Legal separation is an alternative to divorce. It allows spouses to remain married but live separately. During a legal separation proceeding in Oklahoma, a court divides property and may award alimony and determine child custody, all without terminating the marriage.
In Oklahoma, the husband and wife can file for a legal separation in the county where either spouse resides. When a husband and wife decide to separate, they may choose to do so while still remaining married. This could be for religious purposes, to allow one spouse to still be covered under the other’s health insurance, for tax purposes or while the parties wait the statutory period to obtain a divorce.
When a husband and wife separate, Oklahoma courts divide property under equitable distribution. Any property acquired by either party before the marriage, or acquired individually during the marriage, is considered separate property and is award to the owner. Any property acquired jointly during the marriage is marital property and is divided among the husband and wife not equally, but “in a just and reasonable manner,” as the court deems fair. If an item cannot be physically divided, one party may be awarded the item and the other will be paid the fair monetary value for her share of the property.
Oklahoma law states that either spouse is eligible to receive alimony. Alimony can be awarded even without a divorce. The state allows alimony to be paid in the form of money or real and personal property. Alimony is awarded to support the receiving spouse and may be paid in full or in installments, whichever the court deems appropriate based on the paying spouse’s ability.
When parents separate, an Oklahoma court must decide who will have custody of any children born of the marriage. A court can require that parents share joint custody or may award sole custody to one parent. No preference is given to either parent based on gender. Instead, custody is determined using the “best interests of the child” standard. Oklahoma allows children 12 and older to give their preference to the court. The other important factor the court examines is if either parent may attempt to prevent the other from having “frequent and continuous contact” with the child.
Oklahoma requires that a non-custodial parent be permitted “frequent and continuous contact” with his child. This is accomplished with visitation. Because frequent visitation is in the child’s best interests, the non-custodial parent cannot be denied visitation even when he becomes unable to pay alimony or child support.
When parents with minor children (under 18) separate, even absent divorce, Oklahoma law allows courts to require counseling. The sessions are important to educate parents on (1) parenting separately, (2) being financially responsible, especially where the child is involved, and (3) how to handle disputes.