In most cases, divorcing parents want to spend as much time as possible with their children, and Oklahoma courts operate under the assumption that allowing a child to maintain contact with both parents is ideal for all involved. However, when there is uncertainty regarding whether remaining with a parent is truly in the child’s best interests, the courts must determine that person’s fitness to continue parenting. If you have been accused of being an unfit parent—or if you fear your former spouse is unable to provide for the best interests of your child—learn as much as possible about the factors required to declare a parent unfit; then, secure the guidance of an Oklahoma City child custody attorney to help you fight for what’s best for you and your child.
How Does Oklahoma Determine the Best Interests of a Child?
In all child custody cases, the courts must focus on the child’s best interests. All custody and visitation decisions must have the goal of providing the child with safety, physical and mental health, happiness, and the proper emotional development necessary to grow into a similarly healthy adult. As noted above, Oklahoma courts generally promote maintaining a relationship with both parents but must consider multiple factors to determine the ideal custody and visitation arrangement necessary to do so.
The Oklahoma Appeals Court has outlined several factors that any family court must weigh carefully when determining whether a particular custody decision is in the best interests of the child:
- The wishes of the child
- The physical needs of the child (both now and in the future)
- The emotional needs of the child (both now and in the future)
- Any existing emotional or physical danger to the child
- The plans outlined for the child by the parent
- The overall stability of the parent’s home
- Any acts or failures to act that may indicate the parent-child relationship is improper
- Excuses for the improper relationship
- Programs in place to help restore the parent-child relationship
- 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 an Oklahoma City 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 Oklahoma City 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 anticipate a child custody dispute, call the offices of Stange Law Firm at (855) 055-0595, or inquire online about an initial consultation for your Oklahoma custody case.