The Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee advanced a number of bills on April 10, 2015, the deadline for doing so. Included in those bills was AB-263, a bi-partisan measure principally drafted and argued by Family Law Attorney Keith Pickard and vetted by more than a dozen leading Nevada family law attorneys.
AB-263 is a measure designed to eliminate significant inequalities in child custody and relocation law that are ensconced in Nevada’s statutory scheme. The current statutory scheme is fragmented—spread out over five different sections of the Nevada Revised Statutes, and often contradictory in how they approach parents who are arguing over custodial issues.
The disjointed nature of the statutes is the result of years of small changes to certain parts of the law, without any attempt to mirror those changes in the other parts. As a result, the law applies different standards to parents who differ only in terms of gender or original marital status—things that have little relevance to the best interests of the child. These inequalities need to be corrected so that all parents are treated under the same standard.
A recent Nevada Supreme Court decision only magnified the need for correction when it acknowledged the defects in the laws but then failed to apply its fix to the decision it handed down. This left the family-law community in a bit of a quandary: do they try to fix the law, or do they simply leave it in place and hope the judges do the right thing in spite of inconsistent laws?
AB-263 brings both a single equal standard to bear, without regard to gender or marital status, and provides the trial court with the ability to focus on the best interests of the children, instead of struggling with statute to apply to the benefit of a parent only. The passage of AB-263 out of committee is commendable precisely because it is hard to do.
Because the entire legislative session is limited by the Nevada Constitution to only 120 days, each chamber has a very limited time to get its work done. As a result, tight deadlines are imposed for each step of the process. Each bill started in it’s appropriate committee, and AB-263 started in the Judicary Committee, sponsored by Assemblymen Lynn Stewart (R-Henderson), Harvey Munford (D-Las Vegas), Stephen Silberkraus (R-Henderson), and Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury (R-Boulder City).
Once heard by the Judiciary Committee, it is sent to the Assembly Floor for a vote of the entire Assembly. If passed, it will then move on to the Senate where it will go through a similar process. Once passed by both houses, it goes to Governor Sandoval for final approval. If approved, it will become law, effective July 1, 2015.
Although some opponents argue that the inequality is placed in the law for a reason, those reasons are principally based upon the disproven belief that mothers are better parents, therefore the law should presume the child belongs with the mother unless the father proves otherwise. Others say that there is no problem at all, notwithstanding even the Supreme Court found that the law that is applied to couples that were married is very different than for those that were not married. AB-263 is, however, a measured response to the inequality built into the existing law. The Assembly Judiciary Committee should be commended for its passage of this important bill.
Zachariah B. Parry is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau and is an adjunct professor who teaches torts, contracts, and Nevada practice and procedure for UNLV’s paralegal program. He can be reached at 702-912-4451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.