Following Family Fault Lines: Oklahoma Lawmakers Eye Effects of State's Divorce System

Article excerpt

Though Oklahoma family laws continue to evolve, some state lawmakers say not enough is being done to protect children - including those in state custody - while legal experts worry that too many changes will make parts of the system even worse.

With legislators still seeking answers about the deaths of several children in state custody, at least two lawmakers believe part of the problem is Oklahoma's no-fault divorce.

State Reps. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, and Jason Murphey, R- Guthrie, said the no-fault divorce system is a failed policy.

"I respect the views of those who argue that no-fault divorce creates less havoc than the alternatives, but I question that orthodoxy," McCullough said. "There is very little in the divorce process that is even remotely connected to the interest of the children."

The issue was part of an interim study by state lawmakers that was conducted this month.

"When you get down to it, our current divorce system is a racket that enriches attorneys and makes children and communities poorer," said Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "Divorce scars children and leaves them emotionally disfigured. The current divorce laws are perverse and they are destroying children and our society. If the best interests of children were actually taken into consideration, the divorce rate would be considerably less."

But legal experts counter that too many changes could make the state's divorce system even more acrimonious for those couples who don't want to be together.

"The question is how far you want to go," said Oklahoma City family law attorney Kenneth Tillotson. "The law needs balance and if you go too far one way, it could make things worse."

Tillotson said the vast majority of divorces in Oklahoma are for incompatibility.

"I think most people would agree that in some instances a divorce is necessary," he said.

But because family law is state-specific, Tillotson said, following another state's example is difficult.

"If you eliminate the no-fault, or the incompatibility, then you would require the people who are seeking the divorce and the others involved to prove other grounds," he said. "That could make things very difficult."

Agency rules considered, too

In addition to tweaking divorce laws, lawmakers are considering changes to agency regulations that affect Oklahoma families.

As state leaders grapple with issues surrounding the death of several children in the custody of the Department of Human Services, the Republican leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives said he has a plan to reform DHS and better protect Oklahoma children.

House Speaker Kris Steele said his proposal would seek to improve DHS through examination and reforms to governance structure, agency structure, personnel policy and resource allocation.

Steele, R-Shawnee, said the plan was developed to improve delivery of services by DHS, particularly for children in state custody. …