When an adoption of a child occurs, the adopting parent becomes that child's parent for all legal purposes and the parent and child have the same rights and responsibilities to each other as they would have if the child were biologically born to that parent.  Generally, adoption cases fall into three categories: 1) adoption by a stepparent; 2) a private adoption arrangement; 3) adoption from foster care. For all types of adoptions, the child or children to be adopted must have resided with the proposed adoptive parent or parents for at least six months before the petition can be filed.

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For a stepparent adoption to occur, the proposed adoptive parent (stepfather or stepmother) must be legally married to the child's biological parent and the child must have resided with the parent and stepparent for a minimum of six months prior to the filing. Stepparents are required to pass background checks, which include a criminal history and review of abuse/neglect registries. Generally, the other biological parent must relinquish his or her rights or have those rights terminated. In certain rare instances, the Court may waive the consent of the biological parent. From the time of adoption forward, the adoptive parent/stepparent has the same rights and responsibilities as if s/he were the biological parent, including the obligation to support the child and the right to parenting time with the child in the event the adopting stepparent and child's biological parent later divorce. These adoptions are filed in County Court.

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In this type of adoption arrangement, birth parents select adoptive parents for their child either through an adoption agency or because the proposed adoptive parents are personally known to the birth mother or birth father. These adoptions may be “open” in that the parties enter a contractual agreement regarding the child's knowledge of the adoption and ongoing contact and/or communication with one or both birth parents. These adoptions are filed in County Court.

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In this type of adoption, the Department of Health and Human Services (either in Nebraska or another state) has legal and physical custody of the child or children to be adopted. In certain circumstances, the legal fees for adoption are covered by a one-time special “adoption subsidy” and the majority of the information and paperwork is completed by a social worker and provided to an attorney who accepts a reduced fee. These adoptions may occur in either County or Juvenile Court.

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In Nebraska, a “divorce” is officially called a “dissolution of marriage” because it dissolves the legal relationship, both rights and responsibilities, spouses have to each other. For a divorce in Nebraska, the Plaintiff (person who starts the action or filing) must have resided in Nebraska for more than one year (12 months) with the intent of making Nebraska his or her permanent home (Nebraska's residency requirement). If this requirement has not been met, a legal separation (see Legal Separation below) may be the best way to start. Nebraska requires the filing of a Complaint giving basic information about your marriage and several forms related to vital statistics about the persons involved. The person being sued for divorce must be given notice by “being served” (a copy of the Complaint given to them in person by a Sheriff's deputy) or by entering his or her “Voluntary Appearance” (signing a document attesting s/he received a copy of the Complaint). The Defendant (non-filing party) then has 30 days to file an Answer. Nebraska does have a mandatory waiting period of 60 days before a divorce can be finalized, whether an Answer is filed in 30 days or not. In all divorces, issues of the assets and debts of the marriage must be handled during the divorce.

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If you have children with your spouse, their custody, support, and time with each parent must be addressed as part of your divorce. There are several additional requirements for dissolution of marriage (divorce) when children are involved. These apply first, at the beginning of the case, when the filing party must include some additional information required by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, adopted by Nebraska, such as where the child/children have lived for the past five years prior to filing and whether any other cases regarding custody or parenting time exist; secondly, the parents involved must take a co-parenting class approved in Nebraska to address how they will co-parent despite the change in their relationship with each other; finally, if the parents cannot agree upon a parenting plan, mediation with a licensed mediator is required.

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The primary consideration in any custody determination is the best interests of the child or children involved. This is true whether the case begins as a divorce (end of the parents' marriage) or paternity action (parents were never married). The determination of best interests is based on the child's safety and stability, the level of involvement by both parents, and the home environments offered to the child. Contact GordenLaw to further understand what this may mean for your case.

Two types of custody are determined by the courts: legal custody and physical custody. “Legal custody” concerns the major decisions to be made for children, including (but not necessarily limited to) choice of the child's religion, schools, child care providers, and medical care decisions for the child. “Physical custody” involves where the child resides and the day to day decision for the child such as what they will eat for dinner, what time bed time should be, and what they will wear that day. Both legal and physical custody may be “joint” or shared, or “sole” - placed with one parent or the other.

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Whether child support is ordered in paternity or divorce or juvenile court actions, child support is governed by the Nebraska Child Support Guidelines. This table considers the income of mother and father to determine an appropriate percentage to be spent for the direct care of a child or children. The table also takes into consideration the income taxes paid, health insurance premiums, child support for other children, the amount of time spent with each parent, etc. This sets a “standard” amount of child support, which may deviate upward or downward based on your family's specific situation.

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Unlike child support, there currently are no specific guides for determining alimony (or “spousal support”) in Nebraska. The court must look at the facts specific to each case to determine if alimony is appropriate and if so, how much alimony is appropriate. Some of the factors the courts do consider include how long the parties were married, the respective earning capacities of each party, the history of contributions and withdrawals from marital funds and assets by each party, etc. If alimony/spousal support is not awarded at the time of the initial dissolution of marriage (divorce), it can never be awarded. If alimony/spousal support has been awarded, however, it can be modified both in amount and length/duration, based upon changes in circumstances of the parties (both payee and payor).

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Marital Property

With some notable exceptions (including premarital property and certain gifts or inheritances), Nebraska is generally a “community property” state – meaning that all property acquired during the marriage is subject to division in a divorce/dissolution of marriage.

Marital Debts

With some notable exceptions, any and all debts incurred during the marriage are subject to being divided in the divorce, regardless of knowledge of the debt or in which spouse's name the debt was incurred.

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Overview: There are three main courts where grandparents may assert their rights to be involved with their grandchildren: 1) District Court in the event of a paternity action or divorce action or after the death of a parent 2) Probate Court, to establish guardianship over their grandchildren where parental rights have been terminated by choice or circumstances or 3) juvenile court where the grandchild or grandchildren is subject to juvenile court jurisdiction by reason of abuse or neglect.

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There are three ways children may become subject to juvenile court actions: 1) by violating the law (actions that would be criminal if the child was older); 2) by substantiated allegations of abuse/neglect by a parent, custodian, or care giver; 3) through being in a situation dangerous to life or health through no fault of a parent, custodian or caregiver. In each of these situations, grandparents may have rights to priority consideration for placement of a grandchild or even to intervene as party to the case and proceedings to ensure their relationship with their grandchild or grandchildren is protected.

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A legal separation can operate much like a “dissolution of marriage” or a “divorce” with regard to dividing the assets and debts of a marriage and establishing any rights or responsibilities with regard to spousal support/alimony, child support, custody, and/or parenting time. A legal separation may be used, for example, to continue health insurance coverage or for parties with a religious objection to divorce.

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After a Decree of Dissolution (Divorce) or Paternity is entered, issues regarding past due support, assets, and debts cannot be modified. However, if a party can prove a “material and substantial change in circumstances” a modification may be awarded as to alimony, custody, child support, or parenting time. Generally, support awards such as child support/alimony are the easiest to modify. Parenting time is in the middle. Custody is the most difficult issue to modify after the initial order.

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Adults may change their name at any time with a Court Order after giving proper notice. The primary concern is that the name is not being changed to avoid creditors or criminal process. For children, both parents must consent to the change unless one parent is deceased, has abandoned the child, or other circumstances warrant bypassing that parent (i.e., the parent is in prison, etc.).

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Generally, both mother and father have four years from the date of birth of a child to bring a paternity action to establish the legal father of said child. If the child is receiving state benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, etc.), the State is not limited by the four years and may bring an action for child support after that time has passed. The establishment of paternity sets forth the legal relationship for fathers who have children with mothers to whom they are not married. Paternity cases can establish child support, parenting time, and even custody.

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Post-judgment relief refers to how to enforce judgments that are not being followed, whether an order requiring a party to pay monies, cooperate with a parenting plan, or the like. There are generally two types of actions that fall in this category: 1) Contempt powers of the court or 2) Garnishment/Execution/Lien.

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If the custodial parent wants to move from the State of Nebraska with the minor child or children, Nebraska law requires that s/he obtain either the custodial parent's permission or a court order allowing the move. There are several factors that the parents requesting the move must show, including, first a legitimate reason for the move (or opposing the move) and that the best interests of the child require remaining with the custodial parent and that moving is ultimately in the child's best interests. The court will consider a number of specific facts in making this determination.

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In Nebraska, the law generally favors requiring both parents to provide emotional and financial support for their child or children. There are no mechanisms to allow a parent to relinquish (“give up” or “sign away”) his or her rights unless a juvenile abuse & neglect or adoption is planned. (Link to stepparent/other adoptions and juvenile law here?) In very limited and extreme circumstances, a District Court may terminate one parents' rights at the request of the other parent, but this is very rare and only under certain circumstances.

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