Understanding child custody and visitation in Oklahoma

One of the most important yet confusing issues concerning parenting and divorce are rules on child custody and visitation. Each state has its own set of laws regarding custody, which can add to a parent's sense of befuddlement and misunderstanding regarding his or her parental rights. To best understand your rights as a parent in Oklahoma, it's important to understand the rules in our state.

In Oklahoma, parents have certain rights that include the right to seek custody of the child, seek visitation, be informed about the child's health and education, participate in decision-making about medical care and education and be informed and heard before a parental right is terminated. Along with these rights, parents have the responsibility to provide necessary support to the child.

Basic child custody and visitation rules in Oklahoma

There are two different types of child custody in Oklahoma and both are often referred to as "custody." Physical custody concerns with whom and where the child lives, and legal custody concerns a parent's right to make decisions regarding the child's education, religion and medical care. A parent may be awarded either sole or joint custody. Sole legal custody means one parent has the right to make legal decisions regarding the child's health care, schooling and medical care, and joint legal custody means both parents have the right to make legal decisions. Similarly, sole physical custody means the child predominantly lives with one parent and the other parent has visitation rights. Joint physical custody means the child resides with each parent for a substantial amount of time.

Parents may come to an agreement on custody on their own; however, the court must approve of the agreement. When parents are not able to agree to a child custody agreement on their own, the court will decide custody. In Oklahoma, a court will look at what is in the best interest of the child when determining a child custody order. A number of factors are used to determine a child's best interest and some of those factors include:

  • The quality of the relationship between and the child and parents
  • The mental and physical health of all parties
  • Which parent is most likely to provide a safe home environment
  • The wishes of each parent
  • Which parents has been involved with the child's schooling, health concerns and care
  • The stability of the child's home life
  • The parent's ability to provide
  • The parent's ability to spend time with the child

The court may also consider the child's preference but this factor is dependent on the child's age and the judge.

If both parents do not have joint physical custody of the child, a visitation plan will be created for the parent without physical custody. A visitation order requires the other parent to give time with the child. It should be understood that being a parent does not automatically give the parent visitation rights. Instead being a parent gives the right to seek visitation.

There are different kinds of visitation including weekend, holiday and summer visitations schedules, and the court may use a combination of the three to create a unique visitation schedule for the parent without physical custody. If a parent fails to follow a child custody order or visitation order, the violating parent may be found in contempt of court and face legal penalties.

Finally, a parent may request a modification to a final child custody order if material circumstances surrounding the order have substantially changed, such as a significant change in income.

An experienced family law attorney can help a parent understand his or her rights when going through divorce and ensure proper custody or visitation given the circumstances.