The process of developing custody orders in an Oklahoma divorce or paternity action focuses on the best interest of the child. There are many factors relevant to this analysis, but one that is commonly misunderstood is the role and weight given to the preferences of minor children. While a childs preference to live with a particular parent is not dispositive, a well-founded basis for living with one parent may be given considerable weight by a family law judge in Oklahoma. While it is generally harder to modify an existing custody order than obtain an initial order in ones favor, the preferences of a minor child for a change in custody can constitute a material change in circumstances and justify a modification of custody.
When a child expresses a preference for a change in custody arrangements, the court will analyze whether the best interest of the child standard will be served by considering the child’s preferences. While there is no obligation that a court honor a minor child’s wishes, the court will consider the child’s desires and preferences if the child is of suitable age and maturity. A parent may request that the court provide specific findings of fact supporting its decision when it elects not to consider the preferences of a child.
Modifications of custody are more difficult because the moving party must establish a permanent, substantial and material change of conditions. In Nazworth v. Nazworth, the trial court declined to have the father’s son interviewed as requested by the dad because the trial judge ruled that a child’s preferences cannot satisfy the change of circumstances standard. The appellate court reversed and indicated that a child’s preferences should be given significant consideration if there is a reasonable basis for the preference. The appellate court indicated that a child’s preference may constitute a material change in circumstances justifying modification of custody orders provided the child’s rational is thoughtful and legitimate. By contrast, courts may refuse to allow children to express a preference or consider that preference if it appears the child is simply expressing a view or opinion of one of the parents.
Ultimately, a child’s wishes in terms of custody and visitation can carry significant weight provided the child expresses mature thoughtful reasons for his or her preference. The court will also scrutinize the situation to determine that the preference being expressed is not a product of manipulation, alienating behavior and comments or persuasion by one of the parents.
The Family Lawyers Groups Tulsa child custody lawyers represent families in Northeast Oklahoma in Divorce, child custody and child visitation disputes that arise out of divorce and paternity actions. If you would like a free consultation with a family Law Attorney in Tulsa so that we can review your current custody and situation and advise you of your options, we invite you to contact an Oklahoma child custody attorney from the Tulsa Family Lawyers Group please call (918) 742-3555 or send us an email