A divorce can be an emotionally stressful time. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and confused by all the new terms, information and details. Here are answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions to give you a start on navigating your way through the divorce process in Oklahoma.
What is the difference between "joint" and "sole" custody?
Like most states, Oklahoma family law courts tend to favor "joint" custody, where both parents share in the major decisions that affect their children and both spend significant amounts of time with their children. As a matter of public policy, family law courts believe that children fare better when they spend time with both mom and dad. In a joint custody plan, the parents take equal roles in deciding where the child goes to school, the medical treatment he or she receives, whether the child participates in sports and if he or she attends religious services. Parents can still share equally in the decision-making process, even if the child spends more time with one parent over the other.
With "sole" custody, one parent makes all the decisions without involving the other parent at all. In a sole custody situation, the non-custodial parent typically receives “standard visitation.” The guidelines for standard visitation vary by county, but usually include every other weekend and one weekly overnight visit.
Oklahoma also allows other custody arrangements, such as “split custody,” where each parent receives custody of one or more children, and “bird-nesting”, which is a relatively unique situation in which the children stay in the family home and the parents rotate in and out to exercise their scheduled visitation time.
How do courts decide custody arrangements?
Oklahoma follows the majority of states, which use a “best interest of the child” standard to determine how custody should be awarded. Some of the factors courts consider when deciding what qualifies as a child’s best interest include his or her mental and physical well-being and if one parent is more or less likely to permit the child to have a relationship with a non-custodial parent. Oklahoma also allows children 12 and older to say where they want to live, although courts won’t base their decision solely on a child’s preference.
How much child support will I have to pay?
Child support in Oklahoma is calculated according to a mathematical formula created by the state. Factors that go into the calculation include:
- the parents’ incomes or how much they’re capable of earning
- the number of children
- how much time the child spends with each parent
- any other income the parents receive (like child support for children from other relationships)
- support paid for any children from other relationships
- health care costs, and
- child care costs,
The parent designated as the non-custodial parent becomes the “obligor” or the support-paying parent. The Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services features an online calculator you can use to get an idea of your support obligation.
If you and the other parent share parenting time, your child support obligation might be reduced. Under Oklahoma law, the non-custodial parent can receive a “shared parenting credit” if the child spends more than 120 nights per year at his or her house. If you qualify for the shared parenting credit, your child support is lowered by a percentage determined by your child support formula. The more nights the child spends with you, the more credits you receive.
How long will I have to pay child support?
Oklahoma law requires an obligor parent to continuing paying child support until the child turns 18, unless he or she is still in high school. For a child who is over 18 but still attending school, support must be paid until he or she graduates or turns 19, whichever occurs first. If you and the other parent agree in the parenting plan to continue support past the required age, however, Oklahoma courts will enforce that agreement if you decide to stop paying down the road.
What if my ex quits working to avoid paying child support?
If an Oklahoma family law court discovers that a child support obligor deliberately quit a job to get out of paying support, it has a couple different options. The court can use the obligor’s most recent income to calculate child support. In some cases, the court examines the obligor’s education, training and past work history to “impute” an income, which is an imaginary figure based on what the obligor is capable of earning.
Where can I get more information?
Please see our section on Divorce & Children for more articles and information on custody and support issues.
For additional information about child custody and support in Oklahoma, visit the Oklahoma Child Support Services web page on the Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services website. You can also contact them toll free by phone at (800) 522-2922.
If you have additional questions, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.