Starting on November 1st of this year, Oklahomans looking to file for divorce will have to clear an additional hurdle before untying the knot: the recently-signed House Bill 2249 requires any couple with underage children and divorcing for reasons of incompatibility to “attend an educational program concerning the impact of divorce on children.”
In more detail, the new law requires couples to complete a program that covers a number of specific, state-mandated topics. Attendees to the program will have to pay a fee between $15 and $60, and they will have to file their completion certificate with the court after finishing the classes.
According to the sponsors of the bill, the classes don’t make obtaining a divorce in Oklahoma more difficult than it was previously. “It seems like a small thing to ask people to do – to take a course – when the challenges that come from divorce are so permanent,” said Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City in an interview with the Tulsa World. “By the same token, so is the harm done if they stay in a violent home.”
However, it’s understandable that you may have questions about what the new law entails if you’re thinking about filing for divorce. Below we answer some of the common questions about this new law, and how it will affect the process of getting your divorce in Oklahoma.
Who has to take the class?
Any couple getting a divorce who has a child or children under the age of 18. Both parents must take the divorce class, though they can take it separately if they wish.
What does the class cover?
Each divorce class must cover at least these topics, according to the signed law:
- Short-term and longitudinal effects of divorce on the well-being of children;
- Reconciliation as an optional outcome;
- Effects of family violence;
- Potential child behaviors and emotional states during and after divorce, including information on how to respond to the child’s needs;
- Communication strategies to reduce conflict and facilitate cooperative coparenting; and
- Area resources, including but not limited to nonprofit organizations or religious entities available to address issues of substance abuse or other addictions, family violence, behavioral health, individual and couples counseling, and financial planning.
That said, the programs aren’t all exactly the same. Local governments are allowed to alter the exact requirements of the program beyond these specifications. In effect, that means the exact material in the class you end up taking will depend on where you file for divorce.
How much do classes cost?
The exact cost of the class is set by each individual program; there is no one set cost. However, the law requires that the class cost at least $15, and no more than $60.
Is there any way that I can not take the class?
Only if you have a very good reason. The law states that “the court may waive attendance of the course for good cause shown,” but it’s likely that this cause will have to be very convincing. The point of these courses is to slow down the divorce process and give parties a chance to learn about reconciliation and potential effects on children. It’s not likely that the courts will give you a free pass to skip it simply because you want to expedite the process.
Do I have to take the class before my divorce is finalized? Is there any way to take it afterward?
According to the text of the law, you can complete the class either before getting a temporary separation order, or within 45 days of getting one. In other words, you can move out and have a temporary order in place before completing the course, but your divorce won’t be finalized until you finish it. Also, the law prevents the court from making any final judgements about child custody until both parents complete the course.
What happens when I complete the class?
After your course is finished, you’ll receive a certificate of completion from the program’s administration. You will have to file that certificate with the court before your divorce can be finalized.
What if I’m divorcing based on fault?
The new divorce classes only apply to divorces based on incompatibility, or no-fault divorces. If you’re divorcing based on fault grounds, you won’t need to complete the class in order to finalize your divorce. However, you will need to prove the fault in court. If you’re looking to file on fault grounds simply to avoid taking the class, you should know that fault divorce can be difficult to prove. Also, if your spouse can prove any fault against you in retaliation, your claim of fault will become invalid and you’ll lose any advantage in the courtroom.
Is your question not listed here? Call us directly at 405-601-4411, Our lawyers have years of experience dealing with family law and divorce cases in Oklahoma, and we can answer all of your questions. We’ll even give you a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the specifics of your divorce case and how you can maximize your chances. Call today to schedule your appointment!