LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A woman who was granted temporary custody of her sons after winning a domestic violence protection order in Iowa must return to Nebraska to argue the case again, a Nebraska appeals court said Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the Nebraska Court of Appeals ruled that a Douglas County judge in Omaha needs to determine which of the unwed parents should have custody over the boys.
Attorneys for both parents, Francis M. Zimmerman and Tiffany L. Biggs, said the ruling effectively nullifies an Iowa judge's custody decision in Biggs' favor and requires that the case be heard in Nebraska. The boys were born in Omaha — one in 2010 and the other in 2013 — and had lived with both of their parents in the city until Biggs moved to Creston, Iowa, last year.
According to the ruling, Zimmerman and Biggs traveled to Creston last year to visit Biggs' parents. Zimmerman went back to Omaha with the boys, but Biggs later returned to Omaha and took her younger son, who now lives with her in Iowa.
Shortly thereafter, she filed for a domestic violence protection order against Zimmerman. A judge in Union County, Iowa, granted the protection order and awarded her temporary custody of the boys. Zimmerman filed for custody in Douglas County District Court in Nebraska, but a judge there ruled that the Iowa court had already decided the matter.
"Zimmerman testified that both children had resided with him and Biggs in Omaha from the time of their births ... until Biggs took the younger son to Iowa in April 2013," the appeals court panel wrote in its opinion. "Thus, it is apparent from the record that Nebraska was the home state of the children."
Biggs' attorney, Joey T. Hoover, said the decision will likely require Biggs to hire another attorney, because he's based in Iowa and isn't licensed to practice law in Nebraska.
Nebraska and Iowa both have laws that require children to live in the state for at least six months before they're considered residents. Biggs, who initially went into court without an attorney, didn't wait that long to file for custody.
"She's very disappointed, obviously, because this is going to cause her the extra expense and trauma of having to relive the violence she experienced in Nebraska," Hoover said. "I've explained to her that, unfortunately, that's what the law says."
Andrew Hilger, an attorney for Zimmerman, said the ruling recognized Nebraska's courts as the proper venue for the case. Hilger said his client was pleased with the decision and planned to argue the custody case in Douglas County District Court.
"He's been living here in legal limbo with his oldest son for the last year or so," Hilger said.