throughout the United States, England and Australia.
In September 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the recommendations of the Child Support Advisory Commission to lower Nebraska’s child support guidelines. The Advisory Commission found that our guidelines are among the highest in the entire United States and far higher than justified by our cost of living. The Advisory Commission recommendations tried to correct this mistake by making our child support guidelines more consistent with Nebraska’s cost of living and guidelines in surrounding states.
In May 2014, the Supreme Court issued the latest in a series of paternity fraud cases. Nebraska is in a small minority of states that deny defrauded men the ability to recover when they are falsely told they are the father of a child. Most states that have addressed this issue, including Iowa, reached the opposite conclusion and give defrauded men the ability to recover money that was stolen from them.
This latest paternity fraud case was especially bad because the child was removed from the mother and placed with the real biological father. As a result, the defrauded man must pay child support to the real biological father. Even though these facts were undisputed, the Supreme Court made the defrauded man pay child support for a child all parties agree isn’t his.
In January 2013, the Nebraska Administrative Office of the Courts published a study on child custody awards in Nebraska. This study found mothers were awarded sole or primary custody in 72 percent of cases, while fathers were awarded sole or primary custody in 13.8 percent. Joint custody with shared residence was awarded in only 12.3 percent of cases.
The study also found noncustodial parents have access to their children about 17 percent of the time on average, which is only half the minimum parenting time recommended by mental health research.
In response to this study, a group of attorneys and state senators asked the Supreme Court to address these issues by adopting uniform, statewide parenting time guidelines. The Supreme Court rejected the group’s petition less than two weeks after it was filed.
To make matters worse, numerous judges, including Chief Justice Mike Heavican, lobbied against legislative bills that attempted to address these issues. This caused the Omaha World-Herald to criticize the judges for violating the constitutional separation of powers.
These trends are troubling because they suggest Nebraska judges are systematically violating the civil rights of an entire class of Nebraskans. They are also troubling because these decisions hurt almost 9,000 Nebraska children every year.
Research shows that children who grow up in fatherless homes are more likely to live in poverty, use drugs and alcohol, commit suicide, be sexually active, engage in juvenile delinquency, have long-term physical and mental health problems, have lower life expectancies and have lower educational attainment. Judges are the single biggest cause of fatherlessness.
All Nebraskans should be concerned about biased judges. They hurt thousands of Nebraska children every year. And they cost Nebraska taxpayers more than $500 million in unnecessary expenses every year to fix the problems they create.