As a divorcing parent, you might have already anticipated what to do about child custody and child support. But if you are like so many other parents going through a divorce in Oklahoma, you may have almost overlooked visitation rules. In our final installment of this blog series about what parents should know when divorcing, our Oklahoma City family lawyers take a closer look at visitation and everything it entails.
Deciding Visitation to Benefit Your Child
Visitation, in contrast to custody, deals with the contact or time spent with the child by a parent. Like most of the decisions involving a minor child, visitation is determined by considering the best interests of the child. 43 O.S. § 111.1 states any court order for visitation of a noncustodial parent must provide a specified minimum amount of visitation and encourages “additional visitations of the noncustodial parent and the child in addition encourage[s] liberal telephone communications.”
The succeeding statute 43 O.S. § 111.1A further authorizes the development of standard visitation schedules for each respective county to assist parties in setting a visitation schedule. Each county’s schedule may be a bit different than the next, so it is always best to seek a copy of the standard schedule before agreeing to it within your custody order. Courts are not required to follow these standard visitation schedules, but it is common practice for the local standard schedule to be used when another schedule could not be agreed upon.
When Visitation is Not Granted
Oklahoma courts have historically committed to visitation being awarded unless there are exceptional circumstances, usually involving domestic violence or abuse, or extreme substance abuse, where visitation would pose a risk of serious harm to the child. (Bussey v. Bussey, 1931 OK 32, 296 P. 401.) The mere fact the two parents do not get along is not enough to deny visitation with the child to the other parent. For example, in Clark v. Clark, 177 OK 542, 61 P.2d 28, a mother had attempted to deny the father visitation and had accused the father of “extreme cruelty” and “gross neglect of duty”, but the Court found that the father still had a right to visitation due to a lack of any evidence that visitation with the father would be detrimental to the child. (Id at ¶3.)
The Court’s reluctance to deny a parent’s time with their child is best illustrated by Harmon v. Harmon, 1970 OK 150, 477 P.2d 383, in which the noncustodial parent was imprisoned, and the Supreme Court still found that visitation with the parent was proper. Oklahoma courts have long held that a parent’s right to a relationship with their minor child is a natural right. The Oklahoma Supreme Court in In re McMenamin, 1957 OK 67, 310 P.2d 381 stated: “A parent possesses certain natural rights with respect to his child whose custody is given to the other parent. The right to visit the child is one. This natural right should not be denied him unless the evidence conclusively shows that his conduct is of such nature that he has forfeited the right to access to the child.”
Underlying Importance of Visitation Schedules
In re McMenamin, 1957 OK 67, ¶ 9, 310 P.2d 381, 383, visitation between a parent and child is a fundamental desire in any divorce involving children. Time with children should rank at the top of any hierarchy of needs as it relates to your divorce. Your conduct before, during, and after your divorce will impact the visitation schedule, which is ultimately agreed or provided for by the court. With this in mind, you should make sure to consider your children when considering your choice of actions outside the presence of the court and consult with a qualified family law attorney regarding protecting your right to a relationship with your children.The Oklahoma City family law attorneys at Smith Simmons stand ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding visitation with your minor children. For decades of collective legal experience, we have been there for people in all sorts of difficult and high-stakes family law disputes. Let us provide you with the same caliber of service by calling (855) 973-8877 to request a consultation.