Man loses custody battle for kids living with sex offender

The Nebraska Court of Appeals rejected a father’s request for custody of his daughters to get them out of the home of their mother, who is married to a registered sex offender.

The Central City man argued that a Phelps County District judge was wrong to find there was no significant risk to his 16- and 14-year-old daughters if they remain in the house with their stepfather. Online court documents show the stepfather was convicted in 2003 of attempted sexual assault of his 15-year-old stepdaughter from a previous marriage. The appeals court ruling Tuesday said the man testified in the custody case that he served four years in prison for sexually assaulting the girl.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court found that the lower court properly evaluated the facts of the case to determine that their stepfather does not pose a significant risk to the girls’ safety. The appeals panel also upheld the judge’s determination that it was in the best interests of the children to allow their mother to retain custody.

“(W)e believe that the district court made a thorough and careful evaluation of the evidence and did not abuse its discretion in reaching its conclusion,” Judge Riko Bishop wrote for the appeals panel.

The ruling notes that the lower court relied heavily on testimony from the girls’ mental health therapist, who said their stepfather posed a low risk to re-offend. However, the therapist testified that she works solely with juvenile sex offenders, not adults, and that she has never interviewed or even met the stepfather.

The stepfather testified that he successfully completed a sex offender treatment program in prison. The girls’ mother testified that both girls have a good relationship with their stepfather, are rarely left alone with him and have been instructed to change clothes behind closed doors and not to walk around the house in a towel.

 Court records reveal that it’s the second time the girls’ mother has been involved with a sex offender. After her first marriage ended, court records say, she lived with a man who was later convicted of sexually assaulting one of her daughters, who was 5 at the time of the assault.

The Associated Press is not naming those involved in the case to protect the girls’ identities.

State law spells out that a custodial parent moving in with a sex offender justifies a change in custody, the appeals court acknowledged. But the law also allows a judge the discretion to leave custody unchanged if the judge determines the children are not at risk.

An attorney for the father did not return a message Wednesday asking if he will appeal Tuesday’s ruling.