The most important decision an Oklahoma divorce court makes is which party will receive custody of divorcing couple’s children. In every case involving a minor child, the court must determine both legal and physical custody of the child. Legal custody determines which parent will have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the child. The Court may choose to award one parent sole custody of the child, or it may award joint custody to both parents. The court must also determine how much time a child will spend with each parent. This is known as physical custody. These decisions are made using the “best interest” test which requires the court to examine all of the evidence presented and to use that evidence to determine which party will best serve the physical, mental, and moral well-being of their children.
Commonly, Oklahoma divorce courts examine the following general factors when making a custody determination:
In addition to these general considerations, Oklahoma divorce courts are required to examine whether either of the divorcing parents have been convicted of a crime involving domestic abuse. In these cases, the Court is required to presume that parent is unfit to exercise custody of their children. However, a parent in this situation does have the opportunity to present evidence to overcome that presumption. If you are a parent who has been convicted of a crime involving domestic violence, it is best to contact an experienced Oklahoma divorce attorney to assist you in gathering and presenting the evidence necessary to protect your rights as a parent.
Additional criminal convictions can affect a court’s custody determination as well. Oklahoma law presumes that it is not in a child’s best interest for custody to be awarded to any parent who is subject to the Oklahoma Sex Offenders Registration Act or to any parent who resides with a person on the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry. The same presumption is made by the court for any parent who has been convicted of kidnapping, child abuse, or any other crime committed against a child.
Another important factor that Oklahoma divorce courts are required to examine is whether either divorcing parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol. There is no question that a parent’s addiction can wreck the life of a child. Parents addicted to drugs and alcohol can be neglectful of the needs of their children and rarely make sound parental decisions when inebriated, intoxicated, or otherwise under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Another factor the court may use in its consideration is the preference of the children as to which parent should be awarded custody. Oklahoma law allows a child to exercise a preference only when he or she is at least twelve years of age and mature enough to make an intelligent and informed decision regarding custody.
The attorneys of Law Firm of Oklahoma have a wealth of experience in child custody matters. Our unique and effective approach to child custody cases has resulted in favorable results for our clients. We believe that our work in child custody cases begins in the initial consultation. From the outset, we explore the roles of both parents and advise our clients to make decisions based upon the best interests of their children, not upon their feelings for their spouses. Not only do we aggressively gather the evidence the Court needs to make an informed custody decision, we advise our clients to always act in the best interests of their children. Doing so can be tough in the emotionally charged environment of a divorce case, but our attorneys are always available to help. The level of service we provide ensures that our clients are well-informed and equipped with the tools necessary to deal with difficult spouses and the challenging situations that arise in every divorce.
Legal custody refers to the parent’s responsibility for not only the physical custody of the child, but also the responsibility for the care, welfare, and control of the child. In other words, legal custody is not just about where the child lives, but also about the day-to-day decisions about the child’s health care, education, and well-being. Legal custody may take the form of either joint custody, in which such decisions are shared, or sole custody, in which one parent is allowed to make all decisions about the child’s welfare without consulting or receiving the consent of the noncustodial parent.
The preferred outcome for many divorce courts in Oklahoma is an award of joint custody. Joint custody is defined as “the sharing by parents in all or some of the aspects of physical and legal care, custody, and control of their children.” When workable, joint custody arrangements are favored because they allow both parents to be an equal influence in the lives of their children. Most parents know that successful children need a positive and consistent relationship with both of their parents. Oklahoma divorce courts do, too.
However, joint custody is only awarded where divorcing parents can prove they are willing and able to work together to serve the best interests of their children. Joint custody is appropriate when:
Whether selecting an orthodontist or choosing the school that their children will attend, parties who can successfully exercise joint custody work together to serve the best interests of their children. They must be willing to put aside their feelings for each other in order to do the hard work of rearing their children. Because of the level of cooperation necessary to succeed, the Court may only order joint custody to parents in cases where the parties have demonstrated an ability to work together without excessive conflict.
To assist parents exercising joint custody of their children, Oklahoma divorce courts require them to enter a “Joint Custody Plan” to define the rights and responsibilities of their children. These plans set forth what decisions co-parents are required to make together and which decisions, if any, the co-parents may make independently. Joint Custody Plans also contain provisions that assist co-parents who are unable to reach a decision regarding their minor children’s lives. A co-parenting relationship can be difficult, and there are times when the parties are unable to resolve an issue. Joint Custody Plans crafted by Law Firm of Oklahoma contain provisions that help guide clients through these issues without spoiling an otherwise successful co-parenting relationship. Mediation, arbitration, and access to a Parenting Coordinator are the tools most commonly used to assist our clients in peacefully resolving these types of conflicts.
If the parties in a divorce action are unable or unwilling to exercise joint custody of their child, the Court must award one parent sole custody. A parent with sole custody is authorized to make major decisions regarding his or her children without consultation with the other parent. A parent awarded sole custody is known as the “custodial parent.” The other parent is known as the “non-custodial parent.”
When deciding which parent should be awarded sole custody of a child, the court determines who will serve the best interests of the child by examining the following factors:
The court’s decision as to which parent is awarded custody is undoubtedly a difficult one. In making such an important decision, it is looking for a parent who has demonstrated the ability to focus on the needs of his or her child, not on his or her own needs. Parties who are awarded sole custody must be able to provide for the needs of their children while doing their best to shield them from the trauma commonly associated with their parents’ separation. If you are involved in a divorce proceeding and are fighting for custody of your child, an experienced Oklahoma divorce attorney can be your most valuable asset.
At Law Firm of Oklahoma, we emphasize client communication. When our clients encounter a tough situation with their children or their spouses, they call us. When they do, we answer. We empower our clients by making ourselves available to answer any and all questions they may have. Moreover, at beginning of every divorce case, our attorneys meet with clients to formulate an individualized action plan that clients can use to guide their actions when we are unavailable. We do everything in our power to ensure that our clients are making the best decisions for their children and for their cases by maintaining consistent and ongoing communication with every divorce client.
Physical Custody describes the living arrangements of a child involved in a divorce case and is also commonly known as “visitation.” Although the issues of physical custody and legal custody are distinct, Oklahoma Divorce courts use the best interest test to determine both, and a court’s determination of legal custody largely determines the physical custody of a child. If parents are awarded joint custody of a child, the court will be more inclined to enter a physical custody schedule, also known as a visitation schedule, that divides a child’s time equally between both parents’ homes. If one parent is awarded sole custody, the court will most likely enter a physical custody schedule that requires the child to reside primarily with the custodial parent. However, an Oklahoma divorce court is not required to enter a visitation schedule that reflects its award of legal custody. It is possible for parties to receive an award of joint custody that requires the child to reside primarily with only one parent. Likewise, the court may award one parent sole custody and enter a visitation schedule that divides the time of the child equally between both parties.
When the court determines that the best interests of a child require him or her to reside primarily with one parent, it must then determine how often the child should visit the other parent. The most common solution used by Oklahoma divorce courts is the “Standard Visitation Plan.” Standard Visitation Plans vary slightly depending upon the county in which the divorce is filed. However, at its core, a Standard Visitation Plan calls for visitation between a parent and child every other weekend. It also divides time equally between the parents during holidays and school breaks. Common Standard Visitation Plans and the Advisory Guidelines utilized by Oklahoma divorce courts when crafting visitation plans can be found here.
Obviously, the physical custody of a minor child is critical. Time spent with a child is a parent’s most valuable resource. The more time a parent has with his or child, the more effectively he or she can teach important life lessons and instill values. Time spent with a child allows a parent to fully develop a meaningful relationship with a child and permits a parent to lead by example. The amount of time a child spends with each parent is also a major factor in determining whether or not one parent receives an award of child support and the amount he or she will receive.
For divorcing couples, the effect of the divorce on their children and the award of custody during the dissolution of the marriage is the most challenging and emotionally charged aspect of the divorce. Most parents want what is best for their children, regardless of their own feelings for their spouses. Whether you are seeking sole custody to prevent your child from living with a negligent, ineffective, or dangerous parent, or whether you seek to provide balance and stability by co-parenting through joint custody, Law Firm of Oklahoma can provide the resources and evidence you need to provide the best outcome for your children.