Child Custody and Visitation in Oklahoma

Like other states, Oklahoma courts use the "best interests of the child" standard to decide child custody and visitation issues.

Like other states, Oklahoma courts use the "best interests of the child" standard to decide child custody and visitation issues. This article answers some common questions about Oklahoma custody and visitation rules.

For more information on Oklahoma family law issues, see our Oklahoma page. You can also find articles on custody and visitation in our Child Custody area.

Oklahoma Child Custody Laws

Child custody refers to all parental rights in the rearing of the child, including the right to direct a child's activities and to make decisions regarding the child's care and control, education, health, and religion. Oklahoma child custody laws differentiate between physical and legal custody.

Legal and Physical Custody

A parent with “physical custody” lives with the child. Parents can share physical custody or one parent may have sole physical custody while the other parent has visitation rights. “Legal custody” refers to a parent’s right to make major decisions on the child’s behalf.

A parent with legal custody can decide whether the child should receive certain medical treatment, where the child should attend school, and if the child should participate in a certain religious faith.

Fathers and mothers have the same legal rights to seek custody of their minor children. Ultimately, a judge’s decision will depend on the child’s best interests. This is true in both divorce and paternity actions.

Joint Custody

Parents with joint custody share in all or some of the aspects of physical and legal care, custody, and control of their children. Parents with joint legal custody will share in the upbringing of their kids and will make major decisions together.

Parents who share joint physical custody will both have substantial amounts of time with their child, although not necessarily equal. For example, your joint custody award may grant one parent 4 nights per week with the child, and the other parent 3 nights per week.

Sole Custody

One parent can be awarded sole physical and/or sole legal custody. As the name implies, sole custody gives only one parent legal or physical custody rights over the child.

A parent with sole legal custody can decide where a child will attend school without any input from the child’s other parent. A parent with sole physical custody primarily lives with the child, but the other parent (called the “noncustodial parent”) is still entitled to frequent visitation.

Split Custody

“Split custody” is a custody arrangement where each parent is awarded custody of one or more of the couple’s children. For example, in a split custody arrangement one parent might have custody of twin girls while the other parent has custody of the couple’s son. Both parents live with some of their children, and are entitled to regular visits with the children they don’t live with.

“Bird Nesting”

“Bird nesting” is a divided custody situation that provides additional stability for children. Under a bird nesting custody arrangement, children will live at one parent’s home full-time and the other parent will travel to that home for visits with the children. Bird nesting arrangements are uncommon and require substantial cooperation among parents.

How Does a Judge Decide Custody in Oklahoma?

A child’s best interests are at the heart of any Oklahoma custody decision. A judge will evaluate the child’s needs, the parents’ abilities to meet those needs, and all relevant circumstances, including the following factors:

  • each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • each parent’s physical and mental health
  • the child’s educational and emotional needs
  • either parent’s history of domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect
  • each parent’s overall stability
  • the child’s adjustment to school, home, and the community
  • the child’s relationship with siblings and extended family members
  • either parent’s dependency on drugs or alcohol, and
  • a child’s preference in certain circumstances.

In Oklahoma, there’s a rebuttable presumption against awarding custody, 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. See Ok. Stat. § 43-112.5 (2020).

An abusive parent probably won’t receive custody, but he or she will still be entitled to visitation (likely supervised visits) with the child. Limits on a parent’s visitation, such as supervised visits, continue until a court can be sure that the child is safe in that parent’s care.

It's important to note that a parent’s race or gender cannot be considered by a judge deciding custody. For instance, a judge can’t award custody to a mother over a father, based solely on her gender.

What Is Standard Visitation in Oklahoma?

Parents who can reach an agreement on custody may come up with any visitation schedule as long as it serves a child’s best interests. In cases where parents can’t agree, a judge will create a visitation schedule. The Oklahoma visitation form sets forth minimum visitation guidelines.

A noncustodial parent can have more visitation, but not less visitation than the minimum guideline amount. In most cases, this means a noncustodial parent will have one weeknight per week with the child and overnight visits every other weekend.

Visitation orders will spell out each parent’s holiday and summer vacation visits. Generally, parents will take turns having the children on major holidays. For example one parent might have the children over Thanksgiving while the other parent has the children over Hanukah or Christmas. Your visitation order will also discuss the mechanics of visitation such as transportation between visits.

Does a Child Have a Say in Custody Cases in Oklahoma?

Even when a child expresses a custody preference, the child’s best interests – not the child’s wishes – will control the outcome of the case. Oklahoma child custody laws provide some deference to the wishes of children age 12 or older.

Generally, 12 years old is considered an age when a child can express an intelligent, well-reasoned preference. A judge may still consider a younger child’s custody wishes, but they likely won’t be given much weight.

Why Do I Have to Attend Parenting Classes if I’m a Good Parent?

You may be a good parent, but when parents separate, it can drastically change their parenting relationship. It is important to minimize the effect of those changes on the children. Oklahoma law and local court rules require parents involved in a custody proceeding to attend a parenting education seminar.

The seminar will discuss, among other things, the impact of separate parenting and co-parenting on children, visitation and conflict management, stages of child development, and financial responsibility for children. The seminar is not designed for individual therapy. If you learn one thing at the seminar that helps you or your children, it will be time well spent.

Can I Modify My Custody Order?

Either parent can file a request to modify a custody order. The parent asking that custody be changed must show that there’s been a material change of circumstances since the last custody order and it would be in the child’s best interests to adjust custody.

Specifically, a parent’s remarriage or new job probably isn’t enough to justify a change in custody. However, if the custodial parent is in the midst of a major health crisis or one parent has relocated internationally, a custody change might be in order.

Can One Parent Relocate with the Child?

When one parent plans to relocate with the child, he or she must notify the other parent in writing at least 60 days before the proposed move, or within ten days of learning of the move. This rule applies when the parent is moving more than 75 miles away.

The notice should include the moving parent's new address and phone number, when the move will happen, reasons for the move, and a proposed schedule for sharing time with the children after the move.

If the other parent disagrees with the move, he or she can file an opposition to the custodial parent’s relocation. A judge will set a hearing on the relocation and review evidence to make sure the move is for a good reason and that it would be in the child’s best interests to keep custody with the moving parent.

Can a Parent Deny Visitation if the Other Parent Isn’t Paying Child Support?

No, a parent can’t withhold visitation based on the other parent’s failure to pay support. In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right. Failure to pay child support is not grounds to withhold access to children, nor does failure to provide access to a child excuse a parent's refusal to pay support.

If the court finds that the non-custodial parent's visitation rights have been unreasonably denied or otherwise interfered with by the custodial parent, the court may order make-up visits, posting of a bond which will be forfeited if visitation does not occur, attorneys fees and costs, or another appropriate remedy.

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