As the rate of marriage has decreased, childbearing and coupling have not. The unwed birthrate has dramatically increased in recent years, and by 2010 it was at 40.3%. Many parents who are living outside a marriage relationship may not share child-rearing responsibilities comparable to a married couple, therefore domestic courts are left to structure a parenting plan which may not have any familial precedence to look to for guidance, and in other cases the parenting plan may be created at the birth of the child leaving the creation of the parenting plan to the biases, whims, and judgments of the court without any evidence to support the parenting style of either parent.
It may be common sense, but the relationship between the mother and father is a fair predictor on parent-child involvement. Better relationships between parents were associated with consistently high versus low involvement. Better relationships with each other’s extended family also predicted remaining highly involved and increasing involvement over time. Parents’ romantic relationship status was closely associated with patterns of involvement.
Because unwed parents often operate without court intervention, Mothers in such relationships often dictate the relationship between Father and child in terms of time and opportunity. Each relationship is unique and some parent-child relationships outside of marriage never need a court’s intervention, however, many require the oversight that a judge can provide in facilitating a relationship between parent and child. It is without question that custody arrangements that help facilitate a relationship between both Mother and Father is critical for the development and well-being of the child.
Researchers agree that, on average, children growing up in fatherless families are disadvantaged relative to their peers growing up in two-parent families with respect to psychosocial adjustment, behavior and achievement at school, educational attainment, employment trajectories, income generation, involvement in anti-social and even criminal behavior, and the ability to establish and maintain intimate relationships. The ideal situation is one in which children have opportunities to interact frequently with both parents in a variety of functional contexts (e.g., feeding, playing, disciplining, basic care, limit-setting, putting to bed, etc.).
Regardless of whether parents were married, the relationship between parents should be one of collaboration and coexistence that demonstrates a positive idea of what parenting should be. Children will deduce from what they hear and see. If they are hearing negative things about a parent, they will think negative things about that parent. If they see one parent acting poorly toward the other, they will expect the same in their own life.
Oklahoma Advisory Guidelines for Visitation with Young Children
Oklahoma Advisory Guidelines for Standard Visitation provides that “the key factor in creating an appropriate visitation schedule is to determine the ability and willingness of each parent to learn basic care giving skills such as feeding, changing and bathing a young child; to diagnose and treat common infant illness; and to demonstrate the ability to maintain an infant’s basic sleep, feeding and waking cycle.” Other factors to consider include the age of the child, parental work schedules, and the geographic distance between the parents. Interestingly the advisory guidelines provide that “fathers are just as capable of parenting infants as are mother. It is not the sex of the parent that is the issue, but rather a parent’s desire to be [and history of actually being] responsibly involved in the care and development of their child.” The Guidelines provide standard expectations and guidance for children of all ages. For children up to 5 years of age it provides in summary:
- Birth to Nine Months: Noncustodial parents should have frequent weekly contact with the minor child which provide ample opportunity for the parent to demonstrate care-giving functions such as feeding, playing, bathing, soothing and putting the infant to sleep, whether that’s a nap or an overnight. These visits are important for the parent and child to bond and develop familiarity. Non-custodial parents can begin overnights at this stage if they have been active and involved in the caregiving of the minor child. It is important that parents be provided the opportunity to provide such caregiving at this stage, otherwise the court should order is so.
- Nine to Eighteen Months: Predictability and consistency remain important during this time. Each parent should maintain frequent contact with the child and have the opportunity to participate in daily routine such as feeding, bathing, napping and playing. Parents should establish similar routines in each home and create consistency. Parents should work toward increased overnights for the non-custodial parent during this time.
- Eighteen to Thirty-six Months: Attachments will begin to increase during this time period and caregivers need to consistently be there for the children. Expect to hear the word “no” much more from children as they begin to demonstrate their independence. Parents should work together to create a consistent mechanism for discipline within each house. Children will also become more sensitive to tension between the parents; therefore, parents should be mindful and work to avoid unwarranted anger and violence in the parental relationship. Overnight visitation at this stage may increase and even equalize between parents if both parents have demonstrated an ability and desire to be a caregiver. Telephone contact between parent and child is recommended and can be reassuring for the child. Children at this age can begin to be away from each respective parent for 2 or 3 days at a time.
- Three to Five Years: In the event a parent has failed to be involved in the child’s life in a full way up to this point, visitations between parent and child a few times a week, including a full day on the weekend can help to develop that relationship. Keep in mind at this stage, children will begin to have nightmares at times and will tell the parent what they believe that parent wants to hear. If both parents are working outside the home, they may wish to consider splitting weekend, so each parent has ample time with the child each week. If one parent is at home with the child, and the other parent works, the working parent should be provided ample time during the weekend and additional time during the week.
It is critical to any paternity case, that the parents wishing to establish a relationship with their child[ren] demonstrate an ability to provide care for the child, a desire to be involved, and a willingness to build the relationship from the very beginning. If a relationship has been prevented by one parent, it is important to seek help from the courts to establish consistent opportunity to parent the child. Know that the court is going to look for a parent prove their ability and desire to parent over a course of time, even if it seems unfair. Courts are in the difficult position of protecting the best interest of the children, but that also includes providing the child with a relationship with both parents to the fullest extent available.
The parent-child relationship is the most important relationship that is addressed within any family law court, but it begins at birth with both parents working to provide the child with the needed love and care that should be provided to every child born. The family law attorneys at Ball Morse Lowe work to provide good parents the opportunity to develop the best relationship possible with their children.
 Joyce A. Martin et al., Births: Final Data for 2010, 61 Nat’L Vital Stat. Rep. 1, Tbl. C (Aug. 28, 2012), www.cds.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_01.pdf.
 See also Rebecca M. Ryan, Ariel Kalil, & Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, Longitudinal Patterns of Nonresident Fathers’ Involvement: The Role of Resources and Relations, 70 J. Marriage & Fam. 962 (2008).
 Lenna Mepomnyashy, Child Support and Father-Child Contact: Testing Reciprocal Pathways, 44 Demography 93, 106 (2007) See also Karen Benjamin Guzzo, Maternal Relationships and Nonresidential Father Visitation of Children Born Outside of Marriage, 71 J. Marriage & Fam. 632, 643 (2009).
 Joan B. Kelly & Michael E. Lamb, Using Child Development Research to Make Appropriate Custody and Access Decisions for Young Children, 38 Fam. & Conciliation Cts. Rev. 297, 303-9 (2000).
 43 O.S. Section 111.1A https://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=440023