What to Expect in Oklahoma Family Law in 2021: Academic & Procedural Issues
By: Amber Godfrey
Part and parcel to medical and social issues is whether a child will be enrolled in virtual or “traditional” school. Compounding the difficulty in making this decision is what programs the particular school district offers, as Oklahoma does not have a Statewide mandate on schooling, instead allowing districts to decide matters on their own.
This is particularly complicated in blended families where children in the same home are enrolled in different school districts—their schedules (or “in-personess”…new word) may be different from one another, making at-home teaching or in-person drop-offs and pick-ups that much more burdensome.
As many parents learned in August of 2020, similar to medical and social “calls” to be made, deciding where or how one’s child will be educated is not something the Courts are willing to take up at this time. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma already determined that that is not an emergency issue, and no court I am aware of is treating it like one.
The problem lies, though, in that it could be months before parties get heard on a regular motion docket, and the schools need to know now how the children are to be enrolled. (That best practices tip I noted earlier? It applies here, too.)
Other pragmatic issues are also rising, such as who has access to computers and internet or are there workarounds that must be considered? Who facilitates the homeschooling—parents or stepparents? Are kids learning as much virtually as they are in “traditional” school? Is anyone falling behind as a result? How are we ensuring that both parents are aware of what homework assignments or paperwork from the school is getting completed?
After several months of this discussion, parents are beginning to fall into a “new normal”, and, even with the crazy ice storms and snow Oklahoma has been seeing recently, schools are now better equipped to require virtual schooling, so as not to lengthen the school year, versus just taking a “snow day.” I believe this pandemic and the obstacles we have faced academically (and, consequently, have overcome in large part because of it) will forever change how schooling is approached when absences or closures are necessary.
Lastly, a major factor that I think will continue to affect Oklahoma in 2021 are procedural difficulties. I expect the delays in getting into Court that started last March through May to continue to affect the duration of cases for some time. Matters have been put off for several months; various Courthouses have closed (individually by County or even by Judge—again, we have no clear Statewide directive in this regard); some Judges are only giving 15-minute hearings, so parties feel “cheated” that they are not getting “their day in Court”; mediations are on the rise because parties find themselves unable to get into court quickly enough, and some judges are now requiring mediation when they did not previously, in an effort to get matters settled and not clog their dockets.
Some courts are allowing virtual hearings or making it easily accessible, while others are not or are requiring you to provide the platform (incidentally, at the attorney’s or party’s own expense). For those who are required to complete the parenting classes, there is more fight-back on inconsistencies between what Judge or County will allow virtual classes versus in-person ones. And, in my and several of my colleagues’ experiences, many Judges are showing less and less patience on “trivial matters”, which makes it more difficult to explain to clients that something they find very inappropriate or important may not be all that offensive to their Judge.
In sum, I believe we will continue to see large gaps of time between hearings; “rocket dockets” to get matters dealt with quickly; more Courthouse closures as COVID remains “alive and well” (she said cheekily); higher-than-average dissolution rates; sadly, higher DV rates (and, hopefully, a higher number of people educated in this realm to deal with them); and more dissent between parents concerning finances, health and safety of all parties and children, and academic, social, and parenting time issues going forward.
To read the rest of the blog series, What to Expect in Oklahoma Family Law in 2021, click here.
Ms. Godfrey has been practicing law for 13 years. Prior to joining WhitbeckBennett, she founded her own private practice in 2016 in Oklahoma City so that she could serve her clients in Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Canadian Counties. She focuses on family law, which includes divorce, child support, custody modifications, Guardian ad Litem, adoption, and guardianships, as well as estate law which includes estate planning, probate.