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Legal Information: Oklahoma

Custody

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Laws current as of July 3, 2024

How can paternity be established in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, paternity can be established in the following ways:

  • through a court process;1 
  • by signing an acknowledgment of paternity;2 
  • because the child was born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage ended; or
  • because for the first two years of the child’s life, the father lived in the same household as the child, and he openly acted as if the child was his.3

1 10 O.S. § 7700-201(3)
2 10 O.S. § 7700-301 
3 10 O.S. § 7700-204

What is custody?

Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your minor child. Generally, there are two types: legal and physical.1

Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child. Generally, these decisions include:

  • where your child goes to school,
  • whether your child gets surgery, and
  • what kind of religious training your child receives.

Physical custody is the actual physical possession and control of a child.2 In other words, it covers who the child lives with on a day-to-day basis. Some types of responsibilities with physical custody include:

  • making day-to-day minor decisions such as what your child eats, what time s/he goes to bed;
  • feeding your child;
  • bathing your child; and
  • taking your child to doctor’s appointments, school, etc.

1 OKLaw.org
2 43 O.S. § 551-102(14)

What custody options are there in Oklahoma?

Even though it’s Oklahoma’s policy to ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents,1 the judge could decide to give a child’s care, custody, and control to one of the parents (sole custody).2 If custody is awarded to one of the parents, s/he will be considered the custodial person. This is the person who has physical custody of a child more than one hundred eighty-two (182) days out of the year.3

If joint custody is awarded, the parents will share all or some aspects of their child’s physical and legal care and custody.When a court orders joint physical custody, the court must enter a “joint custody plan” that spells out in detail the rights and responsibilities of each parent. The plan should also address what should be done if the parents disagree on a major decision. For example, sometimes the court assigns (designates) one parent as the “tie-breaker,” or sometimes the court requires mediation. The judge can also order that the parents go to arbitration to resolve disagreements over the language interpretation in the order. If the parents refuse arbitration, the judge can deny joint custody.4

1 43 O.S. § 110.1
2 43 O.S. § 109(B)
3 43 O.S. § 118A(4)
4 43 O.S. § 109(H)

What is mediation?

Mediation is when a neutral third party sits down with the parents in a custody or visitation case and tries to help them agree on the custody arrangement without multiple court hearings. The parents are responsible for paying for mediation. 

In a divorce or child custody proceeding, an Oklahoma judge may require the parties to go to mediation. 

If domestic violence is involved, the judge usually will not require mediation. Be sure to tell the judge if the other parent is violent or abusive and you don’t want mediation. However, the judge can still require mediation in domestic violence cases if all of the following are true: 

  • Your mediator has training in the effect of domestic violence or child abuse on its victims; 
  • The judge believes you can negotiate with the abuser without there being an imbalance of power as a result of the abuse. This means the judge will try to decide whether or not you can reasonably get your voice and ideas heard by the abuser or if s/he may intimidate, frighten, or harm you in some way that would prevent you from feeling you can speak up; and
  • The mediation process is set up to protect against this power imbalance that generally comes with domestic violence.1

So, if your judge orders mediation and you are a victim of domestic violence, you may be able to argue that one or more of these conditions have not been met and that mediation will have a harmful effect on you.

1 43 O.S. §107.3(B)

What is a parenting coordinator and do I have to get one?

If you are involved in a divorce or custody case involving a minor child, the judge may appoint a parenting coordinator to help figure out the family issues and have both sides come to an agreement.1 The parenting coordinator will suggest to the judge what s/he thinks is best for the child and the terms you were all able to agree upon. If you object to the parenting coordinator’s report/suggestions, you can file an objection within ten days of receiving this report, which the judge will review.2 Even if the judge appoints a coordinator, the judge has the final say on custody, visitation, and child support.3

The judge may appoint a coordinator on his/her own, or you or the other parent could file a motion asking to appoint a parenting coordinator to your case. However, if you or the other parent objects to having a parenting coordinator appointed, the court will not appoint one unless:

  • there are a lot of disagreements between the parents; and
  • the judge thinks that the coordinator is in the best interest of the child.4

The court may decide that the parents have to pay for the parenting coordinator’s pay based on their income, or the judge can order a different amount per parent if the judge believes there is “good cause” to do so. The state will not pay for a parenting coordinator. If possible, the judge may appoint a coordinator to serve on a volunteer basis in cases where the judge feels that a coordinator is necessary and the parties cannot afford one.5

1 43 O.S. § 120.3(A)
2 43 O.S. § 120.4(A), (C), (D)
3 43 O.S. § 120.3(C)(2)
4 43 O.S. § 120.3(A), (B)(1), (B)(2) 
5 43 O.S. § 120.5

What are some advantages and disadvantages of getting a custody order?

There are many reasons people choose not to file for custody. Some parents decide not to get a custody order because they don’t want to get the courts involved. Some parents make an informal agreement that works well for them. Parents may be concerned that going to court will provoke the other parent. They may worry that if they start a custody case, the other parent will suddenly fight for, and may get, more custody or visitation rights than they are comfortable with.

If the other parent is uninvolved with the child now, he or she may become involved just because a case was started. Also, if the other parent fights for custody, the case may drag on for a long time, which can be emotionally and financially draining. The court will look into many aspects of your personal life that you may prefer keeping private such as past mental health issues, your criminal record, substance abuse issues, and details of your personal relationships.

However, getting a custody order from a court can give you certain legal rights. Getting a custody order can give you:

  • the right to make decisions about your child; and
  • the right to have your child live with you.

Without a custody order, it is possible that both parents may share these legal rights, even if one parent takes care of the child every day. However, if you file for custody, the other parent may also request these rights, and it will be up to the judge to decide. 

We strongly recommend talking to a lawyer who can help you think through whether filing for custody would be best for you, depending on the facts of your situation. You can find legal help by clicking on the Oklahoma Finding a Lawyer page.

Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order visits with your child to be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request, although this may depend on your situation.

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice before you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney specializing in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last based on the facts of your case. 

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain number of visits, or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent has more frequent or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even more custody rights. 

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best, please go to Oklahoma Finding a Lawyer for legal advice.