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Stepparent Visitation in Nebraska: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

In recent generations, more children are born out of wedlock and more people are choosing to remain in long-term relationships without becoming legally married.

Often, one or both people may have children from prior relationships, and there are more blended families. These people are sometimes referred to as “Quasi-parents” because they have no legal status but live in the same household. The children in these relationships often form strong and enduring bonds with their biological parent’s new partner or spouse (and their children). The bonds that form between the child and their biological parent’s partner can be similar to the bonds that a child has with a biological parent or adoptive parent, but their relationship does not have the same legal status and protections.

In the child’s eyes, the quasi-parent may be their “mom” or “dad” regardless of what Nebraska law says. When the relationship between the biological parent and their partner ends, many children lose that beneficial parent-like relationship they had with the “quasi-parent”. The loss and abandonment that the child experiences can leave a lasting or permanent impact on the child. When the courts get involved, it is often related to a “quasi-parent’s” desire to maintain the relationship with the child despite the legal parent’s objections.

In many jurisdictions across the country, the legal system often lacks the ability to preserve the bond formed in these types of relationships. The legal system often fails to protect the best interests of the child (at least from the eyes of the quasi-parent) when the biological parent objects to a continued relationship between the child and the quasi-parent. In many states, the parental preference doctrine prevents a non-parent from exercising visitation with a stepchild. Some states across the country have even seen their grandparent or third-party visitation statutes invalidated or severely limited.

For some people in Nebraska, there is some hope for visitation with the child under the doctrine of in loco parentis.

What Is In Loco Parentis?

“In loco parentis” is generally translated as “in the place of a parent” and is used to consider the parental rights of stepparents, grandparents, and same-sex co-parents in order to preserve their relationships with a child that they have not legally adopted or have legal parent status. The parental preference doctrine can be overcome in Nebraska in limited circumstances under the common law doctrine of in loco parentis, but only if the nonparent meets certain criteria and can show that preserving this relationship is in the child’s best interests.

An Important Disclaimer

If you are a nonparent or stepparent in Nebraska seeking to establish visitation rights or seek custody of a child, it is important that you seek consultation with an experienced Nebraska child custody lawyer or Nebraska divorce lawyer to evaluate the specific details of your case.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or relied upon in lieu of obtaining legal advice regarding the exact particulars of your individual situation. This is a very complex and difficult area of Nebraska law.

What is In Loco Parentis in Nebraska & Who Qualifies for It?

In loco parentis is defined under Nebraska occurs when there is an adult who has put himself or herself in the situa­tion of a lawful parent by assuming the obligations of the parental relationship, without going through the formali­ties necessary to a legal adoption.

If someone is found to be in loco parentis in Nebraska, the rights, duties, and liabilities of such person are the same as those of the lawful parent. The common-law doctrine of in loco parentis does not confer the same rights as those of lawful parent for all purposes. In Nebraska, in loco parentis will only be granted if it is determined to be in the best interests of the child.

As a result of a 2000 Supreme Court decision, many courts have abolished third-party visitation statutes or put significant hurdles in place for a third party to obtain visitation status. Most courts have agreed that a parent's decision concerning visitation is entitled to a presumption that the parent was acting in the child's best interests when the biological parent denies the third party visitation.

The focus of an in loco parentis analysis in Nebraska is on the relationship between the child and the party seeking in loco parentis status, examining what, if any, bond has formed between the child and the nonparent. The parent seeking to assert in loco parentis must show strong psychological bonds with a person who, although not a biological par­ent, has lived with the child and provided care, nurture, and affection, assuming in the child’s eye a stature like that of a parent.

The sta­tus of in loco parentis is temporary, flexible, and capable of being both suspended and reinstated. Accordingly, the unique facts of each case must be reviewed by an attorney to determine if in loco parentis applies to the facts of your case and to determine if the relationship between nonparent and child has already been severed.

What Constitutes a Parental Relationship That Qualifies for In Loco Parentis Under Nebraska Law?

This is a very complex factual analysis of a given situation and Nebraska law. A Nebraska court may look to our statutes and case law for guidance as to what constitutes a parenting relationship when determining if in loco parentis applies.

Statutory factors the court may consider include, but are not limited to, whether the parent has maintained a safe and stable relationship with the child; attended to the child’s developmental needs; attended to the child’s educational needs; ensured the child has a positive relationship with the other parenting and family members; minimized exposure to harmful conflict; helped the child develop safe and positive interpersonal skills; and supported academics, social, athletic or other interests.

Can Someone Lose In Loco Parentis in Nebraska?

Application of the in loco parentis doctrine depends upon the circumstances in existence when the nonparent claims a child’s best interests lie in allowing him or her to exercise parental rights. Once the person alleged to be in loco parentis no longer discharges all duties of the parental relationship, the person is no longer in loco parentis. In loco parentis is flexible and capable of being both suspended and reinstated.

Contact Goosmann Law for Legal Assistance

If you are a parent, grandparent, stepparent, or “quasi-parent” seeking to maintain a relationship with a child in which you have no current legal rights to see, our experienced family lawyers at Goosmann Law can discuss the specific facts about your situation and can provide an initial case assessment during an initial consultation.

You can schedule a consultation by contacting our firm online!