Preparing for a Custody Dispute

Often times, when parents decide to go their separate ways, minor children are involved. The issues of which parent is going to make major decisions for the children, i.e., legal custody, and how much time each parent spends with the children, i.e., physical custody, need to be resolved. If you find yourself in this situation, it would be a good idea to start gathering the following documents:

  1. Report cards, attendance records, and teachers’ notes.

  2. Cards, drawings, and sample photos.

  3. Documentation showing you have provided the children with food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessities as much as or more often than the other parent, i.e., calendars, receipts, notes setting appointments, attendance at school events, notes regarding day-to-day parenting, etc.

  4. Documentation of abuse or neglect, i.e. photos, police reports, DHS records, medical records, etc.

  5. Character evidence of third parties the other parent exposes the children to, i.e., social media posts and photos, profiles on dating websites, pending lawsuits, background checks, etc.

  6. Relevant text messages and e-mails to and from the other parent.

  7. Each parent’s work schedule.

  8. Medical records if the child has a condition that is relevant in determining which parent should make medical decisions and how much time each parent should spend with that child.

Client Expectations During Divorce Litigation

Divorce litigation is overwhelming, and everyone copes with the stress differently.  Some clients take the litigation in stride; some allow the litigation to consume their every thought; and some clients bury their heads in the sand and come up for air when they think the storm is over.  With that said, below are some tips on client expectations during divorce litigation:

1.  Know your and your spouses finances.  Be able to summarize income from all sources and identify all assets and debts.

2.  Prepare a realistic monthly budget.  This budget should include your and your children's expenses.

3.  Obtain copies of all financial and property records.  This may include bank statements, deeds, titles, tax returns, business records, life insurance policies, credit card statements, loan documents, appraisals, etc.

4.  Open your own bank account in case of an emergency and/or your spouse cuts off access to funds.

5.  Keep a journal of important events, as well as the dates and times you and your spouse spend with your children.

6.  Communicate with your attorney and do not procrastinate.  If you are difficult to reach and/or you wait until the last minute for everything, it stalls the case and reduces your attorney's trust in you.  It also sends the message that you do not think your case is important.

7.  Be truthful and tell the whole truth.  When you are not completely truthful, it may cause your attorney to waste time and resources on the wrong theory or strategy, and it may give your attorney a false impression of the strength of your case.

8.  Be prepared to provide proof to support your allegations.  It is not what you know.  It is what you can prove.

9.  Change your passwords for all accounts, especially the e-mail account you use to communicate with your attorney.

10.  Be aware that anything you post on social media or on a public forum may be presented as evidence in your divorce litigation.

11.  Listen to your attorney's advice.  You did not hire an attorney to tell you what you want to hear.  You hired an attorney to deliver the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

Are You Ready for Divorce?

Divorce is scary; it's exhausting; and it's expensive.  Divorce means your world, as you know it, is about to completely change.  Hopefully, this change is for the better.  However, the journey to acquire a new life, filled with peace and happiness, will, unfortunately, come with many challenges.

Before you decide to proceed with divorce, you should consider the following:

-Do you have a support system in place?  During your divorce proceeding, you'll need a source of support and comfort.  Family and close friends are great sources for this.  If you don't have any family nearby and/or are new to a particular area, check out divorce support groups in your community.

-Do you have a therapist?  This person should be another source of support and comfort.  If you are struggling emotionally prior to filing, consider starting therapy before the divorce process begins.  

-Identify people who are a source of stress.  There is always that one person who provides unsolicited advice or questions your decision-making.  Often times, these people mean well, but in actuality, they are making the process more overwhelming for you.  On that same note, every family law case is like a snowflake, i.e., no two are the same.  The fact that someone obtained a particular outcome in his or her case does not mean that your case will or should have the same outcome.  Being in a different county, having a different judge, having a different fact, having the absence of a particular fact, etc. all impact the outcome of a case.

-Aside from divorce, are you about to experience a life change?  A job change, loss of a loved one, etc. can affect your ability to focus on the divorce proceeding and may cloud your judgment.

-Are your children currently in a vulnerable state?  If your children recently changed schools, are dealing with the loss of a friendship, are preparing for testing, etc., dealing with divorcing parents may be particularly disruptive.

-Do you know your and your spouse's finances?  Your attorney will want to know your assets and liabilities.  Find out if you have access to this information.

-Understand that maintaining two households is more expensive than maintaining one.  If you are unemployed, start looking for employment, or, at the very least, have a plan to become self-sufficient.  If you are employed, is your job secure, or are you at risk of being laid off?  

-Are there any big expenses on the horizon?  Are life insurance premiums due?  Does the house need a new roof?  Does your spouse's car need new tires?  Before funds are paid for these expenses, consult with an attorney.

-Do you have access to funds?  If so, open up a separate bank account in your name only and place enough funds in the account to retain an attorney and to pay your expenses for a couple of months.  Do not drain any joint accounts.  On the other hand, if your spouse has cut off access to marital funds, you'll need to file as soon as possible to obtain relief from the Court.

-Is retirement on the horizon?  Retirement income is likely to be significantly less, which affects support obligations.  Also, if you and your spouse have been married for at least ten years, when you claim your Social Security benefits, you may claim based on either your own employment record or that of your former spouse.  

-How is your health and your spouse's health?  Do your health issues flare up when under stress?  Do you need assistance while managing your health issues?  Have your health issues rendered you disabled or impacted your employment?

-Do your children have specific health and/or educational needs?  If so, are both you and your spouse able to manage those needs?

-Who covers your health insurance?  If you are covered by your spouse's employer-sponsored health insurance plan, this coverage will end after your divorce is granted.  Although COBRA coverage may be available, it can be very expensive.

-Are you anticipating relocation of your residence?  If so, and you have minor children, this issue should be addressed during your divorce proceeding.

-Is saving your marriage a possibility?  Have you tried couple's therapy and/or individual therapy?

Grandparent Visitation Rights

In many families, grandparents are very important and special people in children's live.  The bond between grandparents and grandchildren can be positive, strong, and invaluable.  The existence of such a bond often leads grandparents to question what rights they may have regarding visitation with their grandchildren.  The answer to that question depends on which state you reside in. 

Oklahoma's grandparent visitation statute, 43 O.S. 109.4, provides guidance for its residents.  More specifically, a grandparent may be granted visitation with an unmarried, minor child if (1) it is in the best interest of the child; (2) there is a showing of parental unfitness or there is a showing of clear and convincing evidence that a fit parent is not acting in the child's best interest, and the child will suffer harm or potential harm if grandparent visitation is not granted; and (3) the intact nuclear family has been disrupted. 

The statute goes on to state that the intact nuclear family has been disrupted when the following has occurred: (1) divorce, legal separation, or annulment proceedings have been initiated, and the grandparental relationship existed prior to the date of filing; (2) divorce, legal separation, or annulment orders have been entered; (3) the grandchild's parent is deceased, and the grandparental relationship existed prior to death, unless death of the mother was related to birth complications; (4) custody of the grandchild is given to someone other than the grandchild's parent; (5) the grandchild's parent is incarcerated, and the grandparental relationship existed prior to incarceration; (6) the grandparent had custody of the grandchild, and there exists a strong, continuous grandparental relationship; (7) the grandchild's parent has abandoned the other parent for more than one year, and there exists a strong, continuous grandparental relationship; (8) the grandchild's parents have never been married, are not residing in the same household, and there exists a strong, continuous grandparental relationship; and (9) a parent's parental rights have been terminated, and there exists a strong, continuous grandparental relationship. 

If you are being prohibited from seeing your grandchildren, and you believe you are entitled to visitation with your grandchildren, contact our office for a consultation and legal representation.


How to Deal With Parental Alienation or an Uncooperative Parent in Litigation

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for custody cases to involve a parent who refuses to reasonably communicate, co-parent, and even alienate the children from the other parent.  Below are some strategies to deal with parental alienation or an uncooperative parent in litigation:

  • Use discovery to obtain more information regarding the parent's allegations.

  • Request that a custody evaluation be performed.

  • Request that a Guardian Ad Litem be appointed for the minor children.

  • Request that both parents complete a comprehensive parenting course.

  • Maintain an even temper, be the more reasonable and logical parent, and keep your emotions under control.  Never retaliate, thereby adding to the problem.

  • Keep a journal of key events, describing what happened and when.

  • Always show up at scheduled visitation exchanges and keep scheduled telephone visitation, even if you know your children will not be there or will not answer the phone.

  • Make the most of the time you do have with your children and never discuss the litigation with them or speak poorly of the other parent in the children's presence.

  • Do not violate any court orders and do not withhold court-ordered child support.

  • Document all communications with the other parent, whether by text, e-mail, or a recorded conversation in which you are a participant.