How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Oklahoma

Learn how Oklahoma judges consider domestic violence in deciding custody and visitation rights.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

Domestic violence can leave lasting scars on a family, especially if children are involved. If parents are arguing over child custody, the judge will consider any past incidents of domestic violence. Domestic violence may alter which parent receives custody of the child. If one parent has a history of violence, that parent may have restrictions placed visitation rights. In the most extreme circumstances, an abusive parent could lose parental rights altogether.

This article provides a general overview of the effects of domestic violence on child custody orders in Oklahoma. If you have questions after reading this article, contact an Oklahoma family law attorney for advice.

Getting Help for Domestic Violence

Domestic violence extends far beyond physical violence at home. Oklahoma law defines domestic violence as actual physical injury, sexual assault, or threats to physically injure or assault a household member. For purposes of the domestic violence law, a household member includes current and former spouses, roommates, and relatives by blood or marriage.

Seeking Help

Too many cases of domestic violence go unreported. If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, you can get help, including victim resources and shelter information, through the Oklahoma Coalition on Domestic Violence. You can also call the Oklahoma Safeline 24 hours a day, at 1-800-522-7233.

Seeking a Protective Order

If you are a victim of abuse and fear future abuse, a protective order may be necessary to ensure your safety. A protective order requires the abuser to stop abusing, threatening, or contacting you. It may also require the abuser to do other things, such as participate in counseling or vacate your home.

Instructions and protective order forms are available from Oklahoma Law Help. Additional resources may be available through Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma as well. A domestic violence protection order will be granted in your case if the judge determines that domestic violence has occurred and will likely occur in the future unless a protective order is in place.

Oklahoma Child Custody Orders

The safety and well-being of the child, also called the best interests of the child, is the primary consideration in any child custody case. Oklahoma recognizes two types of custody: legal custody (the right to make decisions on behalf of child) and physical custody (the right to have the child live with you). Learn more about Oklahoma Child Custody.

When Domestic Violence May Not Affect Custody

Oklahoma takes allegations of domestic violence seriously, especially if the violence was targeted against children. In deciding whether parents should share custody, a number of factors are considered, including the safety and stability of the child. A single episode of unreported domestic violence that took place more than ten years ago may not prevent an abusive parent from sharing custody. Ultimately, the best interests of the child, determined based on all of the facts and circumstances, are the basis for custody decisions. Although domestic violence may affect the judge's decision, it is just one of many factors weighed in a custody case.

When Domestic Violence May Alter Custody and Require Supervised Visitation

Oklahoma has adopted what is effectively a zero-tolerance policy regarding domestic violence charges that result in a conviction. Oklahoma law requires a judge to presume that joint or sole custody should not be awarded to a parent who has been convicted of domestic violence in the past five years. If a protective order is granted and the judge decides that sole custody to the non-abusive parent is in the child's best interests, a visitation order may include one or more of the following limits on the abusive parent's visitation:

  • Visitation with the abusive parent must be supervised by a designated third-party adult or agency.
  • Visitation exchanges of the child must occur in a protected setting.
  • The abusive parent must complete an intervention program for batterers certified by the Office of the Attorney General.
  • The abusive parent must avoid alcohol or controlled substances for 24 hours before visits with the child.
  • The abusive parent must complete a danger/lethality assessment by a qualified mental health professional.
  • The abusive parent may not have overnight visitation with the child until the parent has not exhibited domestic violence for a substantial period of time.

When Domestic Violence Can Result in a Termination of Parental Rights

In the most extreme cases of abuse, a parent may lose parental rights altogether. This means the parent may not visit with or otherwise parent the child. An Oklahoma court cannot terminate a parent's rights without clear and convincing evidence that continuing the parent's relationship is not in the best interests of the child.

A termination of parental rights is permanent and cannot be undone even if the abuse has ceased. Some circumstances that might result in a termination of parental rights include:

  • murder or attempted murder of any child
  • murder or attempted murder of the child's other parent
  • sexual assault of any child
  • felony assault resulting in serious bodily harm to the child or another child of the parents, or
  • felony assault resulting in serious bodily harm to the child's other parent.

If you have additional questions about the effect of domestic violence on custody and visitation rights in Oklahoma, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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