Child Custody Rules: Why Counting Overnights for Custody Doesn’t Work in Nevada

In the often complex and emotional world of child custody decisions, there’s a need for clear and consistent rules. We have to remember that the child’s well-being is the Court’s priority.

But what happens when a parent wants primary custody (or even joint custody), by claiming the child spends most nights with them?

In Nevada, this has led to scrutiny over the method of counting overnights as a primary factor in custody decisions.

The case of Rivero v. Rivero plays a significant role in the understanding of this issue. And a new case from the Nevada Court of Appeals, Holman v. Serrano, says you can’t count overnight.

Let’s delve into why simply counting overnights is problematic.

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Table of Contents

Custody is About More Than Just Time: It’s About a Child’s Whole Life

Sure, the amount of time a child spends with each parent is really important. But deciding who a child should live with is about way more than just counting sleepovers. It’s about what is best for the child in every way. 

Let’s break down why this is so important.

Emotional Bonding and Love

A child needs to feel loved and secure. Just because a child sleeps at a parent’s house doesn’t mean they are bonding and building a strong relationship. It’s the hugs, the talks, and the comfort that really count.

School and Learning

Who helps with homework? Who goes to parent-teacher conferences? Who makes sure the child is doing well in school and learning what they need to learn? These things happen during the day, and they are super important.

Health and Wellness

Taking care of a child means more than just being there at bedtime. It means doctor’s appointments, cooking healthy meals, and making sure the child is active and healthy.

Fun and Social Life

Kids need to have fun and make friends, too! Which parent is involved in taking the child to playdates, sports, music lessons, or other activities? This helps kids grow and be happy.

Safety and Home Life

It’s not just about where a child sleeps. It’s about where they feel safe and cared for. A good home is clean, safe, and a place where a child feels they belong.

Teaching Life Lessons

Parents are like life’s teachers. They teach us right from wrong, how to be kind, and how to take care of ourselves. This doesn’t just happen at bedtime; it happens all day, every day.

Each Day Offers More Than Just Nighttime Moments

Imagine if we only remembered the dreams we had at night and forgot everything that happened during the day. That wouldn’t capture our whole experience, right? In the same way, only counting the nights a child spends with a parent misses out on so much that happens when the sun is up.

Morning Routines

The morning hustle and bustle before school or on weekends set the tone for the day. From breakfast chats to tying shoes, morning routines with a parent can shape a child’s day, giving them confidence and warmth as they step into their daily adventures.

School Drop-offs and Pick-ups

These moments might seem brief, but they’re packed with emotions and meaningful exchanges. A quick hug before entering school or a chat about the day during the drive home can create lasting memories and feelings of support.

Doctor Visits and Appointments

Being there for a child during check-ups, dentist visits, or any other appointment means the world. It’s a chance for a parent to show they care about their child’s well-being and to comfort them if they’re nervous.

Daytime Activities

From soccer practices to music lessons, dance recitals to playdates at the park – daytime activities are a huge part of a child’s life. The parent who is present during these moments gets to cheer them on, comfort them during disappointments, and celebrate their achievements.

Quality Time

It’s not about the quantity of hours but the quality of moments. A simple walk in the park, a trip to the library, cooking a meal together, or even just lounging on the couch talking about random things can be the moments that a child cherishes the most. These are the golden hours of bonding that don’t always happen after dark.

Teachable Moments

Daytime is when real-life happens. It’s filled with opportunities for parents to teach their child valuable life lessons, whether it’s how to deal with losing a game, how to be kind to others, or even something as simple as learning how to save money at a store.

Nights are just a small piece of the puzzle. The full picture of parenting comes from the entire day – from sunrise to sunset. Counting only overnights can miss out on these precious daylight moments, which can be some of the most important times in a child’s life. It’s these hours when memories are made, bonds are strengthened, and life lessons are taught.

Overnights Can Be Misleading

When you count something, people often try to get more of it. It’s like when you get points for a game – you want to score as high as you can! But what if what we’re counting isn’t really the best thing to measure? When it comes to kids and who they stay with, only counting overnights can lead to some problems. 

Let’s talk about why.

The "Points" Mentality

If parents think of overnights as “points,” they might try to get more nights with their child, even if it doesn’t make the most sense for the child. It’s like trying to win a game – but decisions about kids shouldn’t be about winning or losing.

Competition Instead of Teamwork

Kids do best when their parents work together as a team. But if parents are just trying to get more nights, they might end up competing against each other. This isn’t great for kids, because they need their parents to cooperate and make choices together.

Quality vs. Quantity

Imagine if you had a big bag of candy, but all the candy was super sour or tasted bad. You wouldn’t care about having a big bag anymore, right? In the same way, having more nights with a child doesn’t always mean better time with them. It’s not about how many nights a parent has, but how good those nights are.

Stress for Kids

Kids can feel the tension if parents are fighting over nights. They might worry about making one parent sad or upset if they stay with the other parent. Instead of feeling relaxed and safe, kids might feel stressed or confused.

Best Interests Can Get Lost

The most important thing is what’s best for the child. But if everyone is just counting nights, they might forget to think about other important things, like where the child feels most at home, where they have friends, or where they do best in school.

Different Needs at Different Times

Kids grow and change, and what they need might be different from one year to the next. If parents are only focused on counting nights, they might not see that a child’s needs have changed.

Counting overnights can be like looking at a picture through a tiny hole – you miss a lot of important stuff. For kids to be happy and do well, it’s better for parents to look at the whole picture and make choices that are best for the child, not just for themselves.

Rivero v. Rivero: A Game-Changing Decision for Nevada's Kids

Every once in a while, there’s a court case that changes the way we think about things. In Nevada, one of those big cases is Rivero v. Rivero. This case really shook things up when it came to deciding where a child should live and which parent should take care of them. 

Let’s dive a bit deeper into why this case was so important.

No More Counting Hours

Some people might think, “Let’s count hours to decide custody. Whoever has more hours gets custody.” But the Rivero v. Rivero decision said no to that idea. In Nevada, parents can’t count the hours a child spends with them to decide custody. This is because life isn’t a stopwatch – what matters most is the quality of the time kids spend with their parents, not the exact number of hours or minutes.

Looking at the Bigger Picture

This case reminded everyone that kids aren’t puzzles to be solved by counting pieces. They’re real people with feelings, needs, and dreams. So when deciding where a child should live, courts and parents should look at the whole picture. This means considering things like school, friends, activities, and how the child feels.

A Focus on Teamwork

The Rivero v. Rivero case emphasized that parents should work together for their child’s best interests. Instead of competing for more time, parents should think about how to give their child the best life possible. This might mean different things for different families, but the main idea is that decisions should be made with love and understanding.

Holmes v. Serrano: What Happened and Why It's Important

The Story

Allison Holmes and Felipe Serrano have a child together but were never married. Allison wanted to be the main person to take care of their child, while Felipe wanted them both to share this role equally. They tried to talk and find a solution, but couldn’t decide who should have the main role. A court in Washoe County made the decision for them.

The court said Felipe could have the child stay with him for 156 nights a year, which is almost half the nights in a year. So, the court thought Felipe and Allison should share the role equally. Allison didn’t agree with this and took the case to a higher court.

What the Higher Court Said

The higher court, called the Court of Appeals, said the first court made a mistake. They shouldn’t just count how many nights the child stays with each parent. They should also look at who takes care of the child’s daily needs, like feeding and schooling. Plus, the first court didn’t think about what’s best for the child, which is very important.

So, the Court of Appeals told the first court to look at the case again and make a better decision.

Why This is Important in Nevada

This case tells us that in Nevada, just counting how many nights a child stays with each parent isn’t enough. Courts should also think about the daily care of the child and what’s best for them. It’s a reminder that decisions should focus on the child’s needs and happiness, not just numbers.


Making choices about who a child lives with is a really big deal. 

In Nevada, thanks to cases like Rivero v. Rivero and Holmes v. Serrano, the court knows it’s not just about counting nights, but what’s best for the kid. 

Remember, it’s about making sure the child is happy and taken care of, not just numbers.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t courts count overnights to decide custody in Nevada?

In Nevada, courts cannot simply count which parent has more overnights with a child and award custody based on that. This is because custody decisions are about more than just the number of nights spent. The Nevada Supreme Court case Rivero v. Rivero established that merely counting hours or overnights does not determine what is in the best interests of the child. Courts must look at the whole picture, including factors like the child’s school, social life, activities, relationships, and overall well-being.

What did the Rivero v. Rivero case decide about counting overnights?

The Nevada Supreme Court case Rivero v. Rivero in 2009 established that child custody decisions cannot be based solely on counting the hours or overnights a child spends with each parent. The court determined this method does not account for the quality of time or the child’s overall best interests. The ruling requires courts to look beyond just the quantity of time and consider factors like the child’s emotional bonds, stability, and developmental needs.

How did Holmes v. Serrano impact counting overnights for custody in NV?

In 2022, the Nevada Court of Appeals case Holmes v. Serrano again affirmed that merely counting overnights is insufficient for custody decisions. The court ruled lower courts must examine factors beyond just the number of nights, like daily caregiving duties and the child’s needs. The conclusion reminds courts to focus on the child’s well-being instead of treating custody like a math equation.

Why is counting overnights problematic when deciding custody?

There are a few reasons why merely counting overnights can be problematic for custody:

  • It overlooks the quality of time and other essential factors for the child’s well-being.
  • Parents may compete for more nights instead of cooperating about what’s best.
  • Children may feel stressed if their parents fight at night.
  • Changing needs as the child grows may be ignored.
  • Best interests get overlooked if the focus is on “winning” more nights.

What should courts consider instead of just overnights?

Instead of just counting overnights, Nevada courts look at the full picture of the child’s life and well-being, including:

  • Emotional bonds and relationships with each parent
  • Performance and connections at school
  • Social and extracurricular activities
  • Health and developmental needs
  • Wishes of the child
  • Safety, stability, and home environment
  • Daily caregiving duties like feeding, driving, etc.
  • Any other relevant factors for the child’s happiness and success

The goal is a custody arrangement that serves the child’s best interests.


Child custody: The legal decision determining which parent or guardian a child lives with and the allotment of parenting time and responsibilities. Types of custody include sole, joint, split, etc.

Counting overnights: A method sometimes used to help determine child custody based on counting the number of nights a child spends with each parent. This practice has faced scrutiny.

Primary custody: When one parent has the child living with them for a significantly more significant amount of time, like school days. The other parent typically has visitation rights.

Joint custody: Both parents share major decision-making, and residential time is somewhat divided. It can be 50/50 time or closer to primary with one and visitation with the other.

Split custody: Each parent has primary physical custody of one or more children. For example, the mother has custody of the oldest child, while the father has custody of the younger.

Best interests of the child: The standard courts use to make custody decisions based on what will best serve the child’s physical and emotional needs and well-being.

Rivero v. Rivero: A landmark 2009 Nevada Supreme Court case that ruled counting overnights alone is insufficient to determine custody, as the quality of time and the child’s overall welfare must be considered.

Holmes v. Serrano: The 2022 Nevada case reaffirming custody is about more than the number of overnights. Lower courts must examine factors like daily care, relationships, and needs.

Court of Appeals: The Nevada court that hears appeals from lower district courts. It ruled in Holmes v. Serrano that merely counting nights doesn’t determine best interests.

Ask an Attorney

Our lead attorney, Molly Rosenblum, Esq answers tough legal questions in these videos.

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Additional Resources for You

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