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What is the Oklahoma Divorce Process?

Posted by E. W. Childers | Sep 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

The whole process of getting divorced in Oklahoma is very confusing to the layman but with a little explanation it makes a lot of sense. The simplest way to illuminate the process is by discussing briefly the events and filings themselves in roughly the order they typically occur. There can be some deviation based on the practices of the counsel involved and the tolerance of the court for such deviations. Changes in order or procedure that are agreed upon by the parties are generally approved by the Court if such changes are consistent with the Court's mandate to resolve matters fairly and efficiently.

Petition. A divorce action in court is commenced with the filing of a Petition. Petition is a ten-dollar word that just means "gimme". It is the document that sets forth the demands of the "Petitioner" who, in Oklahoma, is the party that files first in a divorce. In most other cases the initiating litigant is called the Plaintiff including related legal matters such as paternity cases. The legislature thinks that if we say "Petitioner" instead of "Plaintiff" that things will be better and people will behave more courteously. It doesn't seem to have worked out that way, as far as I can tell.

Answer. The "Respondent" is the nice word that we use in divorce cases instead of "Defendant" and he (or she), once served with the Petition and Summons, is obligated to file an Answer. The Answer sets forth the Respondent's responses (see what they're doing here?) to the allegations set forth in the Petitioner's Petition. "Paragraph 1 is denied. Paragraph 2 is admitted." and so on and so forth.

Cross-Petition. Often the Respondent combines the Answer with a "Counterclaim" or "Cross-Petition" and in Oklahoma divorce cases these mean the same thing. A cross-petition is the Respondent's own claims regarding the matters alleged by the Petitioner in the Petition. The utility of adding a cross-petition is that if there is no cross-petition then the Petitioner could dismiss the Petition and that would end the divorce case without a divorce. With a Cross-Petition both parties would have to dismiss their respective cases in order for the divorce matter to be ended without a divorce.

Application for Temporary Order. If there are matters that need to be temporarily ruled on by the Court (such as child support or who gets the house until trial) then the parties seeking a Temporary Order will file an Application for Temporary Order. A short time after the filing (but generally not short enough because of the dockets being crowded) the Court will have a hearing on the Applications filed in the case and will enter some orders after hearing the evidence and arguments of the parties. These orders will last until modified by the Court or replaced with the orders in a Divorce Decree.

Motion to Enter. A Motion to Enter is filed when the parties have answered any petitions or cross-petitions and the matter needs to be set for trial. Sometimes this motion is skipped because the Court sets the matter for trial as part of the Temporary Order hearing. The order that results from a Motion to Enter is generally a pre-trial conference order. That orders sets out the discovery schedule and sets a pre-trial date.

Discovery. The Pre-Trial Conference Order sets out dates by which discovery is to be completed. Discovery includes any depositions, interrogatories, admissions, or requests for production that either party needs to present their case. If there is a discovery dispute then those should also be resolved prior to the discovery cut-off date. Failure to comply with discovery can result in a default judgment or limitations on what evidence may be used at trial. It is very important to stay on top of discovery.

Mediation. Frequently, after Discovery is substantially complete the parties participate in mediation with an uninvolved mediator who attempts to settle some or all of the issues in the divorce. Some Courts mandate this and some do not. Mediation is not required in cases where physical abuse of a party or the children is alleged.

Pre-Trial Conference. The attorneys discuss their cases with the judge and outline matters that are still in controversy as well as matters that have been settled by the parties. It is not unusual for the issues that remain for the "Hearing on the Merits" (trial) to be quite limited compared to the issues that were in controversy at the beginning of the case.

Hearing on the Merits. This is a trial where each party presents evidence in support of their positions while attempting to undermine the evidence of the opposing party. There is no jury in a divorce trial; the judge decides all issues and devises an order granting a divorce, property division, and custody of the children. This order is usually orally pronounced and hand-written. The hand-written order is issued to the attorneys and they are obligated to generate a Decree of Divorce for the Court's approval after Court is adjourned.

Motion to Settle Journal Entry. Sometimes the orders of the Court are quite clear and no real controversy exists regarding what the judge said or meant in issuing an order, however, pretty frequently the parties or their attorneys do not agree about just what the judge intended. In cases of controversy one or both parties file a Motion to Settle Journal Entry and argue for their version of the order in question (it can be any order issued by the court throughout the pendency of the case, frequently the specifics of the Temporary Order and the Divorce Decree are disputed). Typically each party appears with their requested version of the Court Order and the Court hears argument and indicates its actual intention at which point the Journal Entry (Court Order) is settled (finalized).

A divorce matter is quite open ended with a great many issues that can become the subject of a motion that is not mentioned here. These are mentioned in order to illuminate the divorce process. Other motions or filings or events that occur in divorces should be discussed with able counsel.

About the Author

E. W. Childers

I am a husband, father, Army veteran, and attorney here in Norman, Oklahoma. I've been practicing law throughout Central Oklahoma since 2006 shortly after I graduated from the OU College of Law. In my practice I have emphasized Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Personal Injury. I like to help peo...


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