Dating During the Temporary Custody Phase of a Divorce in Oklahoma
By Beverly Bird
Oklahoma's divorce statutes don't include a specific prohibition about dating. They don't say that if you go out for dinner with someone, your chances for gaining custody are nil -- but they don't say it's OK, either. Typically, the issue depends on the opinion of the judge who hears your case and how he feels about dating before a divorce is final -- particularly if you have children. Some common-sense considerations apply, however.
A temporary custody order holds things in place while your divorce is pending, until the court issues a final decree. The fact that a temporary order isn't forever doesn't lessen its importance, however. Its terms set a precedent, and they can sometimes – but not always – carry over to the final order. If you begin dating someone during this time, and if the judge frowns on this, it can affect your final order. If your spouse has temporary physical custody of your kids, and if she's not dating anyone, the court might believe her home offers the children more stability. If you have temporary physical custody, the court might decide to change this arrangement in the final decree if the judge feels that your dating is detrimental to your kids.
Custody terms are never really permanent. The provisions in your decree can be modified post-divorce if there's a change of circumstances. Oklahoma courts tend to look for really significant changes before they'll alter permanent custody arrangements, however. If you lose custody in your decree because you began dating even before your divorce was final, it might be very difficult to get it back. Like all states, Oklahoma bases custody on a list of best interests factors the court must weigh to determine with which parent the children will do best. Stability is important, but Oklahoma's statutes also include reference to a parent's ability to make good and sensible decisions regarding the children. If you're already dating, this may make it appear to the judge that you're putting yourself and your own needs first, unnecessarily exposing your kids to something they're not ready for yet. Your spouse can even amend her divorce papers to charge you with adultery as grounds. This doesn't usually affect custody by itself unless you've exposed the children to your new relationships and they were adversely affected by it, but combined with other best interests factors, it could mean you lose custody.
Effect on Your Kids
Oklahoma courts will consider your children's wishes when determining custody, provided they're old enough to voice a mature preference. Assuming that all other things are equal – both you and your spouse adequately meet the state's best interests standards – your kids' opinions can act as a tiebreaker. If they're old enough to know you're dating and understand what it means and if it upsets them, they might tell the judge they don't want to live with you. Even younger children may have problems with your social life, if only because they don't understand what's going on at such a vulnerable time in their lives.
Effect on Negotiations
The court won't decide custody for you if you and your spouse can reach an agreement, instead. Most courts consider it best when spouses devise their own parenting plans – after all, no one understands your children and your family's needs better than you do. Unless you've been separated for years and are only now getting around to ending your marriage officially, dating during the temporary custody phase of your divorce means you've wasted no time in looking for someone new, and this might make your spouse angry and resentful. Negotiating a custody agreement might be impossible, and her anger make her fight you tooth and nail in court if your case goes to trial.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.