Archive for December, 2013

Divorce After the Holidays: When The Lights Come Down, The Divorce Papers Are Filed

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

The holidays are full of family fun.  Parents, children, and extended family gather to decorate, bake, baste turkeys, wrap presents, select a Christmas tree, and the like.  For some, the holidays are also stress-filled, with gift expectations, visits with family you otherwise try to avoid, and much bustling activity.   The holidays represent the end of the road for a select group of married couples.  Once the Christmas lights come down and the decorations are stored, legal proceedings begin to ensure this will be their last holiday season spent as a married couple.

January is the most popular month for couples to file for divorce.  Divorce attorneys often refer to January as “Divorce Month” and many take vacation time in advance of January so they are well-rested heading into the busy divorce season.  Divorce gurus debate the most popular day of the month for filing, with some urging the first Monday after the kids go to school is the busiest time, while others argue it is the first full working week after the holidays that sends couples running to the courthouse.  The popular website reports a huge increase in the number of page views and searches the day after Christmas, suggesting some husbands and wives become disenchanted in the marriage during this time period but must wait until after attorneys are back in their offices, generally around January 12-16, to file.

The Divorce Month phenomenon begs the question, why do so many people file for divorce in January?  Here is a list of common theories for the spike of January divorces:

  1. Let the kids enjoy the holidays—many parents with children may have been anticipating a divorce months before the holidays, but opt to wait to begin formal proceedings until after Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years so that the holidays are not ruined for their children.  This “wait till after the holidays” school of thought then results in a glut of divorce filings in early January, once the excitement of the holiday season has passed.
  2. The marriage cannot survive the holidays—for some husbands and wives, the stress, excitement, and expectations are what push an already faltering marriage over the brink.  Emotions tend to run high during the holiday season.  Most people are off work for an extended period of time, forcing couples to spend more time together than they ordinarily would.  Add in a mix of snide comments from relatives, the need to act “merry” even if you are not, and the always overwhelming challenge of selecting the perfect gift for your spouse, and you can see why some couples exit the holidays vowing never to do it again.
  3. The New Year is a time for fresh beginnings—many people, especially in this down economy, may have been stalling getting a divorce for months.  They know the marriage is over but keep waiting for that right time to formally begin proceedings.  For some, the cost is prohibitive as well.  The New Year and its promise for a fresh start is the push many couples need to finally file for divorce.  Further, financially, filing after the holidays can have tax benefits.

Matthew S. Poole is a compassionate Mississippi divorce attorney who provides his clients with the highest quality legal representation available.  Matthew Poole understands how difficult the holidays can be on some couples and is here to help you.  For a thorough explanation of your rights in the event of a divorce and your filing options, contact Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.

Divorce and Out-of-State Moves: A Look at the Tricky Custody Issues that Exist in This Era of Increased Mobility

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Each year, over 6 million people in the U.S. will move to a different state.  Statistics show moving several hours away from one’s home state, a rarity in previous decades, has now become commonplace.  Moves are often spurred by job opportunities, decreased cost of living, a desire to be closer to family, and the need for change.  The decision to move out-of-state is never an easy one, as it means significant expense, stress, and the uprooting of the family.  For divorced couples with children, however, a move to another state becomes a whole different level of complication.

Today, most divorce experts agree that the most contentious and fastest-growing type of custody litigation is relocation cases.  These cases involve a parent who wants to move with their child over the other parent’s objections.  One theorized reason for the uptick in relocation cases has been linked to the increased role of fathers in today’s society.   More and more fathers have taken an active role in the lives of their children even after divorce, and many are now refusing to allow mothers to move their children out-of-state, at least not without a battle.  Another possible reason is simply the increase over the decades in the number of parents who move out-of-state to improve their current situation.

Each state has specific guidelines for parents desiring to move to another state with their children.  Some states require express court permission to move, whereas others allow the custodial parent total control.  Most states express a rebuttable presumption either in favor of or against relocation.  For instance, eleven states require the relocating parent prove the move is in the child’s best interest.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, five states, including Mississippi, place the burden on the opposing parent to show the move constitutes a change in circumstances necessitating a custody modification hearing.

In Mississippi, there is no specific statute that requires a custodial parent to obtain court permission to relocate.  Therefore, the custodial parent is free to move with the children but must notify the court and their former spouse of the change in address.  The non-custodial parent may petition the court for a modification of custody in order to halt the move or alter the custody agreement.  In addition to proving the move constitutes a change in circumstances so as to warrant a modification hearing, a non-custodial parent in Mississippi must also show the best interests of the child require a change in custody.

At a custody modification hearing, the court will consider the impact of the proposed move on the child and both parents.  They will determine whether the reasons for the move are justifiable and whether the non-custodial parent has established a change of custody would be in the best interests of the child.  If the non-custodial parent can meet his or her burden, the parent seeking relocation can lose custody of the child if the move is not abandoned.

Even if relocation occurs, the court can amend the custody arrangement to create an arrangement that works for both parents and the child despite the distance between the parties.  The non-custodial parent may receive more time over the summer, vacations, and weekends, for instance.

Relocation cases are complex and often involve heated emotions.  Both parents no doubt desire to do what is best for their children, but this leads to clashes over important decisions like out-of-state moves.  Matthew S. Poole has years of experience representing parents in relocation cases.  His knowledge of the intricate child custody laws is second to none.  If you are involved in a potential relocation case, call Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.

Mississippi Judge Refuses to Grant Same-Sex Divorce

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Recently, a Mississippi judge in Desoto County refused to grant Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham a divorce from her wife, Dana Ann Melancon.  Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, a credit analyst and mother of two sons from a previous straight marriage, married Dana Ann Melancon in California, where same-sex marriage is legal.  Czekala-Chatham filed for divorce in her home state of Mississippi in September.  Her request was met with much publicity and opposition.  The Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office filed a motion to intervene, urging the court had no obligation to give effect to California laws which are contrary to Mississippi state policy.

After reviewing arguments by all parties, Desoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy ultimately concluded he could not grant the divorce because the marriage was not recognized under state law.  Judge Lundy, although sympathetic to Czekala-Chatham’s situation, felt his hands were tied by Mississippi law.  In 1997, lawmakers amended Mississippi state law to expressly prohibit same-sex marriage.  Marriages between persons of the same gender are considered null and void in the state.  Further, in 2004, by an overwhelming 86 percent, Mississippi voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

Due to the prohibition in their home state, Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon traveled to San Francisco to wed in 2008.  They purchased a home in Mississippi shortly after the marriage ceremony.  The marriage, however, took a turn for the worse.  Czekala-Chatham chose to file for divorce in Mississippi instead of California because she feels she should not be treated differently from straight couples.  Further, because Mississippi will not recognize a divorce from California, the couple’s marital property would be in a state of limbo.

The attorney for Czekala-Chatham urged that due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling finding parts of the Defense of Marriage Act illegal and ordering federal recognition of same-sex marriage, a situation has arisen in which same-sex couples are lawfully married under the laws of the United States but not Mississippi law.  This unique predicament leaves couples like Czekala-Chatham without an adequate legal remedy.

Mississippi is not the only state grappling with the relatively new issue of same-sex divorce.  The Texas Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments concerning whether the state could grant a divorce to gay couples married outside the state.  The case involves two couples from Austin and Dallas who married in Massachusetts then sought divorces in Texas.  The couple from Austin was actually granted a divorce but the Attorney General intervened in the Dallas case and blocked the divorce.  Arguing before the Texas Supreme Court, the Assistant Attorney General James Blacklock urged that there can be no divorce due to the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Without a marriage, there cannot be a divorce, Blacklock reasons.  Additionally, a case similar to that of Czekala-Chatham was just filed in Kentucky, where two women who wed in Massachusetts are seeking a divorce.

Czekala-Chatham vows to appeal the decision of the Chancery judge and, although she expressed disappointment, she remains hopeful she will receive some sort of resolve.  While Czekala-Chatham is the first individual to seek a same-sex divorce in Mississippi, it is unlikely she will be the last.  With more and more states legalizing same-sex marriage, divorce rates among gay couples will continue to climb and many will seek divorces in their home states.

Matthew S. Poole is a Mississippi divorce attorney with a reputation for innovation and unmatched excellence in legal services.  If you are seeking a divorce in Mississippi, whether it be same-sex or conventional, call Matthew S. Poole today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a free initial consultation.

The Future of Divorce Part II: Predictions for 2014 and Beyond

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

As the New Year approaches, we continue our look at the future of divorce law.  The following is the second part of our predictions for the future of divorce in 2014 and beyond:

  1. The Divorce Rate May Rise—there are several factors that might contribute to a rise in the already staggering divorce rate in the coming years.  First, divorces have skyrocketed amongst older adults.  More Americans over the age of 50 are now divorced rather than widowed, a marked change from previous decades.  Most attribute this to demographic factors, including the increase in the life expectancy of adults.  As the lifespan of Americans continues to rise and the overall age of the population increases, it seems like divorce rates will also jump.  Next, some speculate that the new healthcare system may lead to divorces between couples in order to obtain health insurance.  While this might seem rather extreme, some married spouses have already taken this step.  Under the Affordable Healthcare Act, married couples can be required to pay premiums far in excess of their single counterparts.  With some many struggling to pay their bills in this shaky economy, the strain of healthcare premiums may signal the end of the marriage for some Americans.  Lastly, the continued recession may contribute to a rise in the divorce rate.  Money is the most common factor leading to the breakdown of a marriage, and it makes sense that when times are tight, the stress and anxiety over finances will end an increasing number of marriages.
  2. More Americans Will Elect to Divorce Without a Lawyer—studies reveal that the number one concern of those considering divorce is cost.  Previously, it had been child custody.  Many Americans are struggling in this down economy, and with the rise in self-help tools available on the internet, more and more are electing to pursue a divorce sans attorney.  For most, this short-term savings will result in long-term loses, as no amount of self-help material can provide a layperson with the years of knowledge a divorce attorney would provide.  Regardless, it appears likely the number of do-it-yourself divorcers will continue to climb in 2014 and beyond.
  3. Joint Physical Custody Will Prevail—in the past, the “custody norm” was for the mother to obtain primary custody with the father having visitation on weekends and holidays.  This has all changed.  Today, shared custody, wherein both parents have the children for an equal or nearly equal amount of time, has become the most popular custody arrangement and one favored by the courts.  This new norm will continue to grow in the coming years.  Additionally, there has been a rise in the number of fathers obtaining primary custody of their children when the situation so warrants.  It seems likely this previously rare phenomenon will grow, as courts come to view both parents as equally important in the lives of their children.
  4. Domestic Violence Will Increase—sadly, the past few years have seen growth in the rates of domestic violence.  The recent tragedy in Tennessee wherein a woman shot her husband right outside their attorney’s office serves to highlight this mounting problem.  In tough economic times, domestic violence occurs more frequently.  As the country’s financial conditions continue to take a few dips before finding the path to recovery, domestic violence rates could swell.
  5. Court Involvement in Co-habitation Break-ups May Rise—the number of Americans electing to simply co-habitat instead of marrying has sharply climbed in the past few years and is expected to continue to increase.  As more and more couples live together, have children, and acquire property as a unit, outside of the laws of marriage, court intervention will be necessary to resolve issues that traditionally would have come under the realm of a divorce court.

In the coming year, if you find yourself contemplating divorce or mulling over any other family law issue, Matthew S. Poole is here to assist you.  A premier divorce attorney in the Jackson, Mississippi area, Matthew Poole will provide you with exemplary legal services.  Call Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.

The Future of Divorce Part I: Predictions for 2014 and Beyond

Monday, December 9th, 2013

The past decade brought many changes to the field of divorce and divorce law, with divorce rates spiking, same-sex couples marrying and divorcing, and an increasing number of do-it-yourself divorcers.  Divorce is an area of law that is highly susceptible to changing cultural norms.  It is also influenced significantly by evolving technology.  Some divorce trends that emerged in the past century appear here to stay, while others may fade away.  Even further, new movements are developing that were previously unheard of.

As the New Year approaches, we have prepared the following segment on the future of divorce law.  This two part blog series sets out our predictions for the future of divorce in America.  Take a look at what trends we expect to continue and what new alterations could occur in the field of divorce law:

  1. The Internet and Social Media Will Continue to Impact Divorces—the past few years saw a sharp rise in the use of social networking websites.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have all become a part of most people’s daily routine, dictating their interactions with others.  While these websites can be fun and help individuals keep in touch, their impact on divorce has been palpable.  The internet tends to provide individuals with a sense of privacy, allowing for careless abandon when it comes to posting material best kept hidden.  Social media sites have lead to the break-up of many couples, and have also become an important tool during a divorce.  In most states, activity on social media and other networking sites can be subpoenaed and admitted in court.  Pictures of spouses intimately posing with others can be costly in a custody battle, and references to job bonuses may lead to questions concerning the credibility of your financial affidavit.  One thing is clear—the popularity of social media websites appears cemented amongst the American public.  It is likely the internet will continue to lead to marriages ending and thrive as a source for evidence against couples going through divorce.
  2. Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce Rates Will Climb—the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage is growing by the month.  Currently, 15 states plus the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  Further, Oregon recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states although it has yet to legalize the institution.  With the Supreme Court’s recent decision abolishing the Defense of Marriage Act and calling for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, the momentum is behind gay marriage.  It appears likely more and more states will pass legislation allowing for same-sex marriage.  As the number of same-sex marriages increases, the rate of divorce in this subgroup will also rise.  In turn, a mounting number of states will grapple with the issue of same-sex divorce.  While Mississippi has recently declined to grant a same-sex divorce in the case of Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, this will not be the end of the issue.
  3. Permanent Alimony Will Officially Become Extinct—in the last century, as societal norms have changed and women increasingly work outside the home throughout the duration of their marriage, permanent alimony has become a thing of the past.  Many states, like Mississippi, severely limit awards of permanent alimony, confining it to situations in which the marriage exceeded ten years and a great disparity of income existed.  A few states will award permanent alimony, but, absent another alternation in family norms, it seems like permanent alimony will be obsolete in the next few years.

Matthew S. Poole is a seasoned Mississippi divorce attorney who prides himself on compassionate, intelligent representation.  Matthew will accommodate all of your family law needs, so call him today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a free initial consultation.

The Largest Celebrity Divorce Settlements & Considerations for High Asset Divorce Cases in Mississippi

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Celebrity marriages often involve incredible wealth and a plethora of properties.  These factors make celebrity divorces complex and often newsworthy.  Depending on the existence of a valid prenuptial agreement and the circumstances of the divorce, large sums can be paid out in divorce settlements involving celebrity couples.

The following is a list of the largest celebrity divorce settlements, intended for your amusement as well as education on the issues surrounding high net worth divorces in Mississippi and across the globe.

  1. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes—one of the most high profile divorces of recent years was that of the once Hollywood golden couple, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  Tom Cruise will pay a total of over $4.8 million to his former spouse over the next 12 years.  Cruise is also responsible for any expenses his daughter Suri may incur, including tuition.  This settlement, while large, pales in comparison to Tom Cruise’s estimated $250 million fortune.
  2. Tiger Woods and Elin Nordengren—in this divorce which involved accusations of numerous affairs on the part of Tiger Woods, Elin Nordengren was awarded roughly $100 million along with full legal custody of the couple’s two children.
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver—in this highly publicized divorce between the movie star and California Governor, it was revealed that Shriver split from Schwarzenegger after she discovered he had fathered a child with a member of their staff.  Without a prenuptial agreement, under California law, Shriver was entitled to half of her former husband’s wealth.  The settlement was estimated to be between $250 and $375 million.
  4. Mel and Robyn Gibson—in what possibly became the biggest celebrity divorce of all time, Mel Gibson settled with his former wife for over $425 million.  The couple did not have a prenuptial agreement and Mel had publically become romantically involved with another woman before the divorce was finalized.  The messy divorce included restraining orders and recorded phone conversations.
  5. Craig and Wendy McCaw—Craig McCaw is the founder of McCaw Cellular, which was purchased by AT&T back in the 1990’s for between $11-12 billion.  Just a few years after the highly profitable sale of the company, Craig and his wife Wendy split.    The divorce settlement resulted in Wendy becoming one of the 400 richest Americans, receiving approximately $460 million.  This sum allowed her to purchase the Santa-Barbra News-Press from the New York Times.
  6. Bernie and Slavica Ecclestone—the divorce between tycoon Bernie Ecclestone and his wife is one of the most expensive in history.  Estimates place the covert settlement at over $1 billion.  Since the divorce, former model Slavica has purchased a private plane.
  7. Rupert and Anna Murdoch—this couple holds the title of the most expensive divorce in the world, to the tune of $1.7 billion.  Rupert Murdoch and his wife Anna had been wed for 32 years and had three children together.  Both couples moved on quickly from the divorce, with Rupert wedding Wendi Deng, a woman 38 years his junior, just 17 days after the divorce was finalized and Anna marrying investor William Mann months later.

Celebrity divorces are sources of entertainment and wonder for many, but they also serve an important purpose of providing a glimpse into the complex issues that arise for high net couples seeking a divorce.  Matthew S. Poole has extensive experience representing divorcing clients with considerable assets.  He understands the special considerations that go into such divorces.  Whatever the size or complexity of your divorce, Matthew S. Poole can help.  Call him today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.

Violence During Divorce Proceedings in Mississippi

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Recently, in Manchester, Tennessee, the local community experienced shock and outrage when a wife shot her husband after leaving a divorce mediation conference.  Brenda and Harry Bartee were in the process of divorce and met for a mediation session at the law firm of Rogers, Duncan & North, located on North Spring Street.  The mediation did not go well.  Heated arguments between Brenda Bartee and her physician husband ensued.  The couple left the law office and moments later, Brenda Bartee reached into her coat and retrieved a .45-caliber Ruger.  She fired seven or eight rounds at Dr. Harry Bartee, hitting him at least four times.  Two deputies quickly rushed to the scene and Dr. Bartee was transported via helicopter to the Erlanger Medical Center.  He is currently in critical but stable condition.

Brenda Bartee has been charged with attempt to commit first degree murder and remains in jail with a bond of $250,000.  Investigators have revealed that both Brenda and Harry have a history of domestic violence, some of which occurred right here in Mississippi.  In Boliver County, Mississippi, Brenda Bartee fired two shots at her husband while they were both seated inside the car back in 2012.  The reason for the dispute – Brenda allegedly accused Harry of cheating on her.  Harry Bartee was granted an order of protection against his wife and she was charged with aggravated domestic violence.

While the tale of Brenda Bartee seems like something out of a movie, domestic violence occurring during divorce proceedings is not all that unusual.   In 2011, Catherine Scott-Gonzalez arrived at a Broward County, Florida courthouse for the final hearing in her divorce case.  About 30 minutes into the hearing, when the issue of child support arose, Catherine’s husband, Paul Gonzalez, got up to leave the courtroom.  He stated calmly but unhappily that he was not going to pay child support.  He took one step out of the courtroom, then returned and suddenly attacked his estranged wife.  Paul threw punch after punch at Catherine while her attorney fought to restrain him.  Finally, the judge hit the panic button and several deputies arrived to arrest Paul Gonzalez.  Like Brenda Bartee, Paul Gonzalez also had a history of violent behavior and Catherine Scott-Gonzalez had sought several restraining orders against him which were denied.

While exact rates are unknown, incidences of domestic violence often increase during a divorce.  Domestic violence may already be present in a marriage, then the stress, anger, and hurt involved in a divorce causes heightened aggression.  For some individuals with no history of violence, the grave emotions evoked during a divorce can lead to violence.

If domestic violence may be a potential issue during your divorce, it is important to make your attorney and the court aware of this.  Had the attorneys for Brenda Bartee and Catherine Scott-Gonzalez known of the potential for violence, they could have planned separate mediation conferences or arranged for adequate security in the courtroom.  Never hesitate to call the police if any threats, whether verbal or physical, are made or if you are fearful of your soon to be former spouse.

You can seek psychological evaluation for your violent spouse.  Abusers often have mental health issues that perpetuate the violence and gathering a clinical understanding can help your estranged spouse, yourself, and the court understand the reason and possible solutions for the violence.  If you fear your spouse may become violent, do not hesitate to insist on separate counseling.  Finally, request child custody evaluations be completed by someone trained in domestic violence treatment.  Even children who are not the direct victims of domestic violence can be severely traumatized living with an abuser.

Matthew S. Poole has extensive experience representing divorce clients with domestic violence concerns.  With his vast knowledge in the field, Matthew can address all the special issues that arise in a divorce case involving domestic violence.  Matthew vows to keep you safe during the divorce proceedings by advocating at all times for your security.  Call Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.

Weathering the Holidays Post-Divorce in Mississippi

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Divorce is difficult any time of year, but your first holidays post-divorce can be amongst the most challenging.  Nearly four million divorced parents each year will experience the pain of being apart from their former spouse during the holidays and the stress of juggling custody schedules.  The newly divorced often enter the holiday season with the belief that they will never again experience the perfect Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa.  In the face of such shattering knowledge, divorced couples may dread the onset of the holiday season.

The following is a list of tips to help you weather the holidays post-divorce.  This list is intended to provide you with some proven strategies to not only make it through those first holidays after your divorce, but to help you discover the immense possibility of cheerful holidays to come.

  1. Don’t go it alone—whether you have custody of the children during the holidays or not, it is important to spend this special season with family and friends.  Your loved ones will be there to make the season merry and bring out your holiday spirit.
  2. Keep busy—spend time doing things you love.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter, make new friends, visit local tourist attractions, and try new restaurants.  The best way to keep your mind off your former spouse is to simply keep it busy with other thoughts.
  3. Focus on the kids—no matter your attitude towards the holidays, you no doubt want your children to experience a happy holiday.  Co-parenting during this season is often challenging, as parents fight with the desire to spend as much time as possible with their children, but at the same time not to exclude the other parent.  Your best bet is to focus on doing what is best for your children, which generally means spending quality time with both parents in a healthy environment free of bickering or guilt.
  4. Do some advance planning—to avoid potential disagreements, figure out your holiday custody schedule well in advance.  This includes planning pick up dates, times, and locations, so that there will be no misunderstandings during this important moment for both you and the children.
  5. Don’t compete—divorced parents often fall into the trap of trying to outdo each other with gifts for the kids.  This attitude is corrosive to healthy co-parenting and can easily be avoided through conversation with your former spouse as to general guidelines for spending and acceptable presents.
  6. Focus on yourself—you have likely spent the past few months or even years focusing on the wants and needs of others.  This holiday season, relish in being able to center on yourself.  Enjoy some alone time, buy yourself a special gift you’ve always wanted, and take some time for quiet reflection.
  7. Keep some traditions—within reason, keep those traditions that matter to you.  If you and the kids always baked cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, maintain this special tradition.  Some traditions might simply not be possible as they involved both spouses, but for those important traditions that can be re-created post-divorce, do not lose them.
  8. Make new traditions—now is the time to embark upon new traditions.  Invite single friends over for Christmas Eve, drive the kids to see the lights on Christmas day, make a new unusual dish, open presents at midnight–whatever strikes your fancy, create traditions that will be special to you for years to come.

Although the prospect of facing the first holidays without your former spouse can be daunting, with some advance planning and goal setting, divorced couples can emerge from the holiday season not just unscathed, but full of hope for the year to come.

Matthew S. Poole is a preeminent divorce attorney in Mississippi with a reputation for compassion and excellence of service.  Call him today at (601) 573-7429 for a free initial consultation.