When two people have a child, they often wonder about their rights after they split up. If they are unmarried, their fears are usually worsened.
But the truth is, if you live in Oklahoma, child custody for an unwed couple is actually more straightforward than it is for those who are married. This is because unmarried mothers have sole custody of their children by default.
What is Custody?
First, we should explain what we mean when we say custody. When a lawyer in Guymon talks about child custody, what they usually mean is legal custody. This is the right to make major life decisions about the child. This includes things like where the child goes to school, what extracurricular activities they participate in, who their doctor is, whether they receive elective medical treatment, and what religion they are raised in.
Legal custody is different from physical child custody, more commonly referred to in Oklahoma as visitation. This is the right to see the child at certain times and places and make minor, day to day decisions like what they wear and eat. It’s very important to remember that custody and visitation are distinct concepts.
Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody
Oklahoma child custody comes in two different forms. There’s joint custody, which means both parents have an equal say in making those major parenting decisions. Neither parent’s rights outweigh the others.
The other type of custody is sole custody. When a person has sole legal custody, they are the only one empowered to make custodial decisions. Within certain important limitations, they choose where the child lives, who their doctor is, and what school they go to without needing to consult the other parent.
Custody for Unwed Mothers
Generally speaking, a court has the final say on who has custody and what type of custody they have. Regardless of any other laws, the court’s decision controls once it has been made
But what custodial rights does a parent have before a judge makes that decision? As stated above, the rules for child custody in Oklahoma differ depending on whether the parents are married. If they are, it is generally assumed that both parents have joint custody.
However, when they are unmarried, the law in this state is clear that the mother has sole custody until a judge says otherwise.
What Should Unmarried Parents Do?
For fathers, the answer to that question is pretty simple. If they want to try to get any custodial rights, they need to file a court case and get a judge to make a decision. How the judge might decide depends on the specific facts of the case.
For mothers, the answer is more complicated. While they enjoy sole custody by default, this is not always a well-known law and they may have difficulty enforcing it. For example, law enforcement agencies usually want to see a court order before they get involved in purely custodial matters. And federal agencies, like the U.S. Department of State, have their own rules, so an unwed mother may not be able to get her child a passport without the father’s signature.
Ultimately, if you are an unwed parent and you want to know what steps you should take to protect your custodial rights, the best thing you can do is contact a licensed attorney for advice. While this post has good, general information, outcomes can vary greatly depending on specific details.
If you need a Guymon lawyer experienced in child custody matters, contact the Law Office of Evan Humphreys today.
The content of this post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be taken as legal advice.