We are commemorating our 25th Anniversary with 25 posts about our history and accomplishments between now and the Spotlight Gala on September 15. Join us for a celebration of Voices for Children and all of the organizations, lawmakers, and individuals who have supported our work on behalf of children. For details, visit voicesforchildren.com/spotlight-gala.
A child’s relationship with their parents is one of the most crucial aspects of their lives. Not only do parents provide basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, but they also provide the love, nurturance, and guidance that are essential to children’s healthy development.
In the early 1990s, Voices for Children in Nebraska began what has become over 20 years of work looking at the laws that govern child custody in our state. With an increasing number of calls to our office from parents concerned about children’s safety and well-being in the midst of custody disputes, we began to work with a number of stakeholders to ensure that children’s best interests and safety were the first consideration in child custody cases, whether the parents were divorcing or had never been married.
In 1993, Voices for Children convened a group of custodial and noncustodial parents, attorneys practicing family law, judges, domestic violence advocates, and therapists and wrote the first Parenting Act. The Act required the Court to provide information to all divorcing parents about the effect of divorce on children and point them towards resources. Parents were also required to put together a parenting plan, which would help parents divide responsibilities and time with children. For the first time, the Court was also required to encourage parents to use mediation, a process that could resolve disputes without forcing families to go through long, drawn-out court trials that expose children to prolonged conflict and uncertainty.
Our work on custody and parenting only grew from that point forward. By the mid-2000s, Voices for Children actively participated in another broad coalition focused on revising and improving the Parenting Act with two main goals in mind: providing for child safety, especially in cases of domestic violence, and encouraging parental cooperation and alternative dispute resolution whenever possible, to minimize children’s exposure to conflict. In 2007, LB 554 mandated the use of parenting education and mediation in decisions about child custody.
Divorce, separation, and custody decisions are never easy for children or for parents, but over the past 20 years, we’ve been working to ensure that children are put first in these processes. Children deserve to be kept safe, have their basic needs met, and have a relationship with parents that love and care for them. There’s still work to do, but we’re much closer to putting the best interests of children at the heart of custody decisions than ever before.