What to Expect in Oklahoma Family Law in 2021: Divorce, Domestic Violence, & FED Cases
By: Amber Godfrey
Types of Cases
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Wise words. With people being forcibly quarantined during much of last year, many quickly realized that things were already “over” or determined if they had enough love, commitment, trust, patience, money—you name it—between them to push forward. Still, a number of my colleagues and I noticed an increase in divorce cases being filed last year. In addition to there just being an overall surge, there was an immediate influx beginning mid-May when the Courthouses were reopened for domestic matters that did not involve emergencies.
I, myself, expected to see paternity cases on the rise (I mean, there’s only so much to do at home alone with each other, right?), but statistically-speaking, childbirth actually decreased overall last year. This is quite the opposite of the trend we anticipated, but it may also be a result of people being quarantined away from one another or simply not being in a romantic mood…stress abounded, after all.
Unfortunately, one issue that is not limited to divorce or paternity took a very quick (and copious) ascent: domestic violence. Domestic violence (“DV”) matters, and Protective Orders specifically, saw an regrettable increase, and, if it can be said, they are more “violent” now than ever. Please keep in mind that DV does not require physical harm. One can be financially abused, mentally abused, verbally abused, emotionally abused—which can also come from very passive aggressive sources. People can threaten to harm a beloved family pet or cut off their victim’s “allowance.” Gas-lighting is becoming somewhat of an art, while family and friend isolationism remains “old hat”. We are also seeing an increase in stalking in particular (which is made all the easier when parties are working remotely / from home so much nowadays), but even with all of these things occurring, law enforcement is not quick to put people in jail due to the skyrocketing deaths occurring there due to COVID. It makes it even more important—and stressful—for the family law practitioner to get relief from the Courts for our clients when hands are getting only slapped…if that.
Due to increased animosity and frustrations in general, DV issues notwithstanding, families are finding themselves seeking the assistance of a Guardian ad Litem on a more frequent basis. Guardian ad Litems (“GALs”) are attorneys appointed by the Court to “investigate,” so to speak, the people and issues in a case and help guide the Court on a final resolution. They do not represent the children themselves but, instead, their best interest, which may or may not align with what any party in the case is requesting. The use of GALs can be very helpful to everyone involved, but, like most things, comes as an added expense, which may just compound problems for people already struggling financially.
Forcible Entry and Detainers
Which brings me to the next type of cases where we are seeing an upturn in Oklahoma: Forcible Entry and Detainers (“FED”). FED cases are essentially evictions. During the non-emergency Courthouse “shutdown” of March 16-May 17, 2020, FEDs were not allowed to be filed (or enforced, if they were filed). Therefore, people were still permitted to reside in their homes or apartments, even if they were behind in their rent or mortgages, due to financial concerns caused by COVID. (Let’s be clear: not everyone who quit paying these debts actually experienced financial hardship, but the law was the same for everyone.) Once the “stay” was lifted, landlords and lenders from everywhere flocked to the Courts for some relief themselves. I predict this will continue to be a trend throughout 2021, as more people are diagnosed with COVID or are exposed in some form and are required to take time off of work to quarantine.
Stay tuned for the rest of this blog series, What to Expect in Oklahoma Family Law in 2021, to be released this month.
To learn more about divorce, visit our Divorce Law page.
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.