In many Oklahoma divorce cases, one of the biggest sticking points is which parent will get custody of the children. Some couples are able to work this issue out amicably and share custody, but many times the court must decide custody. If you’re worried about where your children will end up as you go through your divorce, it can help to understand the process that Oklahoma courts use to decide child custody.
Types of Custody
In Oklahoma there are several different forms of child custody. It is important to note that legal custody and physical custody are separate concepts. The first refers to which parent has the right to make important decisions on behalf of the child, while the latter refers to where the child physically lives.
Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody allows both parents to make decisions on behalf of their child. This includes decisions about health care, education, religion, and so on.
Sole Legal Custody: Under sole legal custody, only the court-appointed custodial parent is allowed to make decisions on behalf of the child.
Joint Physical Custody: With joint physical custody, the child spends a certain amount of time living or staying with each parent throughout the year.
Sole Physical Custody: Under sole physical custody, the child only lives with one parent. The other parent may have visitation rights, but the child does not live with the non-custodial parent for a substantial amount of time.
There are also some special custody situations in Oklahoma. These include:
Split Custody: Split custody refers to situations where a couple has multiple children, and each parent is awarded custody of at least one child.
Bird Nesting: Birdnesting is an unusual custody approach where the children remain in the same home full-time, and the parents rotate in and out of the home on a schedule. This can be a difficult arrangement, and is much less common than more traditional custody options.
How Custody is Decided
Oklahoma, like many other states, decides custody battles based on what they see to be the best interests of the child. This is a very broad standard that allows a great deal of interpretation, and also takes many factors into account. Some of the most important factors include:
- The relationship between the child(ren) and each parent.
- The mental and physical health of each parent, and how any health problems will affect their ability to provide proper care.
- The possibility of spousal or child abuse by either parent, including any past actions related to abusive behavior or tendencies.
- The criminal history of each parent, and the history of each parent of substance abuse or other potentially harmful behavior.
- Each parent’s potential ability to meet the needs of the child(ren), including the parent’s salary, living situation, the stability of their home and job, the safety of their environment, and the parent’s ability to make good decisions on behalf of the child.
In some cases, children are permitted to tell the courts where they would prefer to live. The amount of weight their decision carries depends on their age and on the preferences of the judge. Oklahoma law allows for some deference to be given to the choices of children aged 12 or older, but the court must first determine if the child is making an “intelligent choice” before using their preference as a factor in the custody decision.
The Custody Order
Once custody is decided by a court, the judge gives a custody order that binds each parent to the decision. Going against the custody order can incur strong legal penalties, which is why, if you want to change the custody arrangement, you must go through the court. A parent can petition to have their custody arrangement changed by filing a Motion to Modify Custody Order. However, you should know that the only way an Oklahoma court will change a final custody order is when the new circumstances you bring to the court will substantially impact the well-being of the child or children. Otherwise, courts tend to trust their own judgement and will stand by their decisions.
In order to ensure the best outcome in your custody case, you need an Oklahoma lawyerwith skill and experience. At the law firm of Bryan Stratton, our attorneys have years offamily law experience and knowledge that lets them achieve positive outcomes for their clients. To get the best representation in Oklahoma for your divorce or custody case, call the office of Bryan Stratton today at 405-601-4411. You can also follow us on Facebookor Google+ for news and updates.