Father loses custody of girls to wife, sex offender

A father of two teenage girls has lost a lengthy legal battle to get custody of his children after his ex-wife married a registered sex offender.

The divorcee took legal action saying he feared his girls may fall prey to the convicted criminal, who served four years in prison in 2003.

The man was jailed for the attempted sexual abuse of his then 15-year-old stepdaughter from a previous marriage.

The case has been dragged through the court system in Nebraska, US, until the state Supreme Court upheld the lower courts' rulings, finally ending the father's legal challenge.

Previously, a Phelps County District judge ruled there was no significant risk to the pair.

Refusing to accept the decision, the father, who has not been named, took his fight to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which sided with the earlier judge, concluding the teenagers were not in danger.

But he fought on for custody of his children, taking his battle to the Supreme Court judges. There, a divided court upheld the ruling with a four-justice majority, with two justices finding in favour of the father.

One of the two, Justice William Connolly, wrote a letter criticising his peers' decision.

Retiring earlier this month, he wrote: "It leaves the noncustodial father, who is willing and able to care for his children, feeling helpless to protect his children."

As reported in the Journal Star, he said the stepfather should undergo an independent evaluation to assess if the girls were at risk.

And Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman also came down in favour of giving the father custody. She found that the current circumstances were worrying similar to the original situation that led to the stepfather's conviction.

Nebraska law states there is a presumption that since the stepfather is a sex offender and has access to the girls, they are at risk.

But this can be overridden by the custodial parent, their mother, presenting evidence to the contrary.

The justices wrote: "If she presented such evidence, then the presumption disappeared and the district court, as trier of fact, was not required to find that [the stepfather] was a significant risk."

In this case she submitted reports of her new husband's rehabilitation, and pointed to the absence of any allegations of sexual offences since 2002.

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