Oklahoma Child Custody Process: 7 Steps

In Oklahoma, the District Courts handle family law cases.

Getting a custody and visitation order gives you arrangements for decision-making responsibility and spending time with your children. Having these arrangements in writing protects your parental rights should the other parent try to interfere with them.

Parents can reach a custody and visitation agreement, which becomes a court order with a judge's approval. If parents can't agree, a judge decides custody and visitation after a trial.

Though you can represent yourself, hiring a lawyer is highly recommended, especially if you can't reach a custody agreement.

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Getting a custody and visitation order

The following summarizes what happens during a standard custody, divorce or legal separation case in Oklahoma. Your procedures could vary somewhat.

Some counties institute special processes. For example, in Tulsa County, contentious and complex cases go through the Case Management Docket.

Step 1: Petition

Filing a petition is how you ask the court for an order. Your lawyer will do this for you if you hire one.

Before seeking custody or visitation, the father of a child born out of wedlock must establish legal fatherhood. If not named on the child's birth certificate, the father can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity with the child's mother or, if there's doubt about his paternity, take a DNA test.

After filing your forms, ask a professional process server, sheriff or friend to serve the other parent with copies. You can't get a court date if you don't serve the other parent.

They will have 20 days to respond. If they do not respond, you may ask for a default judgment, which would grant everything you asked for without the other parent's input. The court may overturn it if the other parent files a motion to vacate.

You won't have to serve the other parent or appear in court if you file an agreement. The process will jump to Step 7.

Step 2: Temporary order hearing

If requested, you'll have a temporary order hearing about one or two months after filing a petition. In Tulsa County, this only happens if you're unable to agree on temporary orders at the parenting plan conference.

It can take a year or longer to get a final order. Temporary orders give you arrangements for custody, visitation, child support and more in the meantime. They're ultimately replaced by final orders.

At the hearing, parents can hand in an agreement on temporary arrangements or let the judge decide.

Step 3: Mediation

In some counties, mediation is a required part of the court process. During mediation, a trained professional helps you and the other parent talk through disagreements to figure out whether you can compromise and agree.

Oklahoma has Early Settlement Mediation programs that provide free mediation to parents. Alternatively, you can choose a private mediator.

If you reach an agreement, the court process will skip to Step 7.

Step 4: Discovery

A few months are dedicated to gathering and exchanging information needed to work toward an agreement or prepare for trial. This information includes many documents, photos and any evidence parents intend to present at trial.

Depositions — the out-of-court questioning of witnesses — are often part of discovery. A lawyer, or the parent if they're representing themself, prepares a list of questions for the witness to answer in front of a court reporter. The transcript can be used as evidence in court.

If the case has a guardian ad litem, they may investigate what serves the child's best interest. They'll interview the parents, the child, and other people with knowledge of the family. They'll write a report, and the judge will consider their custody recommendation when making a decision.

You may also use this time to take the Helping Children Cope With Divorce course. The judge cannot issue a final order in a divorce case until both parents complete the course.

Step 5: Pretrial conference

If you haven't reached an agreement by the six- or seven-month point in the court process, you'll have a pretrial conference. Here, the judge will set dates for your trial and iron out trial details like which witnesses are set to appear. You may also attempt to reach an agreement during the conference. If you're successful, you'll jump to Step 7.

Possible: In-chambers hearing

The judge may interview the child if the child is at least 13 or mature enough to give an informed opinion. The judge may ask them about their current situation and the custody and visitation arrangement they want. Parents or their lawyers may have access to a transcript of the conversation.

Step 6: Trial

About two to four months after the pretrial conference, you'll go to trial.

You or your lawyer will question witnesses and present evidence to support what you're asking the court to grant. The other side will have the opportunity to question you and your witnesses and present their own arguments and evidence.

The judge will make a decision immediately after the trial or sometime later.

Step 7: Final orders

Final orders spell out the terms agreed upon by parents or decided by a judge.

The custody and visitation order details who can make major child-related decisions and addresses parenting time. It usually includes a parenting time schedule. The order also includes a parenting plan if you were granted joint custody (and sometimes for sole custody).

You'll get a separate order for child support.

Divorce and separation decrees also include terms for the division of property, spousal support and other requested reliefs.

You'll receive a copy of the orders in the mail.

If a parent violates your orders, you can start a contempt action. It's recommended that you hire an attorney for help filing an Application for Contempt. For visitation issues, file a Request to Enforce Parent Visitation, which is easy to do on your own.

Resources to help you through the court process

The court process requires a lot of preparation. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you.

Our professional sources

These lawyers helped us understand Oklahoma divorce, custody and visitation. They can help you, too.

Kendall Johnson
Tulsa, OK

Kevyn Mattax
Oklahoma City, OK

Lawrence Goodwin
Oklahoma City, OK

Melissa Cornell
Tulsa, OK

Throughout your case

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Throughout your case, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts.

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