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Nebraska bill focuses on children living with sex offenders

If a Nebraska senator has his way, parents in the state who choose to cohabitate with or marry a sex offender could find it much harder to retain custody of their children.

The legislation, LB 60, was prompted by a custody battle in which a father was unable to gain custody of his teenage daughters after learning that their new stepfather was a convicted sex offender. The stepfather had served 4 years in prison for attempting to sexually assault a previous stepdaughter.

Despite the nature of his crime and the fact that the new stepfather was a registered sex offender, the local court and the Nebraska Supreme Court both denied the father's request for custody. The burden of proving that children in such cases are at risk falls on the parent without custody, and the court said the father had not met that burden.

If the new legislation is successful, it will create a legal presumption that having unsupervised time with a sex offender is not in the best interest of the child. The burden of proving otherwise would fall on the custodial parent who chooses the sex offender as a partner.

The bill does have a narrow focus and would only apply when the sex offender involved committed a felony against a minor or could "otherwise be considered a risk to children." However, opponents say that it could still harm some people unfairly.

For example, one opponent uses his own situation as an example. Registered for life as a sex offender, his crime was the result of a relationship with an underage girl who falsified her age on an adult dating website. He now fears that he could lose custody of his own child if the bill passes.

Advocates admit that someone in that situation could possibly be affected, even if it is unlikely, but say that they would rather be overcautious than expose a child to sexual abuse from a known offender.

Are you concerned about the safety of your children because of their other parent's new partner or spouse? If so, it may take some extensive work to prove to the court that he or she poses a real risk to your children. A family law attorney can discuss the sort of evidence needed and how you can proceed in order to gain custody.

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, "Nebraska bill targets sex offenders living with children," Julia Shumway, Feb. 09, 2017

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