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Dealing with domestic violence in divorce proceedings

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 20, 2020.


Molly Tipton

Molly Tipton is an attorney in the Energy & Natural Resources Practice Group. She represents both privately-owned and public companies in a wide variety of oil and gas matters, with a strong emphasis on oil and gas title examination.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney Molly E. Tipton

Domestic violence. In the context of divorce proceedings, these notorious words too often either fly under the radar or are misunderstood and improperly handled. This highlights the importance of training for those who work in the legal system to recognize the signs of domestic violence, especially since it is a factor that may not present apparent evidence such as physical injuries.

At a recent Family Law lunch-and-learn, Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge Barbara Swinton presented on the topic of domestic violence. The first question raised was, “Can we please call it something else, like domestic terrorism or domestic abuse?”

This question raises an excellent point, as not all domestic violence is physical. Emotional abuse, for example, rises to the level of domestic violence and is a consideration at hearings on victim protection orders and divorce hearings. Think along the lines of stalking, such as placing a GPS tracking device in an ex-spouse’s vehicle. This activity could be considered domestic violence and can amount to one spouse being banned from visitation privileges with minor children.

Many of the judges across the state of Oklahoma already participate in domestic violence training. Attorneys can also receive similar training with the Oklahoma Guardian ad Litem Institute. As a result of proper training, attorneys and judges are able to properly recognize the signs and get those experiencing divorce the appropriate care and treatment they need.

This need for clarity about domestic violence also applies to clients, many of whom are unaware of the helpful and free services of Palomar, located in Midtown Oklahoma City, or of the YWCA. Both of these organizations offer victim services and resources and can provide an advocate to appear in the courtroom to protect victims of domestic violence.

Further, for attorneys representing perpetrators of domestic violence, those clients also benefit from help and guidance. For such persons, there are batterer’s intervention programs across the state that provide assessment and counseling services.

Family law attorneys often find themselves on both ends of the spectrum – sometimes representing a victim and other times a perpetrator. Therefore, it is vital to the safety, well-being and mental health of clients to be able to recognize signs of domestic violence. The better Oklahoma’s attorneys become at recognizing the signs of domestic violence – even those that are not physical in nature – the better we can help our clients and community.

Molly Tipton is a family law attorney at the law firm of Phillips Murrah in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma child support payments based on several variables

A headshot of Robert K. Campbell, a lawyer focused in the area of family law.

Robert K. Campbell’s legal practice is focused in the area of family law, specifically concentrated in matters of divorce, legal separation and custody issues.

In this article, Oklahoma City Attorney Robert K. Campbell answers questions about the basics of arranging and handling Oklahoma child support.

Who pays child support in a divorce proceeding?

Oklahoma law requires both parents to provide financial support for their children during a divorce. That being said, typically it is one parent paying the other parent. There are, however, situations wherein neither parent may owe the other parent child support.

How is the amount of child support calculated?

The child support amount is calculated based upon the Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines. The Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines will calculate the child support obligation of each parent.

What does the Oklahoma child support calculation take into consideration when determining the amount of child support?

There are several variables that go into the Oklahoma Child Support Guideline calculation. The primary variables determine the base child support amount consist of the parties’ gross monthly income, the number of minor children of the parties, and the number of overnights each parent has with the children. There are other variables that can be taken into consideration. A common example of these are health insurance premiums and child care costs.

What is considered gross income for child support purposes?

Oklahoma’s definition of gross income is broad and intended to include earned income and passive income. Gross income consists of wages, salaries, tips, commissions, bonuses, etc. Passive income can include dividends, pensions, rent, interest income, trust income, gifts, gambling winnings, lottery winnings, etc.

If both parents agree, can the child support agreement differ from the Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines calculations?

Typically, an agreed amount other than the guidelines will likely be approved if it is in the best interest of the minor child and the amount of support indicated by the guidelines is unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances; both parties are represented by counsel and have agreed to a different amount; or one party is represented by counsel and the deviation benefits the unrepresented party.

How long does a parent have to pay child support?

In Oklahoma, the law typically provides that a child is entitled to support by the parents until the child reaches the age of 18, or graduates high school, whichever occurs later; however, it shall not extend beyond the age of 20. There are certain situations where the law may provide support to an adult child with a disability beyond the age of majority. If you are paying support for more than one child, your payment amount does not drop automatically when one child no longer qualifies for support. You must take affirmative steps to recalculate future support for the remaining child or children and ask the court to enter a revised support order. When the last child no longer qualifies for child support, the support obligation ends if there is no past due support owed.

Can child support be modified?

Yes. In Oklahoma, either parent may request a modification of the amount of child support based upon a “material change in circumstances.” The increase or decrease in either parent’s income may constitute a material change in circumstances warranting a modification.

What happens if a parent who is ordered to pay child support fails to pay?

The parent who fails or refuses to pay their child support obligation can be cited for indirect contempt of court, which if found guilty can result in a $500 fine and/or up to six months in jail. Additionally, state licenses can be revoked, suspended or not renewed.

 

Robert K. Campbell is a family law attorney with Phillips Murrah.

Director Nikki Edwards quoted by Journal Record on divorce settlements

Nicholle Jones Edwards

Nicholle Jones Edwards’ practice focuses on family law, labor law and general civil litigation. Her family law practice includes litigation, complex custody issues and valuation issues.

A change in tax deductions regarding alimony has lead to an influx of clients looking to expedite their divorces.

Nikki Edwards, Phillips Murrah Director and Family Law Attorney, was quoted in a Journal Record article addressing the circumstances agreeing with Ron Little, McAfee & Taft Family Law Attorney.

Phillips Murrah Family Practice Law Director Nikki Edwards said she’s seeing the same issues from her clients as Little. She has clients who are trying to get the agreement finalized in a few weeks, while others are willing to push it into 2019.

“It was a surprising change because it’s been well-settled for many years,” she said. “The impact will be to restructure the settlement negotiations.”

She said from a practitioner’s standpoint, the change gets back to why alimony was created, which is predicated on one’s ability to pay versus one’s need.

“(The new law) will take out the thoughts of paying more because of the tax benefit,” she said. “It takes out the incentives for both sides.”

Read the full article by The Journal Record here.

Highly litigated common law marriage still recognized in Oklahoma

I heard a song the other day by Pistol Annies called “Got My Name Changed Back.” The lyrics include the line, “it takes a judge to get married, takes a judge to get divorced.” Well, if you live in Oklahoma, only half of these lyrics is correct. Oklahoma is one of only eleven states that currently recognize common law marriages.

Oklahoma family law attorney Robert K. Campbell discusses common law marriage.

Robert K. Campbell’s legal practice is focused in the area of family law, specifically concentrated in matters of divorce, legal separation and custody issues. Click photo to visit his attorney profile.

Unlike a traditional marriage, entering into a common law marriage does not require a judge or minister, a marriage license or a marriage certificate. A common law marriage is formed when the minds of the parties meet in consent at the same time. The only requirements are that two people, who are capable of entering into a marriage, agree to become spouses and thereafter maintain the marital relationship.

People often tell me that they have been living with their significant other for so many years, and they ask if that makes them common law married. Typically, if you are simply living together, you probably are not common law married.

Elements of a common law marriage include:

  • An actual and mutual agreement to be spouses
  • A permanent relationship
  • An exclusive relationship
  • Cohabitation as spouses
  • Holding themselves out to the public as married

The concept of being common law married seems simple enough, yet it is a highly litigated area in divorce and probate matters. You never know what piece of evidence will convince a court that a couple is either common law married or not.

To establish the existence or non-existence of a common law marriage, the evidence can include, but is not limited to, tax returns, holiday and anniversary cards, deeds, insurance forms, rings, family holiday pictures, social media posts, name tags and estate planning documents.

Tax returns, in particular, are very helpful pieces of evidence, because whether the parties file as a married couple or as single persons, they are attesting to their marital status to the government under penalty of perjury.

Finally, it is important to know how to dissolve a common law marriage. While Oklahoma recognizes common law marriage, there is no such thing as a common law divorce. If you are common law married, then as the Pistol Annies’ song correctly states, “it takes a judge to get divorced.”

Director presents for OU Women and Gender Studies class

Nicholle Jones Edwards

Nicholle Jones Edwards’ practice focuses on family law, labor law and general civil litigation. Her family law practice includes litigation, complex custody issues and valuation issues.

Nicholle Jones Edwards, Director and member of the Family Law Practice Group, presented to the Women and Gender Studies class at the University of Oklahoma on Oct. 23.

The class is comprised of mostly seniors and students looking to attend law school. Her presentation focused on custody and the impact of gender on custody disputes.

Edwards advised that Oklahoma law has enacted statutory measures to prevent gender bias in these matters, lending the example that in divorce cases, mothers’ rights are no greater than fathers’ rights under the law.

However, the issue in same-sex divorces as with any other divorce will focus on the best interest of the child, she said.

Edwards previously served on the Advisory Board for the Women and Gender Studies program and continues to lend support.

To learn more about OU’s Women and Gender Studies class, click here.

Online Evidence: Digital discovery during divorce

This Gavel to Gavel legal column was originally published in The Journal Record on Jan 28, 2015.
By Nicholle Jones Edwards. View her attorney profile here.


Nicholle Jones Edwards

Nicholle Jones Edwards

“Fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual,” Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren prophetically stated in 1963.

Today, people use email, text messaging and social networking sites more than ever. Digital activities of a couple going through a divorce can become valuable evidence when determining issues such as parental fitness, financial support or the division of assets and debt. A history of social media use can be a virtual character witness – for good or ill.

It should also be no surprise that public posts on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can be examined by attorneys involved in the discovery process. However, texts and so-called private messages on social networking platforms can also be obtained by attorneys and become evidence in a divorce.

Deleting posts, messages and/or texts can also invite trouble. Procedurally, a divorce begins with a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, which includes an Automatic Temporary Injunction.

The injunction includes the following language that specifically prohibits either party from deleting social media information, text messages or emails during the divorce process: “Intentionally or knowingly damaging or destroying the tangible property of the parties, or of either of them, specifically including but not limited to, any electronically stored materials, electronic communications, social network data, financial records, and any document that represents or embodies anything of value.”

For those inclined to delete embarrassing messages or image transmissions, the best policy is to talk to their attorney about it so preparations can be made to address the matter.

Some general guidelines for communicating digitally during a divorce: If you want to communicate in a way that is truly private, talk in person. One-on-one verbal communication in a private location is the only real private way to interact.

Be aware that many digital devices and social media sites use geographical data. When you post or tweet, be aware that you may also be publishing your location. To avoid this, turn off the geolocation option on your sites and mobile devices.

When you email, text or post messages to social networks, assume that all of those messages will be seen by the judge. Especially refrain from sending or posting anything that is motivated by frustration or anger.