When children are involved, child custody is often the most hard-fought issue in a divorce—particularly when parents can’t agree on under whose roof the child will be happiest. In the best of all worlds, couples can put aside their disagreements and anger to find a solution that puts their child’s emotional and physical well-being and security at the forefront. If and when the courts intervene, they will always make a determination based on what is in the “best interest of the child.” Factors taken into account include the child’s relationship with each parent, which parent has been a primary caretaker, and even the child’s preference if he or she is of an appropriate age (typically, at least 12 years old in Oklahoma).
In order to be prepared for a child custody case, make sure you have experienced legal representation and follow these five sensible tips:
1. Make sure your home is safe
The housing situation in which your child will be living is a major factor in the best interest of the child standard. Courts will want evidence that your home is clean and safe. That includes installing child-proof latches on cabinets and electrical outlet covers, as well as ensuring that toxic cleaners and chemicals are securely out of reach, in homes with young children. Make sure that smoke detectors are working and that your child knows what to do in case of an emergency. Good housekeeping counts, so make sure your house is clean and organized. Safety also means home life is healthy, stable and as calm as possible. Having a live-in significant other is a red flag for the courts and could bring into question your judgment regarding your child’s safety and well-being.
2. Be proactive
Every decision you make has a consequence. Whether that consequence is good or bad is partly up to you. Put any ill-will you may harbor against your soon-to-be-ex aside and remember that the courts will always put the best interests of the child at the forefront. By thinking before acting—and being proactive rather than reactive—you have a better chance of getting a favorable outcome.
3. Understand Oklahoma child custody laws
Under Oklahoma law, both parents can lay claim to child custody until the courts rule otherwise. (In the case of unwed parents, this includes the father, if his name is on the birth certificate or until the courts rule otherwise.) A judge may grant child custody to one or both parents. Parents can request joint custody, and will have to submit a parenting plan that outlines:
- Physical living arrangements
- Medical and dental health care
- Religious choices
- Extracurricular and recreational activities
Parents must agree on the plan and make sure it is the right thing to do for their children. In this case, the judge is less likely to intervene in the arrangement. Ultimately, it boils down to what is in the best interest of the child, be it joint custody or sole custody. Your Oklahoma child custody attorney can help you navigate the process.
4. Dress appropriately
Common sense tells you that showing up to a court hearing wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt does not give a favorable impression. Be clean, dress conservatively, and be respectful. It’s advisable for men to wear either a suit or, at the very least, long pants with a belt, a tucked-in, collared shirt (and preferably, a tie), shoes, and socks. For women, it’s best to wear either a business-type dress or skirt that’s not more than 2-inches above the knee or long pants with an appropriate shirt or sweater and closed-toe shoes.
5. Bring proper documentation
Have copies of everything you need to support your case. That usually includes any evaluation reports, records of your child’s medical and dental care, school report cards, a visitation schedule/phone call log, any logs, or records of contact between you and your child or your child and their other parent. Of course, make sure you also have copies of anything the court has specifically requested. It may feel overwhelming, but it’s better to have too much information and documentation than too little. Also, make sure that whatever you bring is neat, legible, and organized.
Get skilled legal help from a knowledgeable Oklahoma family law attorney
You want to make sure that you have a happy, healthy, and loving relationship with your child after a divorce. We want to help make that happen. To learn more about how we can help you in your child custody case, please contact us online or call us at (405) 979-0179 to discuss your case with attorney RJ Harris.