When you are going through a divorce in Oklahoma and have children, it is important to understand Oklahoma child custody laws, visitation and support. All too often, parents become involved in the divorce process without fully understanding their duties and rights under the law regarding their children.
If childhood is a fleeting moment in a person’s life, child custody proceedings are even more sudden, swift and brief. Although the court process can seem to drag on for months, court proceedings move on a schedule largely under the court’s control. Then they become final.
Some parents do not know what was possible and allowable with child custody law in Oklahoma. Without knowing what might happen ahead of time, they can diminish their role in their children’s lives by failing to assert their parental interests in court. Get the information you need beforehand. Here is what you need to know about the general custody laws in Oklahoma.
Anytime minor children are involved, the court must make orders regarding their guardianship, custody, medical care, support, visitation, and education. This means that the court makes initial orders about all of these matters and may modify these orders as needed over time for as long as the children remain minors. Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 112
Types of Custody
Custody is often discussed in terms of physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody typically refers to the question of which parent or parents the children are with at any particular time. Where there is joint legal custody, parents exchange physical custody of a child according to a court-approved schedule.
Joint legal custody means both parents share equally in decisions about the child’s life, as well as sharing physical custody. When a court awards sole legal custody to one parent, that parent is considered the custodial parent. Time with the non-custodial parent might be considered visitation or parenting time.
Oklahoma statutes explain that visitation and parenting time puts a child in the physical custody of the parent caring for them at that time. Oklahoma’s Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act says:
“Physical custody means the physical care and supervision of a child” Okla. Stat. tit 43 § 551-102 (1998)
To avoid confusion about physical custody versus legal custody, some attorneys caution against considering visitation in a sole custody case to be physical custody. The concern is that physical custody may be confused with legal custody.
Simply stated, courts decide two main things about child custody: who makes major decisions for the child, and which parent the child is to be with at any particular time.
Legal custody refers to the question of who makes major decisions regarding a child. This can be either joint custody or sole custody.
If one or both parents requests joint custody, the parents must work toward and submit a parenting plan that will cover:
- where the children will live, and when;
- how medical and dental insurance and care will be provided for;
- how child support will be handled;
- visitation schedule; and
- where the children will go to school.
The court will make decisions based upon the needs of the children, and what is in the best interests of the children.
Factors in Custody Determinations
The court tries to minimize the negative impacts of the divorce upon the children involved. Unless there is reason not to, a court will assure children that they will continue to have frequent contact with both parents after the divorce. By law, Oklahoma courts must encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing when it is in the a child’s best interests.
Courts do not maintain a legal preference for or against joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or sole custody in any case. Rather, the court looks at the best interests of the child in making its custody determination. When it is in the best interests of the child, custody is to be awarded in a way which assures the frequent and continuing contact of the child with both parents.
In fact, a persistent failure to allow court-ordered visitation may be viewed to be not in the best interests of the child. Interfering with visitation can be grounds for the other parent to obtain a modification of a child custody order. A prevailing parent may be entitled to court costs and attorneys fees in connection with a motion for modification under these conditions.
Cooperation Counts in Custody Decisions
When making custody decisions, a court may look to which parent is more likely to allow the child or children frequent and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent. The court will not look to the gender of the parent when making a decision regarding whether that parent should be the custodial parent.
While education decisions are important in all families, a court may not have a legal preference or a presumption for or against private or public school or home-schooling in when making its custody decision.
Neither can a court rule against a parent seeking custody solely on the basis of absence due to military service. A court may not enter a final order modifying an existing custody order until that parent has completed their term of duty requiring separation from their child. However, temporary custody orders may be entered during that time.
Questions of custody, support, and visitation can be complex. Bring these questions to an experienced Tulsa child custody attorney.
Free Consultation with a Tulsa Child Custody Attorney
Wirth Law Office is dedicated to helping parents establish the best path forward when divorce rearranges family life.
For a free consultation with an child custody attorney in Tulsa, call 918-879-1681 or submit a question through this website.