A child needs both parents, especially during the early years. Disagreements or divorce should not hurt or deprive the child of parental love and bonding. Fathers play a role as important as the mother in molding a child. Studies have shown that children who bond with their fathers perform better at school and have improved social and communication skills.

The law acknowledges this and does not show any bias between the father and mother while deciding the custody and visitation rights. Oklahoma keeps the child’s best interest in view and follows several guidelines to include both parents in the child’s life. However, if there is a lack of consensus on who the biological father is, the law requires that the paternity should be established before considering the custody and visitation rights.

The need for establishing paternity

Once paternity is established it can grant the father and the child certain rights automatically:

  • It can provide the child with the required identity
  • Gives the child the right for financial support from the father
  • The child automatically gets covered in the inheritance, social security and health insurance of the father
  • The father gets the right to support the child and be kept in the loop on any important matters concerning the child

How does Oklahoma decide the paternity?

Paternity can be decided either voluntarily or through a lawsuit to establish the biological father as the legal father.  The age of the parents is immaterial for the purpose and paternity can be established at any age.

When establishing the paternity of the child the first consideration is the marital status of the parents.  The procedure is different for married and unmarried couples.

In any court case between married couples, the court goes with “presumption of paternity” where the husband of the child’s mother is considered the father and the rights of the child are granted automatically.  The law takes a different course if the couples are unmarried. Here it is mandatory to identify the biological father. The couples have to go through the process of establishing paternity through signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form.  This is voluntary and if it meets the legal requirements of the District law, it helps the unmarried father to establish his paternal rights on the child without approaching the court.

Process of establishing paternity through AOP

The parents can collect the AOP form at the hospital when the child is born.  The hospitals’ staff are trained on the formalities of AOP and will provide all the required assistance to complete it. They can even provide the necessary witness, notarize the form and will file it with the concerned government office. At this stage, the father’s name will be included in the birth certificate of the child.  The parents can also get the AOP done at a later stage by approaching the government officials directly.

There is no need for any blood test to sign an AOP.  Basic information like the child’s name, mother’s name, father’s name and Social Security Number should be provided and the parents must swear that the information provided on the AOP is true. If the parents are hesitant to sign the AOP at the hospital they can do it later at the concerned government office.  If a man is not sure of his paternity he must not sign the AOP. Instead, first, parental identity should be established through genetic testing.

The AOP is a legally binding agreement and rescinding it if there is a change of mind is not easy. Usually, a time frame of sixty days is given for rescinding an AOP.

Rights and limitations of an AOP

The AOP gives the father-child support rights, right to include his last name in the birth certificate of the child, and to be informed of any adoption proceedings. However, an AOP does not guarantee the right to child custody and visitation rights. This has to be established through the court.

Process of establishing paternity through a lawsuit

If the parents have a disagreement with the paternity of the child they have the option to go for a paternity lawsuit.  Following parties can file the paternity lawsuit:

  • Mother
  • Presumed father
  • Oklahoma Child Support Services (OCSS)- this organization gets involved in the paternity lawsuit if the child or mother receives financial assistance from the state.

The parties can agree to settle the suit outside the court by coming to an agreement. If a mutual settlement is not possible, they can proceed with the trial and the judge would establish the paternity based on the evidence presented before the court. To determine the biological father a genetic or DNA testing will be ordered. In Oklahoma, if the testing reads 99% positive it establishes the man as the biological father. The cost of testing is borne by OCSS and if it establishes paternity the cost of the test is reimbursed by the father. The final paternity order is then passed by the court. Once paternity is established, the court also assesses the parent’s child support obligation and might also initiate the process of specifying the visitation schedule and custody agreement.   

Child custody and visitation rights 

In Oklahoma, shared custody and visitation are considered to be beneficial for both the child and the parents. The judge considers the best interest of the child and takes the decision irrespective of the parent’s preference.  The courts have the flexibility to decide the best interest of the child considering a number of factors. Hence, if the child’s interests are at stake the custody right might be awarded to a single parent who is deemed best for the role.   

Since subjective assessment of best interests is bound to be misleading certain visitation guidelines are laid down in Oklahoma to help the judges make clear decisions in favor of the child.

  • Babies: In Oklahoma both the parents are considered as competent to care for the babies. Oklahoma’s Visitation Guidelines specify non-custodial parents should be allowed to visit children under 18 months many times a week and as the child grows to a toddler the length of visits should increase.
  • Older children: The guideline takes into account the parental role and its influence on the children and allows non-custodial parents sufficient visiting time. Visitation on “every other weekend” is recommended for 5 to 7-year-olds as more quality interaction happens during the weekend. 

Even if custody rights are denied to a parent, visitation rights might be given to foster the bonding with the kid.  Also, Oklahoma doesn’t make any gender bias in determining custody rights. The best interest of the child is the sole factor. 

What to do if visitation is denied? 

If the visitation rights are denied by the custodial parent the non-custodial parent can approach the court to settle the same. However, denial of visitation rights does not support child support obligations and any lapse in child support can also be taken to the court for settlement. 

Child support right of the father

If the father is granted custodial rights he gains the same rights as a mother does to move to the court and enforce child support obligations. Fathers can also access the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) and enforce child support from the non-custodial parent. The law does not show any bias towards the mother and fathers custody rights are equally protected, provided it is in the best interest of the child. As a father if you have doubts on your rights on the child during a legal battle contact an attorney who is proficient in family law to help you.

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