When a couple with children gets divorced, the topic of child custody always comes into play. Parental rights are an important part of settling the disputes that arise in these cases, but they can also extend to adoption and many other aspects of childcare and child rearing. Understanding your responsibilities and rights as a parent in Nevada is essential to your duties and custodianship of your children, whether natural born or adopted.
What are parental responsibility and parental rights laws in Nevada? Let’s look at a detailed breakdown of what these laws are and how they apply to you and your situation, as well as where you can go for legal help and advice when you need it.
Parental Responsibility Law
The first thing to understand is that parental responsibility law is different than, though closely related to, Nevada parental rights laws. Parental responsibility determines your responsibilities where your child is concerned, specifically in terms of liability and financial responsibility for actions taken by your child.
In Nevada, for example, parents or guardians are responsible for any act that results from a minor child’s willful misconduct. This means that the child intended to take the action and it resulted in some sort of harm. Your liability as a parent extends to bodily injury, property damage and death. It can involve harm caused by driving a motor vehicle, using a firearm or other actions. There are, however, limits — the maximum liability you hold for your child’s acts in Nevada is $10,000, except in the cases of firearms and motor vehicle misuse.
In cases of firearms, you must be aware that your child has been convicted, that they have a tendency towards violence, that they intend to use the firearm unlawfully, and you must have allowed them to have the firearm. In this case, there is no limit on damages.
As with firearms, there are no limits to damages for which you may be held liable from your minor’s misconduct with a motor vehicle, whether it’s a car or motorcycle.
Child Custody and Visitation
Potentially the largest issue a couple faces when they split up is that of child custody and visitation, and Nevada parental rights laws are rooted in custody. There are two aspects to custody. The first is physical custody, referring to the parent who gives the child daily care, and the other is legal custody, the parent who has the final say regarding those things that affect the child’s welfare.
Physical custody, then, is regarding the time a parent spends with the child and the parent with whom the child spends most of their time (who they live with). Legal custody grants the parent the right to have a say in things like religious, educational and medical issues. In both areas, parents can have either joint custody or sole custody.
Joint custody means that parents share these things, while sole custody means one parent has all or at least the vast majority of responsibility and rights. When parents share physical custody, this can be harder on the child than the sharing of legal custody. It means that the child will have to split their physical time between living with one parent and the other, which can cause a lot of stress for the child, especially as they get older. For this reason, courts in Nevada are often hesitant to award joint custody.
Instead, the courts will generally gear towards awarding one parent sole physical custody, with the other parent awarded scheduled visitation time. Legal custody, on the other hand, can often be shared, if the parents are both found to be legally sound.
Determining What’s Best for the Child
There is a common wisdom that courts lean towards granting custody of children to the mother over the father, who will only get scheduled visitation every other weekend. This is, frankly, outdated wisdom and not necessarily true in this day and age. As the definition of “family” continues to change, most states are clear that the gender of a parent has no impact on the decision of custodianship.
Rather, the courts will weigh all facts to determine what is in the best interest of the child. If both parents agree that custody can be shared, then joint custody will often be awarded. Likewise, if a parent without sole custody can prove that the parent with custody is trying to interfere with the non-custodial parent’s relationship with the child with no cause, the courts may again award joint custody.
Courts will not award joint custody if one parent can prove that the other is not capable of providing care for a minimum of 146 days each year. They will also deny joint custody if a parent has been found guilty of domestic violence, either against the child, against their spouse or against anyone living with the child.
The definition of parentage can also extend beyond biological motherhood or fatherhood. If a couple has a child during a legal marriage or a domestic partnership, or while cohabitating, they are certainly parents. If they adopt a child, they become parents. However, another case in which a person can become a parent is if the child’s other parent agrees to their parenthood. This means that if you cohabitate with someone who has a child from a previous relationship, and that person agrees that you are the child’s parent, you have legal parenthood rights.
Determining the Child’s Best Interests
There are a number of factors that go into determining the best interests of the child. These include taking the child’s own wishes into account, assuming the child is old enough to have an educated opinion. The parents’ attitudes towards one another is another aspect, including their level of conflict and how likely they are to allow each other to have a relationship with the child. The child’s needs, including physical, emotional and developmental, are also considered, as are the child’s relationships with their siblings (if any).
The state of the parents is also considered, including their physical and mental health, their relationship with their child, any history of neglect, abuse or violence, or whether one or both parents are guilty of abduction. Domestic violence is taken very seriously in Nevada, as it has become an epidemic across the nation.
Visitation rights are essential to a strong custody award; courts emphasize that it’s vital for parents to maintain meaningful and ongoing contact with their children. Thus, visitation will be granted with a provided schedule that is court-enforced. This visitation schedule may be unsupervised with no restrictions, or it can be supervised. Supervised visitation is generally only enforced in cases where there is a history of neglect, absenteeism or abuse.
Changing Custody Orders
Relationships are fluid, and children change as they grow. The courts understand that the changing needs of children require some fluidity in custody orders. When parents wish to change a given custody order, they must be able to prove good reason and demonstrate that such a change is in the best interests of the child, but it can happen.
In 2013, the Nevada legislature passed bill SB314, a bill that provides for the right of parents to make choices involving the custody, management and care of their children. This is an important bill because it affirms that the interest of a parent in the child’s management and care is a fundamental legal right. It’s supported by existing court precedent in Nevada, specifically Rico v. Rodriguez and In re J.L.N.
Termination of Parental Rights
In certain situations, Nevada parental rights laws allow for the courts to terminate the rights of a parent regarding their child. When this happens, it declares in a legal sense that the child is free from the control and custody of one or both parents. As with custodial issues, the best interests of the child are always the primary consideration in making such a decision. It almost always also involves a confirmation of some sort of parental fault.
Such a court order requires the courts find that termination of rights is in the child’s best interest and is combined with other grounds. These include abandonment, neglect, parental unfitness, a finding that the child would be at risk of injury or harm (physical or emotional) in the custody of the parent, or lack of proper attention and care.
A parent can also, however, choose to relinquish their parental rights. Relinquishing of rights, though, does not free a parent from the responsibilities of being a parent. That is, a parent can give up their rights but still be responsible for paying child care and support and upholding other responsibilities of parents.
Parental Rights and Adoption
Adopting or fostering a child can be very difficult. It’s a long and frustrating process and it can be very painful, especially when the birth parent attempts to come back into the child’s life. In Nevada, birth parents have the right to parent their child if they wish, but state parental rights are very specific regarding consenting to adoptions and the termination of parental rights.
Before a child can be adopted, the birth mother must consent to the adoption processes, which can occur no sooner than 72 hours after the birth of the child. A birth father who is not married to the birth mother, on the other hand, can consent before the child is born. Birth fathers also have the right to object to an adoption, provided he can prove that he is the biological father, and that he is willing and able to parent the child.
If both parents give consent to adoption, the consent cannot be revoked; a post-adoption contact agreement can, however, grant some rights to the birth parents if signed as part of the adoption process.
Adoptive Parental Rights
What this means is that, as part of the adoption process, the parental rights and family ties in a legal sense between birth parents and child are terminated. The adoptive parents gain all responsibilities and rights regarding the child, even if there is a PACA. Still, if a PACA exists, adoptive parents are bound by the letter of the agreement, as it is court-ordered.
Child Custody and Nevada Parental Rights Attorneys
If you’re in Nevada and you’re facing questions about parental rights and responsibilities, the right divorce and family law attorney can help. Call the Willick Law Group today for more information and a consultation about your case.