In 2021, Oklahoma was named the state with the second highest divorce rate in the U.S., with 3.8 divorces per 1,000 residents aged 15 and older. Common reasons for divorce included financial problems, incompatibility, infidelity, and domestic violence. One that also stood out was getting married at a young age. Experts at Oklahoma State University and the Pew Research Center pointed out that Oklahoma was one of five states with the lowest median age at first marriage for both men and women and could be a contributing factor to the state’s high divorce rate.
The decision to pursue a divorce is deeply personal and influenced by multiple factors, and navigating the process can be stressful and time-consuming for all parties involved. In Oklahoma, options are available for spouses to have an amicable divorce. This article provides information and resources that separating couples can use to better understand the state’s divorce laws.
Divorce vs. Legal Separation vs. Annulment in Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, divorce is also known as dissolution of marriage. Once a divorce is finalized, the couple’s marriage is legally terminated. This means that their assets will be divided, and their agreement on matters like alimony and child custody will take effect.
For partners who want to go their separate ways (either temporarily or for an undetermined period of time) but have not fully decided whether to get divorced, legal separation is an option. With legal separation, they can still be legally married and have separate lives at the same time.
Some people choose legal separation for reasons related to finances (e.g., to remain eligible for another spouse's health insurance or take advantage of tax benefits) or religion. Legal separation can be dismissed at any time, so couples who are considering reconciling can file this instead of filing for divorce.
If a couple decides to go for an annulment and it gets approved, this means that their marriage will be deemed null and void. After an annulment is granted, it is as if the spouses were never married in the eyes of the law. Getting a marriage annulled is not easy since the grounds for this legal action are limited. It also involves a trial and hearing before a judge, who will determine if the grounds provided are valid.
Is Oklahoma a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Oklahoma is a no-fault divorce state, which means that a couple could get a divorce just for irreconcilable differences, and there is no need to prove that one party is at fault for the decision to end the marriage. However, the state also allows fault-based divorce for various grounds, including but not limited to adultery, extreme cruelty, habitual drunkenness, and insanity.
How to File for Divorce in Oklahoma
The divorce process in Oklahoma can be lengthy, complicated, and emotionally draining, depending on various factors, like whether it is contested or uncontested and whether there are minor children involved. From filing the initial paperwork to the finalization of the divorce decree, there are a lot of steps to take and paperwork to accomplish. To help understand the divorce process, below is a step-by-step guide to the legal procedure.
1. Confirm Compliance With the Residency Requirements
To file a divorce in Oklahoma, at least one of the spouses must have resided at least 30 days in the county where they intend to file for divorce and six months in the state. There is only one exception to this rule: if the grounds for the divorce are insanity and the non-filing spouse is a resident of an institution in another state, the other spouse must have been an Oklahoma resident for five years prior to filing for divorce.
2. Prepare and Submit the Divorce Petition
The documents and steps for filing a divorce petition differ for uncontested and contested divorces.
In an uncontested divorce, both spouses have reached an understanding of the key aspects of their separation, including the division of marital assets, child custody, support, and alimony. In this amicable scenario, the couple collaboratively works through the issues with minimal or no court intervention.
A contested divorce is one in which the spouses are unable to reach an agreement on important divorce-related matters, leading to a more complex legal process. To start the divorce process, the following documents must be filed with the county courthouse:
Proposed marital settlement agreement
Proposed marital settlement agreement
Child support schedule and worksheet (if applicable)
The filing spouse must also pay the fees to the county courthouse, which vary from state to state.
3. Serve the Divorce Petition
Once the required documents have been filed with the court, the filing spouse must serve a copy of the petition to the other spouse. The petition can be served by mail or in person.
However, the filing spouse is not allowed to do it themselves.
Oklahoma laws require that the server be someone over 18 years old and not involved in the divorce. They can be a licensed server or a law enforcement officer. After the petition is served, the non-filing spouse is required to respond within 20 days.
4. Participate in the Discovery Process
The discovery process refers to the phase during which both parties, typically through their respective attorneys, gather and exchange information relevant to the divorce. This may include:
Deposition: It involves questioning a party or witness under oath to get answers that can be used in court. A court reporter documents every word during the meeting.
Request for production of documents: One party formally requests documents such as financial records, bank statements, text messages, and other paperwork from the other party. The law requires that the requested documents be provided within 30 days unless an extension is provided.
Request for admission: It involves one party asking the other party to deny or admit certain facts related to the case through true or false statements.
Interrogatories: A spouse can send written questions that the other spouse must answer under oath.
Physical and/or mental examinations: The spouses may be ordered by the court to complete assessments for child custody-related matters.
5. Settle the Divorce Terms and Attend Hearings
An initial hearing will be set up so the judge can determine the facts and issues and establish temporary arrangements to address concerns regarding children and finances. After the hearing, the couple can either negotiate the terms of the divorce settlement agreement or proceed to trial.
If the spouses agree on all the terms related to the divorce, they can start preparing the divorce settlement agreement and then file it with the court. If the parties do not reach an agreement, a judge will take over and decide the terms on their behalf. The couple will have an opportunity to present evidence and arguments during the trial. In fault-based divorce cases, the filing spouse must also prove the grounds of the divorce.
In some cases, the judge may require the couple to undergo mediation.
6. Optional: Undergo Divorce Mediation
Divorce mediation is a process where a neutral third party (called the mediator) helps spouses reach an agreement on various divorce-related issues outside of court. It is less expensive than going through an extensive courtroom battle.
In addition, mediation allows spouses more control over the outcome of their divorce. They can actively participate in the decision-making process and tailor the terms based on their needs and preferences instead of having a judge decide the outcome for them. Once agreements are reached, the mediator assists in drafting a settlement agreement that outlines the terms of the divorce.
7. Finalize the Divorce
In an uncontested divorce and one that has undergone mediation, the spouses and their lawyers will be given time to review the agreed-upon terms of the divorce. If both parties are satisfied with the proposed agreement, they sign and file the final document. The judge will grant the divorce with or without a hearing.
If the divorce is contested, the judge will sign a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage after the final trial. The divorce decree will be finalized only after six months or until the conclusion of any appeals.
How Property Is Divided in an Oklahoma Divorce
When dividing marital property, Oklahoma follows the equitable distribution rule, not the community property principle. Under the latter, marital property is divided equally (with a few exceptions). On the other hand, equitable distribution ensures that the couple’s property, as well as debts, are settled fairly, but it does not guarantee that the distribution will be equal.
During divorce proceedings, the court will determine the property that each spouse acquired before and after marriage. Those obtained during the marriage, including real estate, cars, cash, and personal property like furniture, will be divided between the couple. Properties acquired before or outside of the marriage will be considered a spouse’s separate property. If one of them inherited an asset during the marriage, it will still be considered separate property.
To figure out how to equitably divide marital property, the judge will look into the following:
Length of marriage.
Individual contribution to the marriage, including economical (income) and non-economical (child rearing).
Their need to start their new lives.
The support needed by the children and whoever will take care of them.
In general, the parent who will get custody of the children is granted a larger portion of the marital property. The judge may also allow them to have the family house.
If the spouses signed a prenuptial agreement, the court will honor it and split the property accordingly. However, there are also instances where a judge may deny enforcing it.
Oklahoma Divorce FAQs
This section answers some of the most frequently asked questions regarding divorce in Oklahoma:
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Oklahoma
Divorce is a complex process that involves not only legal but also emotional and social aspects. Getting support and professional guidance, whether through legal counsel or other services, can go a long way in navigating the complexities of divorce. Below are some organizations and resources that provide guidance to people dealing with this legal process:
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income individuals in Oklahoma with civil law matters. Its attorneys offer legal assistance, including in divorce and domestic violence cases, to eligible individuals. They also provide community education, counseling, and free legal advice. Applicants needing assistance can fill out the online form or call 1-888-534-5243 or 918-428-4357 from Monday to Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
YWCA Oklahoma City
YWCA Oklahoma City provides education, assistance, emotional support, and safety to victims of domestic violence. It has an emergency shelter for women and children suffering from violence at home and guides victims when filing protection orders. Additionally, its domestic violence nurse examiners conduct assessments for victims while considering their physical and emotional traumas. To reach the organization, call 405-917-9922 or 1-800-522-7233.
Oklahoma Free Legal Answers
Oklahoma Free Legal Answers is an online platform that offers legal advice to qualified individuals facing civil legal issues in the state. It has pro bono attorneys who answer queries submitted online. To qualify for the free service, the individual must be a low-income earner and not in jail. They must fill out the form, and a lawyer will answer the legal question but will not represent the individual in trials or meetings.
OSU Extension's Divorce Education Co-Parenting Classes
Oklahoma State University Extension offers court-approved co-parenting classes for couples who are divorcing. Its “Co-Parenting for Resilience” program aims to help separating parents handle the divorce and prevent the negative effects that children may experience during the process. The classes can be completed online or in person and are also available in Spanish. OSU Extension’s program meets the standards set by Oklahoma laws, which require parents divorcing to attend divorce education classes.
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