Divorce Process in Tulsa Oklahoma Part I
THE DIVORCE PROCESS IN TULSA COUNTY OKLAHOMA – PART I
THE AUTOMATIC TEMPORARY INJUNCTION
PARENTING PLAN CONFERENCE
As a divorce lawyer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I usually explain the divorce process in the Tulsa District Court and what to expect in my first meeting with new clients. I would like to share with you some of that information. The process will be different depending on whether minor children are involved. When there are no children, some of the steps can be omitted.
The Automatic Temporary Injunction (ATI)
The first thing to know is that the very act of filing a petition for divorce activates an automatic temporary injunction in every divorce case. This automatic injunction prohibits certain conduct. It goes into effect against the party filing, immediately upon filing the case. It goes into effect upon the other party immediately upon that party being served (or signing a waiver of service). The types of conduct that are prohibited are:
- Molesting or disturbing the peace of the other party or the child(ren) of the marriage.
- Disrupting or withdrawing any child(ren) of this marriage from an educational facility, program, or day-care where the child(ren) historically have been enrolled.
- Hiding or secreting any child(ren) of this marriage from the other party.
- Removing any child(ren) of this marriage beyond the jurisdiction of the State of Oklahoma, acting directly or in concert with others, except for vacations of two (2) weeks or less duration, without the prior written consent of the other party, which shall not be unreasonably withheld.
- Selling, mortgaging, encumbering, transferring, loaning, giving away, concealing or in any way disposing of, without the written consent of the other party or an order of the Court, any marital property, except:
(A) in the usual course of operating a business;
(B) for the purpose of retaining an attorney for the case; or
(C) for the necessities of life.
Each party shall notify the other party of any proposed other expenditures, and shall account to the court for all such expenditures made after this injunction went into effect.
- Intentionally or knowingly damaging or destroying the tangible property of the parties, or either of them, including, but not limited to, any document that represents or embodies anything of value.
- Making a withdrawal for any purpose from any retirement, profit-sharing, pension, death, or other employee benefit plan or employee savings plan or from any individual retirement account or Keogh account.
- Withdrawing or borrowing in any manner all or any part of the cash surrender value of life insurance policies on either party or their child(ren).
- Changing or in any manner altering the beneficiary designation on any life insurance policies of either party or any of their children.
- Canceling, altering, or in any manner affecting any casualty, automobile, homeowners=, or health insurance policies insuring the parties’ property or persons.
- Opening or diverting mail addressed to the other party.
- Signing or endorsing the other party’s name on any negotiable instrument, check, or draft, such as tax refunds, insurance payments, and dividends, or attempting to negotiate any negotiable instruments payable to either party without the personal signature of the other party.
In addition to prohibiting the above actions, the Automatic Temporary Injunction requires certain affirmative actions such as maintaining n force all presently existing health, property, vehicle, homeowners’, life and other insurance and exchanging certain financial information.
Initial Discovery – Exchange of Information
One hears the word “discovery” in connection with litigation. This simply refers to the process by which each side acquires the information they need to effectively evaluate settlement offers or to present their case for trial, whether it is physically obtaining documents to be offered as evidence or learning what the other side’s evidence will be. We will discuss Discovery more in Part II
As mentioned above, the ATI requires the exchange of certain information. Before the Legislature added this requirement to the ATI, Tulsa County already had its own local rule on this subject. There is some overlap and some differences in the two rules. Both are in effect and apply to all new divorce cases in Tulsa County.
The ATI requires the exchange within 30 days of service of the Summons. The documents to be exchanged are:
(1) the federal and state income tax returns of each party for the past two (2) years and for any business entity in which either party has an interest, including all supporting documentation for the tax returns, such as W-2 forms, 1099 forms, K-1 forms, Schedule C and Schedule E.
(2) two (2) months of the most recent pay stubs from each employer for whom the party worked,
(3) statements for the past six (6) months for all bank accounts in which either party or their children has a beneficial interest
(4) Health insurance coverage documentation for the benefit of either party or the minor
child or children of the parties.
(5) child care expense documentation.
(6) documentation regarding all debts in the name of either party individually or jointly, including the current balance due and payment terms.
Tulsa County Local Rule DR-5 requires the exchange within 20 days of the service of the Summons but no later than 48 hours before a Temporary Order hearing. The documents to be exchanged are:
a. a statement of the party’s gross monthly income supported by the preceding month’s payroll checks and check
stubs and evidence of all income received from all sources within ninety (90) days prior to the date of service.
b. complete tax returns for three (3) years prior to date of service.
c. an accurate and provable statement of monthly employment related child care expenses.
d. evidence of medical insurance coverage and premium cost.
e. an accurate and provable list of all marital debts, stating the purpose of the debt and the amount of monthly payments for all existing
debts and obligations.
f. an accurate and provable list of monthly living expenses.
The Parenting Plan Conference (PPC)
If there are minor children, the first court appearance will be scheduled at the time of filing the petition. This first court date is called the Parenting Plan Conference. Both parties must attend at the same time. At the PPC the Judge, who is not the judge otherwise assigned to your case, will give a speech, or lecture, about how difficult divorce is on children. The Judge will explain that the best thing for the children is for you to settle your divorce case without litigating all the way through trial. The judge will explain that if the parties and lawyers can’t settle among themselves, they will be required to attend mediation to attempt to settle. Mediation is a settlement conference conducted and facilitated by an independent third party called a mediator. The mediator’s job is to help the parties find common ground to settle. The mediator can’t decide anything. The mediator can’t impose any binding outcome. Everything said and done in mediation is privileged and can’t be offered into evidence in trial . This is to encourage people to offer to make compromises that won’t be binding if the other side doesn’t also make satisfactory compromises.
After the judge finishes her speech, everyone at the PPC will watch a video of children of all ages, small children to adults, discussing the impact of their parents’ divorce on them. After the video, you have an opportunity to sign up for the class you will have to take called “Helping Children Cope With Divorce.” All parties with custody cases in Tulsa County must attend this class even if there is not actually a divorce involved, i.e. paternity. This is about a 4 hour seminar on co-parenting with a parent that does not live in the same household. The two parties do not need to attend the class at the same time together.
After signing up for Helping Children Cope with Divorce, the parties and their attorneys break out into groups and attempt to reach an agreement on the terms of a Temporary Order. A Temporary Order governs the rights and responsibilities of the parties while the case is pending in the court. There is a 90 day waiting period for divorcing parties with minor children. In Tulsa County unless your case is uncontested it will take substantially longer than 90 days for your case to work through the process. A Temporary Order then is necessary to address things like child custody, visitation and support during this time, as well as temporary use and possession of assets such as the marital residence, vehicles or a family business.
If an agreement is reached it will be written up on a form provided by the court. If the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is providing welfare (TANF) or medicaid (Sooner Care) assistance, one of their attorneys will have to approve the agreement, otherwise, the judge will sign the agreement at the PPC and it will become an order of the court. If no agreement is reached, the judge conducting the PPC will sign a referral form for the parties to take to their assigned judge to get a hearing date for a temporary order hearing with the assigned judge. In any event, you will also enter a scheduling order as part of the PPC. This order sets deadlines for other events to occur in the case, such as discovery and mediation.
See Part II (coming soon) for more explanation of the Divorce Process in Tulsa County, Oklahoma.