What Are My Child Custody Options?

There are several forms of custody available under Oklahoma law.

Joint Custody – The term joint custody means the sharing by parents in all or some of the aspects of physical and legal care, custody, and control of their children. Parents apply to the court for a joint child custody plan. The plan sets forth what decisions concerning the children’s upbringing will be shared (and which, if any, will not be shared), and plans for time-sharing. The time-sharing schedule will vary with each family’s circumstance. It may look like a standard visitation schedule, share the children’s time approximately equally between parents, or any of an infinite set of variations.

Sole custody – In this arrangement, one of the parties is awarded exclusive control of decisions regarding the children’s welfare. This is usually accompanied by the right of reasonable visitation with the non-custodial parent. The term reasonable is obviously broad, flexible, and highly fact-dependent.

Split Custody – Under the Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines, split custody involves families “where each parent is awarded custody of at least one of their natural or legally adopted children.”

Birdnesting – This is a form of divided custody. The children stay in place, and the parents rotate in and out of the children’s home on a schedule. The parents may or may not share the alternate living quarters. It requires substantial cooperation between parents and is rarely successful.

How are custody decisions made?

The mantra for all custody determinations is to award custody “in the best interests of the children.” Obviously, determining the best interests of a child in a given case is highly fact-driven and case specific. Here are a few guidelines from statutes and cases.

Domestic Abuse, Mandatory Consideration – There is a rebuttable presumption against awarding custody, establishing legal guardianship or unsupervised visitation to 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 abuser.

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. The parent who proves superior skills in meeting the needs of the children will be most likely to prevail. Parents putting together a joint child custody plan will work together to meet the needs of the child. Each can play to the other’s strengths, and shore up the other’s weaknesses as part of co-parenting.

Moral Issues – Proof of immoral behavior must be connected to the possibility of harm to the child (nexus) to be relevant in a custody proceeding. Exposing the child to improper intimate sexual contact with a lover would provide such a nexus. Exposing the child to drug users in the home would provide such a nexus.

Race, Gender & Schooling – Race may not be considered in establishing custody. Oklahoma law specifies that there shall be no gender-based custody preference, and no preference for or against private school, public school or home schooling.

Visitation & Relationship With Other Parent – When it is in the best interests of a child, the court is to ensure “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. The court should consider, among other factors, which parent is more likely to allow frequent and continuing contact with the other parent.

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