Determining the Best Interests of the Child - Oklahoma

Date: September 2023

Guiding Principles

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, § 1-1-102(A) 

For the purposes of the Oklahoma Children's Code, the legislature recognizes the following:

  • Parents have a natural, legal, and moral right, as well as a duty, to care for and support their children, and such rights are protected by State and Federal laws as well as the Constitution. To that end, it is presumed that the best interests of a child are ordinarily served by leaving the child in the custody of the parents, who are expected to have the strongest bond of love and affection and to be best able to provide a child those needed qualities that make a child's life safe and secure. Nevertheless, this presumption may be rebutted where there is evidence of abuse and neglect or threat of harm.
  • A child has a right to be raised by their parents as well as a right to be raised free from physical and emotional abuse or neglect. When it is necessary to remove a child from a parent, the child is entitled to a permanent home and to be placed in the least restrictive environment to meet their needs.
  • Because the State has an interest in its present and future citizens as well as a duty to protect those who, because of age, are unable to protect themselves, it is the policy of this State to provide for the protection of children who have been abused or neglected and who may be further threatened by the conduct of persons responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of such children. To this end, where family circumstances threaten the safety of a child, the State's interest in the welfare of the child takes precedence over the natural right and authority of the parent to the extent that it is necessary to protect the child and ensure that the best interests of the child are met.

Best Interests Factors

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, § 1-1-102(B) 

It is the intent of the legislature that the Oklahoma Children's Code provides the foundation and process for State intervention into the parent-child relationship whenever the circumstances of a family threaten the safety of a child and to properly balance the interests of the parties stated herein. To this end, the laws relating to children alleged or found to be deprived will do the following: 

  • Intervene in the family only when necessary to protect a child from harm or threatened harm
  • Provide expeditious and timely judicial and agency procedures for the protection of the child 
  • Preserve, unify, and strengthen the family ties of the child whenever possible when in the best interests of the child to do so 
  • Recognize that the right to family integrity, preservation, or reunification is limited by the right of the child to be protected from abuse and neglect
  • Make reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for the removal of a child from the home and make reasonable efforts to return the child to the home, unless otherwise prescribed by the Oklahoma Children's Code
  • Recognize that permanency is in the best interests of the child
  • Ensure that when family rehabilitation and reunification are not possible, the child will be placed in an adoptive home or other permanent living arrangement in a timely fashion
  • Secure for each child the permanency, care, education, and guidance as will best serve the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health, safety, and welfare of the child

Other Considerations

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit 10A, § 1-7-110

In determining placement of a deprived child in foster care, the following apply:

  • The Department of Human Services or the court, if the court does not place the child with the department, and any child-placing agency shall be governed by the best interests of the child.
  • The child may express a preference as to placement, and the preference may be given with or without the parents, foster parents, guardians, or any other parties being present. The department, the court, or the child-placing agency shall determine whether the best interests of the child will be served by the child's preference. The department, the court, or the child-placing agency shall not be bound by the child's preference and may consider other facts in determining the placement.