The first step in following Oklahoma divorce laws is to prepare, file, and serve a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. It must be filed in the county in which you and your spouse live.
A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must include the legal grounds or “reason” for divorce. These grounds or reasons can be divided into fault and no-fault grounds. Fault grounds include things such as adultery, while a no-fault divorce is grounded in incompatibility or irreconcilable differences.
How to Serve Divorce Papers in Oklahoma
All divorce papers filed by the petitioner must be served upon the other spouse, now called the respondent.
Most of the time a professional process server personally hands the documents to the person being served. The server notes the time and date of service of the papers upon your spouse on a proof of service that you can then submit to the court.
When that is not possible, you can have your spouse served by newspaper publication in the locality in which your spouse lives. You must have made a reasonable effort to have the papers personally served upon your spouse. Also, you must show those efforts in a declaration that you file with the court along with your request to have your spouse served by publication.
Filing a Response and Counterclaim in Divorce
How you respond to a divorce petition matters. Most of the time, filing an answer is sufficient.
But it is also possible to file a counterclaim. The worst thing a responding spouse can do is nothing.
Your spouse will have made certain requests of the court in the original filed petition. If you do nothing, the court may grant your spouse all that they request in the petition.
An answer “answers” or responds to each allegation made in the divorce petition, agreeing or disagreeing with each allegation.
A counterclaim raises new issues and allegations made against the other spouse. This can include such things as custody of the children, alimony, or the characterization or inclusion of property in the marital estate.
Automatic Temporary Injunction
The filing and service of an Oklahoma divorce petition or a petition for a legal separation or an annulment triggers an automatic temporary injunction issued by the court. It is mandatory, although certain parts of it may be waived. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 110.)
The automatic temporary injunction covers assets, children, support, and expenses. The order is meant to protect all parties until final orders can be put into effect.
It freezes all marital assets other than regular day-to-day expenditures and prevents either party hiding, selling, destroying, damaging, or using any marital property, retirement accounts, or insurance policies without the written consent of the other party or an order from the court.
It also prohibits parents from disrupting or withdrawing their children from school or daycare. The injunction also prevents both parties from hiding or secreting their children from the other party.
Waiting Periods and Quick Divorce in Oklahoma
It is possible to get a divorce in Oklahoma in as little as 10 days after filing the paperwork. However, there must not be any children involved. In addition, you and your spouse must agree on all the issues at the outset of the process. For couples with children and for couples who are unable to agree, the waiting time is longer.
For those with children, Oklahoma courts mandate a 90-day waiting period from the filing of the petition before issuing the final order. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 107.1.) This time is intended to give spouses with children a “time out” to see if they can work their differences out short of divorce.
Courts can waive the 90-day period if:
- neither spouse objects to the waiver, or
- both spouses have already attended marital counseling and the court determines, for “good cause shown” that it is unlikely the couple will reunite.
What is a Temporary Order in an Oklahoma Divorce?
Temporary orders are orders that the court puts in place early in the divorce proceeding to address pressing issues until they can be resolved via hearing or settlement. When these issues are resolved, the temporary order is rescinded.
These orders can be for such issues as who stays in the family home and who moves out, who drives what car, where the children will live, child support, and the like.
These temporary orders usually require a short hearing. Either spouse can request a temporary order by filing an application for a temporary hearing, obtaining a hearing date, and then having both the application and the hearing date served on the other spouse.
How Protective Orders Affect an Oklahoma Divorce
Protective orders, often called restraining orders, are issued by courts to protect a potential victim or to restrain a person from engaging in actions that are seen as potentially harmful to another person.
There are pluses and minuses to asking for one in a divorce. Families can be torn apart by a restraining order, and mutual protective orders can make the logistics of settling matters between the spouses much more difficult.
Restraining orders can also be wrongly used as a tool to gain leverage in a divorce, complicating the coordination of parental duties for both spouses.
Hearings in the Oklahoma Divorce Process
A hearing is a court proceeding in which some matter, whether a procedural matter or a substantive one, is presented and decided upon. Each county has its own local rules and requirements regarding hearings.
Because courts are congested, it is easier to get a hearing on matters of the utmost urgency such as domestic violence, child custody or support, or on matters that require less time to present. Hearings vary quite a bit from judge to judge. Some require formal presentations of evidence; some are less formal.
Matters often set for hearing include:
- child custody and support;
- a parenting plan conference;
- temporary orders;
- and scheduling and settlement hearings in contested divorces.
Parents and Oklahoma Divorce Laws
If one or both parents request joint or shared custody of the children, Oklahoma courts require that the parents submit a parenting plan to the court.
The plan must cover:
- where the children will live, and when (a parenting schedule);
- the handling of medical and dental insurance and healthcare;
- how child support will be handled;
- a visitation schedule; and
- school and other extracurricular activity locations.
The court reviews the plan and makes decisions based upon what it deems to be in the best interests of the child. The court can make changes to the submitted plan. It can also decide that joint custody is not in the best interests of the child.
Determining Child Custody and Child Support
When minor children are involved, courts must decide issues of custody, support, and visitation as part of that divorce proceeding.
When parents can agree on custody, the court will often order the custody as requested by the parents if it is in the best interests of the child. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 112.)
Physical custody pertains to where the child lives.
It is joint custody if the child resides part of the time with one parent and part of the time with the other parent.
If it is sole custody, the children live with one parent (custodial parent) and the other parent (non-custodial parent) retains visitation rights.
Legal custody (joint or sole) refers to the question of which parent makes the major decisions regarding the children.
Custody is awarded in a way which assures the frequent and continuing contact of the child with both parents. This often results in joint custody, but it can result in sole custody with frequent visitation as well. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 112.)
Child support in Oklahoma is determined by statutory guidelines. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 118.)
Both parents’ income along with other allowable necessities such as housing, food, daycare, and medical and dental insurance are plugged into a calculator to determine a guideline child support number.
Adjustments to the guideline calculation are possible in some cases and are usually based on the number of nights a child spends with each parent. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 118E.)
The Discovery Process
Discovery is the name given to a set of legal tools that enable a party involved in a court proceeding to “discover” or find out about certain facts that are important to the issues between the spouses. It includes tools such as the following:
- Interrogatories: written questions to which a party must provide written answers.
- Requests for production of documents and other evidence.
- Depositions: testimony taken under oath that is recorded, but occurs outside a courtroom.
- Requests for admissions that certain facts be admitted as truthful.
All of these tools can be used to establish facts and narrow issues as you move toward finalizing your divorce.
Settlement Negotiations and Mediation
Oklahoma divorce cases often have contested issues that must be settled, mediated, or litigated at a hearing or trial. Issues such as child custody, child and spousal support, and the division of marital property are all issues that may be subject to settlement negotiations or mediation.
The question is not will the issues be settled, but who will do the deciding. If you and your spouse can settle matters, you have much more control over the divorce than if a judge rules on the issues. Settlement negotiations between spouses is one of the tools used to resolve matters.
Mediation is another tool that can be very helpful in resolving outstanding issues. A mediator is experienced at bringing two sides together to resolve their issues. In that way, mediation resembles a more structured approach to settlement.
The Divorce Trial
When a spouse files a response to a divorce petition that contests issues and the court is unable to move the parties to resolution, those issues will be resolved in a trial.
Before a divorce trial, a court hearing will take place in which a judge will:
identify all the issues to resolve;
choose the format of the trial; and
determine evidentiary matters (what evidence will be admissible and inadmissible at trial).
A trial can last several days and can be quite expensive. Your attorney will need to prepare trial briefs, evidence, subpoena witnesses, and interview witnesses.
At the end of the trial, the judge will make rulings on the outstanding issues; thus, the matter can move toward a final decree of divorce.
The Oklahoma Divorce Decree
Once everything is settled in your divorce, you can get a divorce decree: the document that finalizes your divorce. It is signed by the judge and will include the date on which your divorce is final. It also may include other dates by which certain things will have to have been completed by the spouses, such as removal of personal items from the family home.
Because a divorce decree is an order signed by a judge, it is important that you read, understand, and abide by its terms. If you do not abide by its terms, your ex-spouse can bring a motion before the court to make sure that you do adhere to the court order.
It is critical that you get legal help while going through this process. The decisions you make now will affect your life for years to come.
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