When an Oklahoma divorce proceeding involves children, the court and the parties’ attorneys, as officers of the court, take great care to ensure that the best interests of the children are preserved. Children do not have the legal standing to protect their best interests and so it lies with the court, counsel and parties to do so. At the Mauldin & Bennett, PLLC, our Oklahoma divorce and child custody attorneys know from experience that the decisions made by the Oklahoma family court have a lifelong impact on the children of divorce.
In the Oklahoma courts, child custody refers to the right to care and oversee a child’s daily activities. This care giving includes decisions pertaining to the child’s and control, education, health and religion. Through the years, the court rules have changed from one extreme to the other. Prior to the 19th century, paternal preference was the general rule. With the feminist movement, the preference moved to the mother under the doctrine of the tender years.
Today most state courts, including Oklahoma, presume that both parents are equally capable of caring for the children and greater weight is given to the primary caregiver doctrine wherein judicial preference for child custody is given to the parent who up until the divorce proceeding was the child’s primary caregiver. This also falls in line with the best interest doctrine, which strives to maintain the status quo in the parent-child relationship and to keeping both parents involved in at least some degree in the child’s life. The best interest looks to which parent is better suited in maturity and ability to care for the child in an environment conducive to the child’s long term development.
Oklahoma Custody Options
Under Oklahoma law, there are several custody options and one will be the right fit for your family in its new arrangement of a bi-nuclear family. These options include:
- Joint custody – Joint custody in Oklahoma is shared legal custody of the children
- Sole custody – Sole custody in Oklahoma is when one party has control of the decisions regarding the children’s welfare.
- Split custody – Under the Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines, split custody is where each parent is awarded custody of at least one child.
- Birdnesting – Birdnesting is a fairly new concept in Oklahoma wherein the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out.
Oklahoma Divorce and Custody Decisions
When determining what is in the best interests of a child, there are these considerations:
- Domestic abuse, mandatory consideration – This is common sense. Custody, legal guardianship or unsupervised visitation is not recommended for registered sex offenders, anyone living with a registered sex offender, convicted child abusers, persons living with a convicted child abuser, alcohol or drug-dependent persons, domestic abusers, or persons living with a domestic abuse.
- Relationship history – The primary proof for an initial award of sole custody involves the relative capacities of the parties to meet the parenting needs of the child.
- Moral issues – Proof of immoral behavior must be connected to the possibility of harm to the child to be relevant in a custody proceeding. Exposing the child to improper intimate sexual contact or drug users in the home are examples.
- Race, gender and schooling – Race may not be considered in establishing custody.
- Visitation and other parent relationship
When it is in the best interests of a child, the court is to ensure “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents.
The Child’s Voice in an Oklahoma Custody Decision
In 2002, the Oklahoma legislature passed a law to provide some deference to the wishes of children age 12 or older. However, the judge has discretion to determine if the best interests of a child would be served by the child expressing a preference.
Tulsa Divorce and Child Custody Lawyers
You can rest assured that the Law Firm will always keep the best interests of your children in mind when advising you of your legal options pertaining to a custody agreement. These are matters that are not taken lightly by any officers of the court.