Saturday, July 21, 2007

Finally a win for the dad: Nebraska Supreme Court (CJ Heavican) reverses Lincoln County District Judge Murphy's order for joint custody when neither party requested joint custody. Supreme Court finds parties have a due process right to have notice of potential rulings from the court. Zahl v. Zahl, S-06-1123Somehow the supreme court reversed the Learned Hand of the Plains, District Judge John Murphy. The parents disputed custody of their one child, born June 2004. They were married in July 2004. Father worked for Union Pacific running trains to Marysville Kansas. Mother worked for the sheriff's department. The parties separated only several months after the child was born, and mother had a child a few years older from a prior marriage, and at the time mother was in court disputing custody of that child. The court finally ordered joint custody but neither party had requested it, and at a schedule that apparently did not fit the father's railroad schedule well. Father appeals. Supreme Court reverses. When ordering joint custody under Nebraska statute § 42-364(5) (Cum. supp. 2006), a district court must specifically find that joint custody is in a child’s best interests. the district court failed to make that finding in the dissolution decree. Further, because neither party had requested joint physical custody, the evidence presented at trial was limited to which parent should have sole custody. We conclude that under this circumstance, the court must conduct a separate hearing on joint physical custody before ordering such, and that its order must specifically find that joint physical custody is in the child’s best interests. "A trial court’s authority under § 42-364(5) to order joint physical custody when the parties have not requested it must be exercised in a manner consistent with due process requirements...fundamental fairness requires that...when a trial court determines at a general custody hearing that joint physical custody is, or may be, in a child’s best interests, but neither party has requested this custody arrangement, the court must give the parties an opportunity to present evidence on the issue before imposing joint custody"

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