When the end of a relationship or divorce is imminent, most parents’ primary concern is who will receive custody of their children. In many cases, parents can develop a parenting plan that determines custody and visitation arrangements before divorce proceedings occur. However, if an agreement is not possible, a judge must issue a custody order in Oklahoma family court.

When child custody disputes arise, both parents and sometimes even the child themselves often have strong feelings about how custody arrangements should proceed. In this situation, procuring the services of a skilled Oklahoma City child custody attorney is essential to ensure you can effectively advocate for your own rights as well as what is best for your child. However, it is important to note that while your child may have expressed the desire to choose where they want to live, their wishes are not the only determining factor in your child custody case.

Your Child’s Best Interests

First, when a judge is determining the ideal child custody and visitation arrangements in Oklahoma, they must consider the child’s best interests above all else. This focus on the child’s best interests means that the judge will make all decisions to preserve the child’s safety, security, physical and emotional well-being, mental health, and eventual emotional development into a functional adult.

In Oklahoma, as in other states, family courts operate under the presumption that maintaining a loving relationship with both parents is likely to be in the child’s best interest—and custody and visitation decisions are made with this in mind. Oklahoma statutes have set forth multiple guiding factors to help the courts determine a child’s best interests, including:

  • The child’s wishes or parental preference
  • Any special needs the child may have
  • Potential physical and emotional well-being of the child
  • Mental and physical health of the parents
  • The stability of the home environment
  • Potential unfit parent qualities, including a history of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, substance abuse, or crimes against children
  • Continuity of schooling, neighborhood, and relationships

Do Oklahoma Courts Consider Child Preference?

It is important to note that the courts are not limited to the above factors and will use a holistic approach to determine the custody arrangement in the child’s best interests.

For that reason, while a child’s preference is certainly a factor in determining the child’s best interests, preference is far from the only criteria considered for the ultimate custody and visitation order.

The courts will review all possible contributors to the child’s best interest, especially as they relate to the current circumstances experienced by both parents, the child’s relationship with each parent, and that parent’s ability to provide for the child’s ongoing safety, health, and happiness. When all other circumstances are roughly equal, or a child’s best interests are not obviously met by one parent over the other, an Oklahoma court may consider the child’s wishes. However, it is important to note that even if the court determines that it is in the child’s best interests to express parental preference during child custody proceedings, the judge is not obligated to abide by the child’s wishes.

What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With In Oklahoma?

In general, Oklahoma courts will not consider a child’s parental preferences until at least age 12. However, age is not the only factor the judge will consider when hearing parental preference. The child’s emotional intelligence, maturity, and reasoning are often much more important to a judge’s evaluation of the child’s wishes.

The courts will weigh the preferences of a mature child who has shown the judgment and emotional intelligence necessary to evaluate their own best interests more heavily than those of an immature child with an illogical opinion. For example, a judge would be likely to consider the wishes of a child who expresses a desire to live with one parent due to their close relationship and proximity to a school. However, the same judge would likely give little weight to a child’s wishes who desires to live with a parent simply because they have lax household rules. Overall, an older child who can express a mature, reasonable preference stands a better chance at having their preferences considered.

Contact an Oklahoma City Child Custody Attorney

While your child’s parental preference is certainly important to them, Oklahoma courts will ultimately issue a child custody and visitation order in the child’s best interest. Securing an Oklahoma City family law attorney’s services can enable you to present your contributions to your child’s best interest and ensure your child custody hearing results in the best possible situation for you and your family. For more information about parental preference or child custody, contact Stange Law Firm online to request an initial consultation, or call (855) 055-0595.