There are several things everyone should know about Divorce in Oklahoma
- The legal side of a divorce is simple.
- The emotions, the details, the logistics are not. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are selling something.
- The biggest problem in any divorce is getting all the information and all the people in the same place at the same time so that everyone know what is up and what is down.
This guide focuses on the basic issues in divorce. It will help you get oriented for what to expect in your divorce and be better prepared to assist your attorney in handling your case successfully.
Issues in a Divorce
- Property Division
- Support Alimony
- Child Custody/Visitation
- Child Support
Almost all divorces are granted on the basis of incompatibility. You might have heard of “no fault” divorce. This is basically what incompatibility means in Oklahoma.
Any married person is entitled to get a divorce in Oklahoma for any reason. We don’t need to get into the particulars.
What about abandonment or adultery? Just don’t go there. The judges don’t want to hear it, and essentially it still boils down to incompatibility. If you want your spouse to live with you or to be faithful, and they don’t want to. You are definitely incompatible. It won’t help your case, it will only make it more complicated.
You and your spouse have stuff. This needs to be divided. This includes debts that you have together. Pretty much anything that you have acquired during the course of your marriage — regardless of whose name it is in — is going to have to be divided by the court. The only except is anything you had before marriage, you got as a gift, or by inheritance.
There are three (3) parts to property division
Step 1: Identification
You need to figure out what you own and what you owe. This should be easier for you than it is for anyone else except for perhaps your spouse. You should simply sit down and make a list. We suggest doing this in a marital balance sheet. We show you an example below
Step 2: Valuation
Now, you need to assign values to the stuff. For anything that has a statement such as a 401(k) or a credit card, this is easy, read the statement and put in the number. For high value items like houses or cars, this might be harder, but there are many tools to help you estimate the value. Valuation is what people fight over the most in court, but it is usually because no one knows what the stuff is worth.
Step 3: Division
The last step is to divide the property between the two spouses.
Most judges try to divide the property equally. The law says the division must be fair and equitable. This can mean it won’t be a 50/50 split, but most judge’s try to make it as even as possible.
Marital Balance Sheet
A marital balance sheet is a way to show what property exists and how much of it each party is getting. It is the standard method we use in our office to determine how the property should be divided.
You can see that the husband is receiving only 18.17 % of the property. He would need an additional $ 9,725.00 added to his column to make it an even split. In this case, the wife is keeping the house. The court would most likely require that she pay $ 9,725.00 in cash to the husband. She would likely do this by refinancing the house and paying him at closing.
Support Alimony is the money one spouse pays to the other to help them readjust to single life after a divorce. It is highly variable and in Oklahoma we don’t have a formula. The law says that the court may award alimony if there is:
- A need reasonably related to the marriage and
- The other spouse has the ability to pay.
There is no exact science for this, and we generally call it the Battle of the Budgets.
In our office we compile a budget for the parties based on when they lived together. We then compute how much money they have or need after the payment of all expenses. If there is a deficit then we assume there is a need, if there is a surplus we assume there is an ability to pay.
You can see in the budget above that the Respondent, Sally Smith, has a monthly deficit of – $3.871.43. This show she needs at least this much money in order to pay the bills.
If her husband has extra money in his budget, and some other factors are met, we would expect the judge would order him to pay alimony.
Alimony awards look like this:
The Petitioner shall pay the Respondent $ 3,500.00 per month for twelve (12) months for a total amount of $ 42,000.00.
For those of you who have children, your divorce will involve the court entering order to provide for their care, custody and support of your children.
There are three main issues related to children:
- Legal Custody
- Physical Custody
- Child Support
Legal custody is about which parent makes decisions for the kids.
Sally and Kevin are divorced. Their daughter Beatrice spends equal time with each parent and both parents live in Norman. She is in kindergarten at Jefferson Elementary based on Kevin’s residence. Sally applies for Beatrice to attend Norman Public School’s French immersion program at Reagan Elementary and Beatrice is accepted. Sally wants to enroll Beatrice in the program which will require Beatrice to attend Reagan Elementary. Kevin thinks this is a terrible idea because he wants her to attend Jefferson which is just across the street from his house and not Reagan which is in far Southeast Norman.
How do the parents resolve this disagreement? It depends on who has legal custody.
- If Sally has sole custody then Sally will be able to make the decision about where to enroll Beatrice. As the sole custodian Sally can make decisions regarding Beatrice’s education. Beatrice will attend Reagan and Kevin is going to have to find a way to accommodate their daughter’s schedule.
- If Sally and Kevin have joint custody then they will have to talk about their decision and try to come to an agreement together.
Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody
These are two terms are often confused. They are not directly connected to time spent with the children. Instead, sole custody means that one parent makes major decisions for the children on his or her own. Joint custody means that the parents must attempt to make decisions together regarding the children.
What happens in joint custody when the parents cannot come to an agreement? There are various methods used to break ties:
- Final Decision Maker
Which method is used depends on the parties and the judge.
In mediation, the two parents have to meet with a neutral third party. This third party is the mediator. A mediator cannot make decisions for the parents. The mediator just tries to help the parents talk to each other and negotiate a deal themselves. If the parents cannot agree then they can simply walk away. This method is common, but if the parents cannot work it out they must go back to court to resolve the dispute.
In arbitration, the two parents submit their problem to a neutral third party. This third party is the arbitrator. The arbitrator is empowered by the parents’ agreement to make the decision if they cannot. The arbitrator will listen to both sides and their reasons for their positions. The arbitrator then makes a decision based on his or her view of the situation. This method is very rare.
Final Decision Maker
In the case of a final decision maker, one of the parents gets to break the tie by making the decision himself or herself. You might have heard of one parents being designated “primary custodian” or “final decisions-maker”. In this case Joint Custody is much watered down. In this sense the parents are required to try to work it out, but if they cannot then one of them is breaks the tie. The final decision making parent acts as if they have sole custody and makes the decision despite the other parent’s objection. This arrangement puts a great deal of power in the hands of the final decision maker, and operates much like Sole Custody even though it is called Joint Custody.
Visitation & Physical Custody
Physical Custody is about where the children spend their time.
There are some popular schedules that judge’s like and there are some trends even among parents.
Many parents who are cooperative with each other and live close together agree to share their children half time and alternate custody from week to week. I have even heard of arrangements where the kids live in one house and the parents move in and out of the home from week to week, but this is very rare. Either way, many people tend to perceive that half of the time is fair, although this is not always the best arrangement for the kids or the parents.
The court has also come up with standard schedules that are used to award visitation to one of the parents. The court schedules tend to assume that one parent will have the children the majority of a time and the other parent will have what we call “visitation”.
The physical schedule is divided up into three sections:
- Regular Schedule
- Summer Schedule
- Holiday Schedule
The regular schedule is the default schedule that usually governs the time when the children are in school. It is usually superseded by the Holiday and Summer Schedules. A typical regular schedule may look like this:
Father will have physical custody of the children every Thursday overnight and every other Friday after school to Monday morning when the children return to school. All other time will be reserved to the Mother.
The summer schedule occurs during the summer when the children are out of school. The typical summer schedule either alternates physical custody of the children every week or every two weeks.
The holiday schedule attempts to divided holidays evenly throughout the year. It is generally governed by the children’s school calendar. The parents alternate the major holidays based on even and odd years. A holiday schedule is included in the picture below.
In the schedule shown above, you can see that the holidays are divided between the “custodial” and “non-custodial” parents. Most modern schedules say “mother” or “father” or even “Petitioner” and “Respondent”.
In Oklahoma, child support is supposed to provide for the regular living expenses of the children. The State calculates this by a rather complicated formula. You put in your income and the children’s health insurance and child care expenses, and the guidelines tell us exactly what any one parent pays. The inputs are what matters, and you have to know that like any formula the calculation is only as good as the inputs.
- Both parent’s gross incomes,
- the Children’s Expenses,
- Number of overnights with each parent, and
- Other strange factors that apply to only some people (i.e. in-home children, child support paid in other cases, alimony deductions, self-employment tax deductions, shared parents, etc.).
The law calculates Child support from gross income. Gross income is the total amount that you make before any taxes or deductions. We figure your income on a monthly basis. This is rather silly since no one calculates their income this way.
In determining your gross income the court has the choice to use three (3) main methods:
- Your actual income
- A three year average of your income
- A number selected by the court if the judge thinks you aren’t making enough money
The most commonly used method is your actual income. We discuss the mechanics in our Best Practices presentation. The math isn’t that hard though even though there are a variety of methods depending on your circumstances.
In addition to child support the law divides certain expenses such as Childcare and Health/Dental/Vision Insurance costs. The law divides these costs according to each parent’s income. If one parent makes more than the other then they pay a higher percentage of the expense.
These costs are also divided on a monthly basis.
Again, we discuss how to calculate these more in our Best Practices presentation.
Final Thoughts & Other Resources
This concludes my discussion of the Basics of Divorce in Oklahoma. The more you know the more you will be able to assist your lawyer in getting the results that you want.
If you are actually thinking about putting together you Divorce by agreement, then I suggest you review our Best Practices presentation.
This information is provided courtesy of Evan Taylor. Evan Taylor is a lawyer practicing Divorce and Family Law in Norman, Oklahoma. He can be reached at:
102 East Eufaula, Ste A, Norman, Oklahoma 73069