Mother and child

Yes. A father can obtain custody, and a mother can lose custody, even if both parents are fit parents.

There are many myths and misconceptions about child custody. Here is a short list:

  • Mothers will have an advantage in a custody case, especially if the child is a toddler or younger
  • Mothers cannot lose custody unless they are found to be "unfit"
  • Fathers will likely have alternating weekends, or some form of parenting time (visitation), that is less than the mother's time
  • Mothers will not have to pay child support
  • Only the noncustodial parent will have to pay child support -- the custodial parent cannot be ordered to pay child support

The law presumes that each parent is fit. "Fitness" in the child custody context generally has more to do with that individual parent, and that parent's time and relationship with the child, than it has to do with child custody between parents. In other words, an unfit parent is someone who poses some sort of safety risk to their child, resulting in severe restrictions and limitations on their contact with a child. Since it is presumed that each parent is a fit parent, neither parent has an advantage over the other parent simply because they are fit.

It is unconstitutional for a judge to prioritize custody to one parent over another based on that parent's gender. There is still a perception that some judges will lean towards the mother having more time with younger children, especially if they are breastfeeding, but that is changing. Oklahoma law prioritizes shared parenting, so many judges are encouraging the mother to pump breast milk for the child's time with the father, but breastfeeding is not being used as a reason to limit the father's parenting time. 

Unless there is a question of parental fitness for one or both parents, child custody contests are comparative and situational. In other words, the child's "best interests" will be based on what each parent has to offer the child, and how each parent treats the other parent. The standards of the case will vary from case to case. In one case, a parent may obtain custody because they live closer to and have access to superior schools and hospitals than the other parent. In another case, a parent who lives by the school and hospital may lose custody because they work nights and weekends and are unavailable. 

When all things are equal, the judge is supposed to assess which parent is most likely to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent. One way this assessment is made is by viewing which parent follows the court's orders (and which parent does not). Oklahoma's appellate courts have upheld changes in custody that were made due to one parent not following court orders and interfering with the other parent's time and relationship with the child. 

Child support has more to do with each parent's respective income and parenting time. When parents have equal time, the parent with the highest income is the child support obligor, even if that parent has custody. It is possible for a parent having demonstrably more time with a child than the other parent to still be the child support obligor (payor), depending on each parent's income. 

Neither parent can afford to take anything for granted. In a child custody dispute, each parent has to work hard to make their best presentation to the court about why they should have maximum parenting time.