Monday, March 8, 2010

Thinking About Joint Custody?

In Oklahoma, legal custody is an arrangement that primarily defines which parent or person gets to make what decisions for a minor child.  Who spends what time with the child (visitation) is a separate matter.

Married Parents.  When parents are married they have de facto joint custody, that is, neither has more authority in decision making than the other.  Each parent can make any (otherwise legal) decision they want regarding the minor child; e.g. enroll him in this school as opposed to that school, etc.

Unmarried Parents.  When the parents were never married and paternity has not been established then (in Oklahoma) the mother has full custody until a court with the appropriate jurisdiction says otherwise.  Once paternity has been established by a court then it will also have the power to enter a custody order which is appropriate to the circumstances.  If DHS is instigating a child support action then often the court will not enter a custody order after paternity and support obligations are established.  It is up to the parties to ask the court to do so once the DHS judge is done with the case.

Divorcing Parents.  In a contested divorce the parents will often ask the Court to enter a Temporary Order.  The Court will often enter a child custody order that grants the parties temporary joint custody as an experiment to see how it works until the final hearing unless there is a strong objection by either parent with good cause (drug use, physical abuse, etc.) shown.  Visitation can also be split equally at this point.

Divorced Parents.  In this scenario a court has already entered a custody order, generally one of the following:

     a.  Sole Custody.  One parent has final decision making authority regarding the minor child.  Where will he go to school?  Ask the sole custodian.  Will he get braces this year?  Ask the sole custodian.

     b.  Joint Custody.  The parents have joint decision making authority regarding the minor child.  Where will he go to school?  The parents decide together.  Will he get braces this year?  The parents decide together.  What if they can't agree?  One of two things generally happens (depending on the Joint Custody Plan and the Court):  (1)  they go to mediation or arbitration, or; (2)  one parent gets to decide after conferring with the other in good faith.

     c.  Modified Joint Custody.  One parent decides about some things (e.g. education) and the other parent decides about other things (e.g. medical).  This is pretty uncommon, but some parents agree to it.

Final Note: the State of Oklahoma and the Courts therein prefer joint custody when that is a reasonable option.  Next time I'll talk about visitation and child support and their relation to legal custody (who the child actually spends their time with and who pays whom money).

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