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Frequently Asked Questions

Divorce: Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions

Divorce Lawyer Oklahoma: Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions Child Custody

Divorce Lawyer Oklahoma Perspective: 15 Must-Know Court Tips You Can Start Using Today

Guardian Ad Litem: How Set your Custody Case up For Success

How-To Guide: Assembling Witness List for Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody Matters.

How-To Guide: Assembling Trial Exhibits for Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody Matters.

Divorce: Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Question

As a divorce lawyer in Oklahoma for nearly a quarter of a century, I am asked many questions concerning divorce and family law in general. I have assembled a collection of the most frequently asked general divorce related questions. This will be the first in a series of Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions covering divorce, paternity, custody, and family law topics.

Where will my divorce be filed?
Do I Have to Prove Fault to be Granted a Divorce in Oklahoma?
Is there a Minimum Waiting Period for a Divorce in Oklahoma?
What is the Automatic Temporary Injunction?
If My Divorce is Uncontested, Can We Use One Lawyer?
Can I Sue the Homewrecker That Broke Up My Marriage?
Will I Have to Pay Alimony?
What is the Difference Between Separate and Marital Property?
Will The Court Order Mediation?
How Do Attorney Fees Work In a Divorce?

Can I File for Divorce in Oklahoma?

To file a divorce in Oklahoma, you must have lived in Oklahoma for the last six months. The divorce is filed in the county where you have resided for the previous thirty days.

For people who have lived in Oklahoma for a long time, jurisdiction is pretty straightforward. However, matters can become complicated when children are involved and there has been a recent move to or from another state. Always consult with a divorce lawyer in Oklahoma to review your case and identify any jurisdictional issues.

Do I Have to Prove Fault to be Granted a Divorce in Oklahoma?

 Oklahoma divorces are granted on the grounds of incompatibility. While the statute does list other grounds for divorce, Oklahoma is a no-fault state.

Is there a Minimum Waiting Period for a Divorce in Oklahoma?

 When there are no children, there is a ten-day waiting period after filing the Petition. When there are children involved, there is a waiting period of ninety days. If there are contested issues

What is an Automatic Temporary Injunction?

 The Automatic Temporary Injunction (ATI) is a court order effective the moment a divorce is filed. You must be familiar with and understand these provisions because a violation could land you in contempt of court.

The Automatic Temporary Injunction is addressed in 43 O.S. § 110. I have written an article that discusses the ATI in further detail. Here is a link:  

I strongly suggest that you review this article and ensure that you remain in full compliance. If you have any questions, always ask BEFORE you make any legal decisions or take any action.

If My Divorce is Uncontested, Can We Use One Lawyer?

 Absolutely not!

I hear stories about both parties in a divorce matter visiting an attorney (or even worse, a paralegal) who promises to help them do a quick and cheap divorce. Do not fall into this trap.

If there is an attorney involved, that attorney represents one person or the other. The attorney is either his attorney or her attorney. There is no such thing as "our" attorney in an adversarial proceeding.

If you and your spouse meet with an attorney and you are unsure which one of you the attorney is representing, that means you are not the client. So, why is this an issue if you agree on everything? Because that attorney is not trying to protect your legal interest or ensure you get a fair deal. That attorney cannot answer your legal questions or give you legal advice. Instead, that attorney is ethically obligated to represent their client's best interest. So, if you are not the client, this means the attorney is looking out for the other party, not you.

Here is the bottom line: There is no legitimate way for one attorney to give legal advice to or represent both the Petitioner and the Respondent in a divorce case. You need to hire your own divorce lawyer in Oklahoma, even in straightforward uncontested matters.

Can I Sue the Homewrecker That Broke Up My Marriage?

 No. Oklahoma abolished alienation of affections and similar torts back in 1976. There are a few states that still allow such actions, but not in Oklahoma.

Will I Have to Pay Alimony?

 Alimony is not automatic and does not apply to every case. In addition, unlike child support, there is no specific formula or computation to calculate support alimony. Instead, alimony is based on the need of the recipient and the ability of the other spouse to pay.

The purpose of support alimony is to equalize the economic impact of divorce, rehabilitate the spouse with the diminished earning capacity, and cushion the transition of the parties from married to single life.

Because alimony hinges on the discretion of the court, it is a very subjective standard. The court must decide if alimony is appropriate and, if so, how much should be ordered. Therefore, the only way to know if alimony will be a factor in your case is to evaluate the relevant facts of your situation.

What is the Difference Between Separate and Marital Property and Debt?

 Property and debt fall into two categories: Separate and Marital. The simple way to think about this is things will be classified as either: his, hers, and ours.

Separate property is owned before the marriage, acquired by gift or inheritance, or acquired after the parties separated. Separate property is not subject to equitable division in a divorce.

Marital property is the property acquired during the marriage. It makes no difference which spouse's name is on the title. It is marital property acquired during the marriage and will be subject to equitable division in a divorce.

Separate debt is debt that was owed before the marriage or acquired after the parties separated. Separate debt is not subject to equitable division in a divorce.

Marital debt is debt acquired during the marriage. So again, It makes no difference which spouse's name is on the debt. It is marital debt acquired during the marriage and will be subject to equitable division in a divorce.

Sometimes it is not so simple to classify property. For example, what begins as separate property can become commingled during the marriage and become marital property. As with all things family law, the facts matter. If there is a possible commingling issue in your case, I will help you sort this out and explain options.

 Will The Court Order Mediation?

 If you have a contested case, meaning you have not already reached an agreement, the court will order mediation. Mediation is without question one of the most powerful but often underappreciated tools available to you in a divorce or custody case. Not only can mediation minimize your legal expenses, but it also gives you a say in the outcome of your case.

Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize the importance of mediation, leading to a half-ass effort and a failure to prepare appropriately. If you go to trial, the JUDGE makes the decision. In Mediation, YOU get to decide

I feel that mediation is so pivotal that I have taken the time to put together a guide of must-know mediation tips. I share these tips with my clients to help prepare for mediations, and now I will share these tips with you. Here is the link: Get the Most out of Divorce Mediations in Oklahoma.

How Do Attorney Fees Work In a Divorce?

There are two common billing structures used by the divorce lawyer in Oklahoma: The Flat Fee and Hourly billing systems. My goal is to customize the billing structure to each case to ensure a fair deal for both the client and the attorney.

Hourly Fee Structure:

Hourly billing means the attorney charges an hourly rate which is dependent on the reputation, skill, and experience of the attorney. New attorneys have a lower hourly rate. Attorneys that have been practicing law for a long time have a higher hourly rate. The attorney will provide, and the client should expect a written Representation Agreement that details all the specifics of this arrangement, so it is clear from the start how you will be billed for the work done on your case.

A retainer is paid at the start of the case and deposited into the attorney's trust account. As the attorney completes work on the case, the funds are moved from the trust account and are collected by the attorney. Typically, the client is required to maintain a minimum balance in the trust account. So, as work is completed and the trust account balance decreases, the client deposits into the trust account to maintain the minimum balance. Upon completing the case and after the final bill is paid, any unearned trust account balance is returned to the client.

Hourly billing is the best fit when it is difficult to predict how much work will be involved.

Flat Fee Structure:

In a flat fee structure, there are no hourly charges for time spent on the case. Instead, the client pays a set amount covering a specified period no matter how many expended hours. Thus, the client knows the minimum and the maximum their case will cost at the start of the case.

I structure my flat fee agreements into three phases, with a set amount charged for each phase. If a case is settled in Phase 1, the client does not pay for the remaining phases.

I typically use a flat fee structure when I feel confident I can predict how much work will be involved, and there is a good chance of settling the case quickly. On the other hand, a flat fee is not the best fit if I anticipate discovery, contested issues, contested hearings, or am unsure how cooperative the other party may be.

After discussing your case and learning the particular facts, I can tell you whether a Flat Fee or Hourly Structure is most appropriate for your specific case. The amount of attorney fees always boils down to one thing—how much work your case will require to adequately represent you and give you the best shot at achieving your goals.

 Follow my Facebook page and Oklahoma Fathers Divorce and Custody Blog for
more information concerning family law matters.

Pete D. Louden
Attorney at Law
Louden Law, PLLC
405-919-8355
petelouden@loudenlaw-pllc.com


Divorce Lawyer Oklahoma: Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions Child Custody

What is the difference between custody and joint custody?
Am I entitled to Joint Custody?
How can I increase my chances for Joint Custody?
If the parents were never married, who has custody?
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
Will the court consider the custody preference of our child?
Is it possible to change a custody order?
Do I have to pay child support if my visitation is denied?
If we have  Joint Custody, is there still child support?
What if my spouse wants to leave the state with our child?

What is the difference between Custody and Joint Custody?

As a  divorce lawyer in Oklahoma for many years, many people ask me to explain the difference between custody and joint custody. When we talk about custody, we are talking about decision-making. Joint Custody requires the parents to discuss and jointly decide issues concerning the child. One parent will be designated the primary and final decision-maker. If, after discussion, the parents cannot agree, the primary has the authority to make the decision.

When custody is awarded to one parent, the custodial parent makes the parenting decisions. There is no duty to first discuss with the other parent. Oklahoma law does not favor one type of custody over the other. Custody is awarded based on what the court believes to be in the child's best interest. Every situation depends on the specific facts of that case.

It is important to note that visitation is separate from custody. Visitation, or time split, has to do with the amount of time each parent spends with the child while custody deals with decision making.

Am I entitled to Joint Custody?

There is a common misconception that every parent is entitled to Joint Custody. The reality is that the statutes state that "[t]here shall be neither a legal preference nor a presumption for or against joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or sole custody." 43 O.S. § 112.

One way to look at this is that Joint Custody is a reward for parents willing to work together and co-parent their child. If one or both parents cannot or will not do this, it is not a Joint Custody case. Most likely, the court will award custody to one parent, and that will be based on the child's best interest.

With that said, Oklahoma does have a Policy for Equal Access to Minor Children found in 43 O.S. §110.1. There are significant changes to this statute that become effective November 1, 2021.

Under the old version, the statute only referenced temporary orders. There was no mention of final orders. The new version of the law has expanded to include both temporary orders and final orders. While this is a step in the right direction, I don't think it goes nearly far enough.

The same rules still apply. The court must find that such an arrangement is in the child's best interest and that the parents can co-parent. For a more detailed discussion of this issue, please review this blog post.

How can I increase my chances for Joint Custody?

If you seek Joint Custody, you must convince the court that the parties can work together and co-parent. Therefore, if you want Joint Custody, your primary mission should be to establish evidence that you can co-parent.

Examples of how to help yourself:

Dad wants to do visitation exchanges at 8:00 p.m. Mom wants to exchange at 6:00 p.m.

Mom wants to sign the kids up for ping pong, and Dad wants to sign the kids up for soccer.

Dad wants to enroll the child in virtual school, and Mom wants the child to attend a brick-and-mortar school.

What should you do? Simple, you talk about it and figure it out. Neither of you may be happy with the result, but you figured it out. Whether the result is 8:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., ping pong or soccer, or whatever else, that is not important. What is important is that you talked about it and worked it out. As a result, you have now created evidence you can work together and co-parent.

Generally, the parties are not awarded Joint Custody unless they agree on Joint Custody. However, in some very narrow circumstances, it is possible to beat the odds. For example, even if the other parent is fighting against Joint Custody, if you have created enough examples and evidence sufficient to convince the court that you have been co-parenting, you have given yourself a chance to get this done.

If the parents were never married, who has custody?

When a child is born to parents who are not married, Oklahoma law recognizes the Mother as the custodial parent. The legal presumption does not change when the Father is on the child's birth certificate. However, a court order can change this.

The good news is Fathers can establish rights and obtain a court order. However, it is up to Fathers to make this happen. Every case depends upon individual facts. When there is an existing relationship, the starting point for visitation is different from that of no existing bond. In the right circumstances, Fathers can get custody or joint custody.

Whatever the starting point, the court is tasked with acting in the child's best interest. A child deserves two involved parents. The courts will support this. The key is that the Father must take the proper legal steps to make this happen.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

The Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interest of children. They do this by investigating and then writing a report for the Judge. The GAL will meet with both parents, speak with any witnesses provided by the parents, talk to teachers, coaches, counselors, and other persons having information about the children. They will also review school records, medical records, counseling records, and additional information.

Aside from the Judge, the GAL has the most influence on the outcome of your case. The GAL does not make decisions like a Judge. Still, the GAL will investigate and recommend custody and visitation to the court. The court will generally give an incredibly significant amount of weight to the GAL recommendations. Therefore, the outcome of your case will depend largely upon the recommendations of the GAL.

Will the court consider the custody preference of our child?

There is a common misconception that a child can decide where they want to live at the age of twelve. I get a call asking about this almost every week. While a child may state a preference, there is an enormous difference between a child expressing a preference and a child deciding.

The preference of a child is addressed in 43 O.S. § 113.  For example, in custody or visitation cases, a child may be allowed to express a preference for which parent the child prefers to live with or the amount of time the child wants to spend with the parent. With this said, the court is not going to let the tail wag the dog. The child does not decide anything, and the preference does not bind the court. However, the preference may be one of many factors the court considers.

When the court speaks with a child, it is done in the Judge's chambers, not in the courtroom. Usually, the Judge does not allow anyone in the room when they speak with the child except the Guardian Ad Litem. A transcript will be made of the interview at the request of either party, but the parties are not allowed access to the transcript except for when an appeal is filed. To learn more about preference cases from the perspective of a divorce lawyer Oklahoma, please review: Oklahoma Custody Preference: Does the Tail Wag the Dog.

Is it possible to change a custody order?

Yes. A custody order can be modified in certain circumstances, unlike property and debt division orders that are not subject to modification. The burden of proof depends on the type of custody.

If one parent has custody, the standard to modify is the Gibbons test. The parent requesting a change in custody must prove "(a) that, since the making of the order sought to be modified, there has been a permanent, substantial, and material change of conditions which directly affect the best interests of the minor child and (b) that, as a result of such change in conditions, the minor child would be substantially better off, with respect to its temporal and its mental and moral welfare, if the requested change in custody be ordered."

As a practical matter, this is a strict standard. You have to have the right case to modify custody. Also, it is essential to note that a change in condition is between the custodial parent and child. Therefore, it is irrelevant what changes have occurred in the life of the noncustodial parent in this context. (Although changes with the noncustodial parent could be a reason to modify Joint Custody or visitation.)

A typical example is Parent 1 has a drug or some other big problem. As a result, Parent 2 is awarded custody.  Parent 1 gets clean and then decides they want custody back. The problem here is the change involves the noncustodial parent, not the child. For that reason, at least by itself, that does not meet the standard to modify custody because the change involves the noncustodial parent and not the child.

Additionally, we have some protection for service members. A military deployment shall not be evidence of a permanent, material, and substantial change of circumstances for a permanent custody modification.  43 O.S. §112.7.

Do I have to pay child support if my visitation is denied? 

Many people misunderstand the relationship between child support and visitation. Some people believe that one is contingent upon the other. I will clear this up for you in this article and hopefully keep you out of hot water.

Child support and visitation are two separate issues. One is not contingent upon the other. It's pretty much that simple, but we can break it down even further.

· Failure to pay child support is not a justification to deny visitation.

· Failure to allow visitation is not a justification to withhold child support.

Violating a court order can get very expensive. Not only is there exposure to paying the other party's attorney fees, but in some cases, it could involve jail and fines. So, don't do it. Violating court orders is a horrible idea.

So, what is the proper way to handle a visitation denial? There are a couple of options available. The quickest way to resolve the situation is a Motion to Enforce. A Motion to Enforce is covered in 10 O.S. § 111.3. A hearing must be scheduled within twenty-one days.  This allows a person to get to court relatively quickly and address the problem.

The court will conduct a hearing, and the other party will have an opportunity to explain why they withheld visitation.  Unless the court believes there was a valid reason, the court should enforce the order. In addition, other relief may be awarded, including make-up visitation for the time lost, attorney fees, and other remedies outlined in the statutes.

The other option is a contempt citation. This is a good option, but the downside is contempt proceedings can drag on for months. The problem may get resolved in the end, but it will take a while, and while waiting for court dates, you are also waiting to get the visitation going again.

There is only one justifiable reason not to pay child support when there is a court order to pay child support. Only one, and that reason would be that you have a new court order stating that you don't have to pay child support. Failure to pay child support for any other reason will get you hammered by the court. So don't be that guy.

If we have  Joint Custody, is there still child support? 

Yes. Even when the parties have Joint Custody, child support is calculated according to the Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines. Therefore, each parent's number of overnight visits will be a factor, as will the parties' gross income. However, suppose the parents have similar incomes and equal time. In that case, it may be that the result of the support computation is zero. However, the only way to know the actual number is to run the support guidelines.

What if my spouse wants to leave the state with our child?

The moment the divorce petition is filed, the Automatic Temporary Injunction (ATI) becomes effective. The ATI states that the parties are prohibited from removing any child(ren) of the marriage out of Oklahoma. There is an exception for vacations of two (2) weeks or less in duration. It is important to note that the ATI only applies to divorce cases and not paternity cases.

If you anticipate the other parent may try to leave the state with the child, you need to consult an attorney ASAP! Remember, the protections of the ATI only take effect upon the filing of the divorce petition.

The ATI goes away once replaced by final orders. However, even after custody orders are filed, there is still protection if a parent intends to move with the child. Oklahoma has a Relocation Statute 43 O.S. § 112.3. The statute requires that if a parent wants to move more than seventy-five miles, a specific procedure must be followed. This procedure allows the other parent to object to the relocation and request a hearing. The court will then decide whether or not to allow the move.

If you receive a relocation notice, you must file an objection within the time provided. A failure to object will allow the other parent to move.

Please be sure to follow my Facebook and Oklahoma Fathers' Divorce and Custody Blog for updates, changes in the law, and other topics of interest concerning Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody matters.

Author:
Pete D. Louden
Attorney at Law
Louden Law, PLLC
405-919-8355
petelouden@loudenlaw-pllc.com
www.normanlaw.com
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Divorce Lawyer Oklahoma Perspective: 15 Must-Know Court Tips You Can Start Using Today

This article will focus on general tips from the perspective of a divorce lawyer in Oklahoma. The following tips are universally applicable to child custody, divorce, paternity, child support, or visitation cases. It would be helpful to bookmark this article and refer back to it periodically to keep these tips fresh in your mind.

1. Show up on time. Allow plenty of extra time. It seems there is always construction and other delays that happen at the worst possible time. On your way to the courthouse is the worst possible time. Plan for delays and always be at the courthouse 30 minutes early.

2. Dress appropriately—no shorts, flip flops, tank tops, etc. First impressions go a long way, especially with the court. Dress as you would for a professional job interview. A shirt and tie are good, throw on a jacket, and it's even better. Your appearance and how you present yourself can have a significant impact on how the Judge perceives you.

3. Turn Off Your Phone: Want to find yourself under a rock before you even see the Judge? Take a cell phone in the courtroom and let it ring, vibrate, or let the Judge see you texting, checking email, etc. Setting the phone to silent is not good enough. Turn the phone off.

4. Anything you say, type, text, etc., is probably being recorded. Therefore, at all times, you should conduct yourself as if the Judge was there watching. I am not just talking about while you are at the courthouse. There are cameras everywhere. When in doubt, consult with your divorce lawyer before doing anything that may come back to bite you later.

5. Visit the courthouse and sit in on a few hearings if you can. The best way to get a feel for how your Judge operates is to watch other hearings. There will often be divorce, paternity, custody, and child support cases on the same docket. Watching other cases will give you an idea of how the docket works and what to expect. You may even be lucky enough to see how the Judge rules in a case similar to yours.

6. Do not interrupt the Judge, opposing divorce lawyer, or opposing party. Don't roll your eyes, gasp, cuss under your breath, give a death stare to your ex, etc. It can be tough to remain calm when the other side is making ridiculous allegations but know that your behavior will play a HUGE role in how the court perceives you. This is important and is 100% within your control. Be smart.

7. In court, do not talk directly to your opponent. All comments and arguments should be to the Judge and not include any side conversations with your opposing party. Again, how you present yourself can have a massive impact on your case.

8. When testifying, answer only the question asked. If you can answer with one word, do so. If not, answer with the fewest amount of words possible. If you don't know, don't guess, say you don't know. If you don't understand the question, say so.  If you are unsure how to answer something that you know the other side will bring up, ask me in advance, and I will help you put together the most effective response. The less you say, the better.  LESS IS MORE. 

9. NEVER say "my" kids. ALWAYS "our" kids. ALWAYS. Don't forget!

10. In court, be 100% truthful 100% of the time. Don't try to play semantics, outsmart the other attorney, or game the system. I know this sounds obvious, and it is, but it's still important to be mindful of this. The court will respect a truthful answer even if that answer is embarrassing or hard to admit.

11. Follow all court orders to the letter. Follow all court orders to the letter! Even if the other side is doing everything but following the order, you need to follow the order. A sure way to damage your case is to ignore court orders.

12. Bring a notebook with you to court. You're going to want to take notes. Your attorney can only listen to one person at a time. So if someone else is talking and you try to whisper in your lawyer's ear, they will not hear either one of you. So instead, make a note, and your attorney will look at your notes at the appropriate time.

13. Leave emotions outside the courthouse. In my opinion, making decisions based on emotions creates more obstacles to resolving a case than any other factor. I understand that a family court action may be the most devastating and traumatic event of someone's life. It's hard to make decisions under that kind of stress. Both the attorney and the client must recognize this.

Bottom line: This is where you are going to have to trust your divorce lawyer. Your divorce lawyer is not emotionally invested in the case, allowing them to view your case with a different filter. Therefore, you will have to trust your lawyer's advice. If you don't trust your lawyer, then hire a lawyer you do trust. Again, use logic, not emotions.

14. Be Careful with Social Media. The best policy is to stay off social media. Some attorneys will require you to deactivate your social media accounts, or they won't accept the case. I don't take it quite that far because social media can be used to disseminate information effectively. For example, I use it to post legal updates, etc. However, I do think usage should be heavily restricted. Social media posts wind up in court all the time. For example, if one of your buddies posts something stupid and winds up on your news feed, this could become an exhibit in court. So, even if it's not your fault, it can still cause a problem. So, be smart about how you use social media and adjust your settings to prevent unnecessary problems.

15. The other party may accuse you of one or more of the following: They may say you use drugs, drink too much, or are violent. Best way to beat this right off the bat: If you think they might make allegations of drug use, take a hair follicle drug test and bring the results to your hearing. If you think they will say there is alcohol abuse, do an alcohol assessment and bring the results. If you think they will say you are violent, do a domestic violence assessment and bring it with you to court. This may seem like jumping through a lot of hoops but being prepared can make a big difference.

16. NEVER discuss court or your case with your kids. NEVER discuss court or your case anywhere there is even the most remote chance your kids could hear the conversation. NEVER allow anyone else to discuss court anywhere where there is even the most remote chance your kids could hear. Please don't do it!

I have published an article that addresses why you should never discuss a court case with a child. Oklahoma Custody Preference: Does The Tail Wag the Dog?

Follow my Facebook and Oklahoma Fathers' Divorce and Custody Blog for updates, changes in the law, and other topics of interest concerning Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody matters.

Published by Pete D. Louden

I am Norman, Oklahoma divorce and family law attorney Pete D. Louden. My legal career has been devoted to solving the unique challenges fathers, and their children face in divorce, child custody, paternity, and child support matters. I have been practicing law since 1998. View all posts by Pete D. Louden

Pete D. Louden
Attorney at Law
Louden Law, PLLC
405-919-8355
www.normanlaw.com
petelouden@loudenlaw-pllc.com


Guardian Ad Litem: How Set your Custody Case up For Success:

I am writing to provide suggestions and guidance for your interactions with the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL.) These are tips I have learned over many years of family law practice. Following these suggestions will maximize your chance of making a positive first impression and get you a step closer to obtaining your goals. After reviewing these tips, please get in touch with me before meeting with the Guardian Ad Litem to go over everything you want to present, and I can answer your questions.

  • What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

The Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney appointed by the Judge to represent the best interest of children. They do this by investigating and then writing a report for the Judge. The GAL will meet with both parents, speak with any witnesses provided by the parents, talk to teachers, coaches, counselors, and other persons having information about the children. They will also review school records, medical records, counseling records, and additional information.

Aside from the Judge, the GAL has the most influence on the outcome of your case. The GAL does not make decisions like a Judge. Still, the GAL will investigate and recommend custody and visitation to the court. The court will generally give an incredibly significant amount of weight to the GAL recommendations. Therefore, the outcome of your case will depend largely upon the recommendations of the GAL.

  • Bring a pen and Paper and Take Notes.

Be prepared to take notes during your meeting with the GAL. The GAL may ask for documents or information or make suggestions of things you should do. Taking notes shows you know this is serious and also helps you do not forget anything.

  • Be Honest.

Honesty is always the best policy and nowhere more so than in a court proceeding. You must be accurate. Your credibility will be an essential factor in the GAL's recommendations. Often Mom will be saying one thing, and Dad will be saying something different. The GAL then has to get to the bottom of what is actually going on. The more credible you are, the greater the odds that the GAL will think your version of events is accurate.

Never make allegations that you cannot easily prove. Remember, there is a vast difference between what you know and what you can prove. One of the quickest ways to lose credibility is to make allegations you cannot prove. If you can't back it up, don't say it.

  • Witnesses.

Bring a list of people you would like the GAL to speak to on your behalf. It can be friends, family members, teachers, counselors, coaches, clergy, etc. Give the GAL the name, address, and phone number for each person. This will make it easy for the GAL to contact these people.

Also, give the GAL a summary of what each person can say to help you. This is especially important. You want to tell the GAL who they should talk to and what each person will say. Knowing what each person can say allows the GAL to ask the right questions. Do not make the GAL guess or dig for information. Instead, make very clear what you have and what you want the GAL to get out of it.

  • Documents and Photographs.

You should provide the GAL any documents you think will help. These would be emails, text messages, photos, school records, medical records, etc. However, do not bury the GAL in hundreds of documents and photos. Use enough stuff to make your point but do not overdo it.

Contact me before you meet with the GAL, and I will review your witnesses and any documents you think might help you. We will then work together to decide what is most helpful and what you should give the GAL.

  • Know Every Detail about your Child/Children

The GAL will ask you about your child. Where many people go wrong is they immediately talk about what they want for custody or visitation. Or even worse, they start talking about how horrible the other parent is. Do not do that.

When the GAL asks about your child, they want to see how well you know the child. Use this opportunity to show the GAL you are a very involved parent. The more you know about the child, the better.

At a minimum, you should know the child's birthdate (obvious, I know, but there is a reason I included this), favorite color, favorite food, activities, hobbies, favorite television show/movies, teachers' names, coaches, etc. You should also be able to describe the child's personality. This is critical.

You would be surprised how little some people know about their kids. Knowing these details will make a lasting impression on the GAL and be a big boost for you.

It is extremely easy to forget small details, so make notes and bring your notes with you to your meeting.

  • Discipline in the Home.

Be prepared to talk about discipline in your home. Things have changed since I was a kid, so "I whoop his little ass" is probably not the best answer in today's climate. However, since you now know this question is coming, spend some time thinking about how you will respond and be prepared to explain the steps you take to enforce the rules.

  • Attend all of the child's activities.

I realize that work commitments can be an issue, but attend parent/teacher conferences, games, practices, school functions, etc. Also, talk to the child's teacher. Make sure the teacher knows you and has consistent contact with you. Periodically ask how the child is doing in class as far as behavior and grades. Also, make sure you are receiving copies of report cards. My experience is most teachers will give you their email, so even if you have a rigid work schedule, it makes it easy to stay in touch.

The GAL will probably talk to teachers, coaches, etc. You want these people to say they know you and that you actively participate in these activities. The worst-case scenario is for the GAL to call the teacher, and they have never met you. I have seen it happen, don't let that happen to you.

  • Always Be Polite.

Meeting the GAL is like a job interview. You are applying for the job of custodial parent—first impressions matter. Courteous people make a positive impression on judges and GAL. This also includes non-verbal things like body language. Just like a job interview, first impressions are lasting impressions.

  • OUR Children – NEVER My Child

When talking about the child:

ALWAYS say, "Our daughter/son."

NEVER EVER say, "My son/daughter."

This is a big one. Judges (and GAL's) absolutely hate this. However, following this simple rule demonstrates that you acknowledge both parents and indicate a willingness to co-parent.

  • Cooperate with the GAL

The GAL will probably have an intake form they will want you to complete. If the GAL asks you for documents or information, get the information to the GAL quickly. If the GAL suggests something, make it happen. If the GAL thinks there is a problem with a parent, make sure the GAL believes the problem is with the other parent and not you. Being cooperative and easy to work with will go a long way.

  • Demonstrate that you are willing to co-parent

The GAL will be looking to see if one or both parents are willing to Co-Parent. Even if you seek sole custody, you should still do everything you can to demonstrate that you have tried to work with the other parent. If you are seeking Joint Custody, this probably makes perfect sense to you. However, if you seek sole custody, you may wonder why you would want to demonstrate you are willing to co-parent.

Mom may say the only reason we cannot co-parent is because of Dad. Dad will say that the only reason we cannot co-parent is because of Mom. No matter who is right, all that has happened here is the creation of evidence that co-parenting is not working.

If the GAL believes Joint Custody will not work, the recommendation will probably be that one parent is awarded custody. The parent who gets the nod will probably be the one who has put the most effort into co-parenting because the GAL will believe that parent is most likely to be fair, make decisions in the best interest of the child, and make the child available to the other parent.

  • Examples of how to help yourself:

You want to do visitation exchanges at 8:00 p.m. Mom wants to exchange at 6:00 p.m.

Mom wants to sign the kids up for ping pong, and you want to sign the kids up for soccer. Or whatever the issues are.

You talk about it and then figure it out. Neither of you may be happy with the result, but you figured it out. Whether the result is 8:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., ping pong or soccer, or whatever else, that is not important. What is important is that you talked about it and worked it out. You have now created evidence you can work together and co-parent.

Pick your battles! If something is not a life-altering event that will significantly affect your future quality of life, do not make it a huge deal!

If the GAL thinks co-parenting is impossible, we want the GAL to believe you have tried, and the other parent refuses. That will set you up for the best possible result.

  • If You Are Unsure About Anything, Ask Me!

If you have a question about your meeting with the GAL or anything else about your case, ask me. Never hesitate to ask me questions.

  • Conclusion

The outcome of your case will depend largely upon the recommendations of the GAL. Whether the case is settled or goes to trial, the GAL will play an essential role in the outcome. Follow the tips above and ask questions, and you will create a situation where the GAL wants to help you and give yourself the best chance of success.

Follow my Facebook and Oklahoma Fathers' Divorce and Custody Blog for updates, changes in the law, and other topics of interest concerning Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody matters.

Pete D. Louden
Attorney at Law
Louden Law, PLLC
405-919-8355
www.normanlaw.com
petelouden@loudenlaw-pllc.com


How-To Guide: Assembling Witness List for Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody Matters.

We prove our case by presenting evidence. We also use evidence to evaluate the strength and weaknesses of a case. Evidence typically takes the form of witnesses and exhibits. The guide will apply to any Oklahoma family matter, whether a divorce, paternity, visitation, child support, or a custody case.

One form of evidence that we will use are witnesses. The best witnesses are those that do not have a stake in the fight, are not biased, and have personal knowledge of you, your child, and/or the child's other parent. I have written a separate How-To Guide concerning exhibits, and you can find that here.

Your witnesses must have first-hand personal knowledge of the events to which they are testifying. The witness will not be allowed to testify about something the child or someone else said. If the witness does not have direct knowledge—even if the subject they are talking about is material to the case—then it's hearsay and inadmissible.

Note: Hearsay is complicated, and there are exceptions. If you are not sure if something would be admissible, ask me, and we will discuss.

Some examples of people who might make a good witness may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Teachers or School Staff
  • Babysitters, daycare workers, nannies, or other providers of care for the child.
  • Parent of a half-sibling to your child.
  • Parents of your child's friends.
  • A pastor, minister, or other religious leaders who are involved with your family.
  • Therapists and Counselors who have seen the child.
  • Doctors or medical personnel who have provided care to the child.
  • Coaches, scout leaders, or other adults teaching or assisting with the child's extra circular activities.
  • Family members and friends who have frequent contact with the children.
  • DHS workers who have had contact or involvement with your family.
  • Law enforcement who have been involved with the parties.
  • Visitation Supervisors.
  • Character Witnesses. NOTE: Most character witnesses are clearly biased and have limited evidentiary value. For example, it is generally not helpful to use your parents or significant other only to say you are the best parent ever. However, if these people have direct personal knowledge of specific facts, events, or incidents, that is different.
  • Anyone else who has first-hand personal of the people and issues involved in your case.

To properly prepare our case, I must know what we have to work with. I don't expect you to understand the nuances of the rules of evidence and decide what is admissible and what is not. I just need you to tell me who may be a possible witness and provide me the details outlined below. We will talk about it and can then decide together who we should use.

Organizing and providing this information precisely in the requested manner will save a lot of time, minimize the chance of something important being overlooked, and make it much easier for me to prepare and organize our case for trial. If you are unsure what will be most helpful, we can talk about it, and I will help you narrow down the list of potential witnesses.

INSTRUCTIONS

Below are step-by-step instructions to guide you in pulling together and organizing your evidence. This will help me identify what we have to work with to prepare the most persuasive case possible. If you have questions during this process, please don't hesitate to contact me to discuss them.

Step 1:

Gather a list of anyone that you believe can help your case. For each person, we will need the name, address, and telephone number. It is also helpful to state the relationship of the person to the parties involved. In other words, the witness is a teacher, coach, grandparent, etc.

Step 2:

Provide a summary of what each witness knows and can say. You will need to be as specific as possible. When possible, includes dates, specific events, specific incidents, etc. The goal is to tell me precisely what each person knows. The more detail, the better.

Step 3:

I need to know the criminal history of each potential witness. I also need to know if the witness has had any involvement with the Department of Human Services (DHS). Finally, for any criminal charges, I need to know the case number and county where any criminal charges were filed. This will help me evaluate the credibility of the witness.

Step 4:

Pull all of this information together and fill out the Witness List. The amount of time, detail, and effort you put into this will make a difference. Remember, you know these people, I don't. The information you provide allows me to evaluate whether or not the witness can actually help us. This also helps me to plan my questions for direct examination at our hearing.

EXAMPLE WITNESS LIST

Witness Summary of Testimony Criminal HistoryOffered
Name
Address
Phone Number
Relationship
1. Tell me what this person knows and precisely what they can say that you think helps your case.
2. Be very specific and provide specific examples with dates when possible.
3. Don't make general statements or conclusions.
All criminal charges, including Case # and County
Joe Blow
123 N Main Street Norman, OK. 73069
405-111-2222
Baseball Coach
Will testify he was the child's baseball coach for the 2018 -2020 seasons.

Respondent ensures the child attends practice every day and always arrives 15 minutes early. As a result, the child has never forgotten any of the equipment. In addition, the Respondent stays and watches the practice and attends every game.

Respondent stays afterward to talk about how the child is interacting with the other children.

This is very specific and useful.

No Criminal History
Jane Doe
456 W. Elm Street Norman, OK. 73069
405-222-1111
Respondent's Cousin
Will testify that Respondent has excellent character and is the best friend anyone could ever have.

Will testify that Respondent is the best parent in the history of the world and should be awarded custody.

Will testify that Petitioner is a horrible parent and does not care about the kids. Petitioner should have supervised visitation.

This is not useful

No Criminal History
Ethel Jackson
465 N. Elm Norman, OK. 73072
918-743-2543
Child's Teacher
Will testify that Respondent has attended every parent-teacher conference during the 2020 school year. Respondent is always present at all school functions.

Will testify that Respondent regularly emails or calls to check on the child's progress. The child is always dressed appropriately and completes all homework assignments.

In April 2021, Respondent organized the spring event at school.

Will testify Petitioner has not attended any parent-teacher conferences and has not seen Petitioner at school events.

This is specific and good.

Fred Jones
925 N. Iain Norman, OK. 73072
918-743-2543
Respondent's cousin
Respondent is a great parent. He has good character. Respondent takes a bath every week and brushes his teeth often.

Petitioner is an awful parent. I think Petitioner has mental problems because Petitioner is mean and acts crazy.

Respondent is the best parent and should be awarded custody.

This is not useful

Case # CF-2021-XXXX

Cleveland County

Step 5:

Send me your completed Witness in Microsoft Word format so that I can edit as necessary.

Final Checklist:

  • Gather a list of anyone that you believe can help your case.
  • Provide the name, address, and telephone number for each person.
  • Provide a summary of potential testimony for each witness.
  • List the Criminal History and any DHS Involvement for each witness
  • Complete the Witness List
  • Email the completed Witness List to me in M.S. Word Format
  • Contact me to schedule a time to review and discuss the witness list.
  • Follow my Facebook and Oklahoma Fathers’ Divorce and Custody Blog for updates on changes in the law and other topics of interest concerning Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody matters.

Pete D. Louden
Attorney at Law
Louden Law, PLLC
405-919-8355
www.normanlaw.com
petelouden@loudenlaw-pllc.com


How-To Guide: Assembling Trial Exhibits for Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody Matters.

In divorce, paternity, and custody cases, we prove our case by presenting evidence to the court. One form of evidence that we will use are exhibits. An exhibit is anything we want the Judge to see or hear that will help prove our case.

Exhibits can include documents, photographs, emails, text messages, and audio and video recordings. Some examples of specific things you should be looking for include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. Tax Returns (Last Three Years)
  2. Paystubs (Last six months)
  3. Bank Statements (Last twelve months)
  4. Communication such as text messages, voicemails, emails, or letters that supports your position
  5. Social media posts
  6. School records (Attendance, Report Cards, Communications from teachers, etc.)
  7. Medical records
  8. Drawings, cards, or letters from the child to the parents
  9. Pictures of you and the child from family trips, holidays, and activities that you perform together
  10. Calendars illustrating visitation (or Denied Visitation) and activities with the child
  11. Documentation or photographs showing your children’s participation in any extracurricular activities
  12. Copies your child’s awards, ribbons, and trophies
  13. Copies of all drug test results
  14. Police Reports
  15. Copies of all criminal records
  16. Scheduling issues including cancellations or rescheduling caused by the other parent
  17. Audio and Videos Recordings.
  18. If you have something you feel is essential that is not on this list, let me know.

To properly prepare our case, I must know specifically what we have to work with. I don’t expect you to understand the nuances of the rules of evidence and decide what is admissible and what is not. I just need you to show me what you have that we might use as evidence.

Organizing and providing the documents in precisely the manner requested will save a lot of time, minimize the chance of something important being overlooked, and make it much easier for me to prepare and organize our case for trial.

When I receive this information from you, I will review the material you provided. Then we will discuss and decide together what we should use in court. If you are unsure what will be most helpful, we can talk about it, and I will help you narrow down what I think we need to use.

INSTRUCTIONS

Below are step-by-step instructions to guide you in pulling together and organizing your evidence. This will help me identify what we have to work with to prepare the most persuasive case possible. If you have questions during this process, please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss them.

    1. CREATE AN ELECTRONIC COPY

      Step 1:

      1. Gather everything we might use as an exhibit.

        1. Gather everything we might use as an exhibit.

        2. Save photos in .png or .jpeg format.

        3. Save recordings in Wave file (.wav) or MPEG Layer-3 file (.mp3) format for audio and Audio Video Interleave file (.avi) or Windows Media Video file (.wmv) format for video.

      Step 2:

      1. Name each file based on the content.

        1. If the exhibit is an August 2021 Pay Stub, name the file “August 2021 Pay Stub.”

        2. If the exhibit is a 2019 tax return, name the file “2019 Tax Return.”

        3. If the exhibit is a text message dated 04-05-2020, name the file “Text Message Dated 04-05-2020.”

        4. Do the same thing for each exhibit.

      EXAMPLE:

      PDF

      Step 3:

      Create an electronic filed folder named “Exhibits.”

      Folder

      Step 4:

      Save the individual exhibits into the Exhibit folder.

      EXAMPLE:

      Folder and PDF

      Step 5:

      Copy everything onto a flash drive.

    2. CREATE A HARD COPY

      Step 1:

      Please fill out the Exhibit List using the attached form I have provided. List each item. This list helps me match the actual exhibit to the list to be sure I am looking at the correct exhibit. Save the completed Exhibit List in MS Word Format so that I can make any necessary edits.

      Example:

      Offered Admitted
      Exhibit 1: August
      Exhibit 2: Petitioner’s August 2020 Pay Stub
      Exhibit 3: Proof of Health Insurance Costs
      Exhibit 4: Voice Mail Recording Dated 8/12/2019
      Exhibit 5: 2016-2017 Child’s Report Card
      Exhibit 6: Text Message from 9/21/2019
      Exhibit 7: School Enrollment for 2019-2020
      Exhibit 8: Photo of Petitioner with child 9/7/2019
      Exhibit 9: 2017 -2018 School Attendance records
      Exhibit 10: Email from 3/21/2019

      Step 2:

      Please provide me with three high-quality hard copies of every exhibit. Then, in the top right-hand corner of each document, write the exhibit number. I will probably change the order of the exhibits to create the most effective presentation. Marking each item is essential because it helps me match each item to the list to be sure I am looking at the right thing.

      Step 3:

      Organize by grouping into three complete sets of exhibits, with each group containing one copy of each exhibit.

      EXAMPLE:
      Stack Folders

      Providing me with these copies properly organized will save you a very significant amount of money rather than paying me to spend my time and your money doing this myself.

      Step 4:

      Contact me to schedule a time to deliver the flash drive and three properly organized hard copies.

Final Checklist:

    • Completed Exhibit List
    • Flash drive containing properly organized electronic copy.
    • Three properly organized high-quality hard copies.
    • Contact me to schedule a time to meet and deliver to my office.
    • Follow my Facebook and Oklahoma Fathers’ Divorce and Custody Blog for updates on changes in the law and other topics of interest concerning Oklahoma Divorce, Paternity, and Custody matters.

Pete D. Louden
Attorney at Law
Louden Law, PLLC
405-919-8355
www.normanlaw.com
petelouden@loudenlaw-pllc.com