Typically, divorcing parents want to spend as much time as possible with their children as possible, and Oklahoma courts operate under the assumption that the most ideal situation is when a child can maintain contact with both parents. However, in some cases there may be uncertaintiy regarding whether it is truly in the child's best interests to remain with one parent, the court must decide whether that parent is fit for custody.
If you have been accused of being an unfit parent or if you fear your former spouse is unable to provide a safe home for your child, it's important to understand what makes a parent unfit for custody.
How Does Oklahoma Determine the Best Interests of a Child?
In all child custody cases, the courts priority is on the child’s best interests. Every custody and visitation decision must have the goal of providing the child with a home that will promote their safety, physical and mental health, happiness, as well as the proper emotional development necessary to grow into a healthy adult. Generally, Oklahoma courts prefer when both parents can maintain a relationship with their child, but must consider the unique factors of each case to determine what the ideal custody and visitation arrangement.
The Oklahoma Appeals Court outlines several factors that family courts must weigh carefully in order to determine whether a particular custody decision will be in the best interests of the child. These factors include:
- The child's wishes.
- The child's physical needs.
- The child's emotional needs.
- Whether the the child is in danger.
- The parent's plans for the child.
- The overall stability of each parent’s home.
- Whether there are any acts or failures that could indicate the parent-child relationship is improper as well as excuses for the improper relationship.
- What programs are in place to help restore the parent-child relationship?
- What are the overall parenting abilities of the parent seeking custody?
Determining Parental Unfitness in Oklahoma
After carefully weighing the child’s best interests, Oklahoma courts will award child custody and visitation to the best person (or persons) available to provide for the child’s needs. In most cases, both parents are considered unless there is evidence that one of the parents is unfit. Since parental fitness is such a serious matter, with enormous implications for both the parent’s and the child’s future, the evidence must be both clear and convincing that it is not in the child’s best interests to remain in the care of the parent.
In Oklahoma, the law presumes parental fitness unless one of the following situations exists:
- Registered sex offender. During an Oklahoma City child custody dispute, the courts will determine if either parent has ever been convicted of a sexual offense. If a parent—or an individual living with that parent—is a registered sex offender, the court will presume that remaining with that parent is not in the child’s best interests.
- Conviction for crimes against children. Oklahoma family court will also determine whether either parent or an individual residing with them has been convicted of a crime against children. Offenses such as child sexual abuse, child pornography, incest, rape, child abuse, kidnapping, child endangerment, and more can lead to a declaration of parental unfitness.
- Domestic abuse. The Oklahoma legislature has recently enacted legislation that declares that if a parent, or a person living with that parent, has been convicted of domestic abuse within the past five years, that parent is likely unfit to care for their children. This assumption can be rebutted—particularly if the other parent has made false allegations to influence the outcome of the child custody hearing—but will require an Oklahoma City family law attorney’s assistance.
- Dependence on drugs or alcohol. Oklahoma courts are required to determine if either parent is dependent on drugs or alcohol. If dependence can be proven in court, the courts will presume remaining with that parent is not in the child’s best interests.
- Foreseeable risk of material harm. This category serves as a catch-all provision that allows the courts to cite any other potential risk that harm could come to the child due to a parent gaining custody. Defense against this provision is tricky and best handled by a skilled Oklahoma City custody attorney.
Seek the Help of a Norman Family Law Attorney
Whether your former spouse has alleged that you are an unfit parent or you harbor fears that they will not act in the best interests of your child, you must secure the services of an experienced Norman child custody attorney. With professional guidance, you can seek to protect your custody rights or identify clear and consistent evidence that your child should remain in your care.
If you are in a child custody dispute, call Redhawk Law at (405) 266-5072 to schedule an initial consultation for your Oklahoma custody case.