What is custody?
There are two types of custody in Oklahoma: legal and physical custody.
Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about your child (under 18 years old). Some types of decisions included in the right of legal custody are:
- 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. 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.
In Oklahoma, the courts often award a parent "custody" without specifically saying "legal" or "physical" custody. When the court does this, it generally means that the parent has both physical and legal custody. If you have a custody order and are unsure about its meaning, we suggest talking to a lawyer – you can find legal help on our OK Finding a Lawyer page.
What are some advantages and disadvantages of getting a custody order?
There are many reasons some people choose not to get a custody order from a court. Some people decide not to get a custody order because they don't want to get the courts involved. They may have an informal agreement that works well for them or they may think going to court will provoke the other parent into seeking custody or visitation that they do not already have.
Getting a custody order can give you:
- the right to make decisions about your child; and
- the right to physical custody of your child (to have your child live with you).
One of the benefits to a custody order is that there will be a specific schedule as to who has the child at what times. However, it might give the other parent more visitation or custody rights than s/he is using now. Without a custody order, both parents (assuming paternity is established) likely have equal rights to the child. Therefore, it could be possible for the other parent to pick your child up and keep custody from you until there is a custody order that says otherwise. If you fear that the other parent would do something like this, you may decide to file for custody to try to prevent a situation like this. We strongly suggest talking to a lawyer about what is best in your situation. See OK Finding a Lawyer for free and paid legal referrals.
It is important to note that you do not need a custody order to file for child support. If you need child support, the Department of Human Services, Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) can help obtain a child support order. If necessary, the CSED could have an administrative hearing and determine paternity by order genetic testing of the mother, child and possible father. They will order that child support be paid to the parent that has present physical possession of the child even without a custody order. See the OK Department of Human Services website for more information.
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 that visits with your child 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 who specializes 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 amount 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 ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.
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 in your situation, please go to OK Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.