Archive for July, 2017

Grandparents Do Have Visitation Rights!

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Are you a grandparent of a child of divorce shut out of your grandchild’s life? In Mississippi, grandparents have a statutory right to visitation with their grandchildren, in limited circumstances. The polestar consideration in matters of child custody and visitation is “what is in the best of interest of the child?” In Mississippi, specific statutes confer upon grandparents certain visitation rights under specific circumstances. Below is the logical flow chart of the specific statutes that apply.

The statutory circumstances that apply to visitation rights are as follows:

Parent of the noncustodial parent;

Parent of the parent with terminated parental rights;

Parent of a deceased parent of the child; OR

Grandparents who do not fit any of the above three categories may still petition the court for visitation rights

Grandparent must prove an established “viable relationship” (defined below) with the child; OR

Grandparent must show the court that the custodial parent unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights; AND

Grandparent must convince the court that granting visitation rights to the grandparent are in the best interest of child.

“Viable relationship” as it relates to visitation rights of grandparents means “a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child, the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year, or the child has been cared for by the grandparents or either of them over a significant period of time during the time the parent has been in jail or on military duty that necessitates the absence of the parent from the home.”

Your rights to grandparent visitation are worth pursuing if such would be in the best interest of your grandchildren. The above summary of the statutory rights conferred upon grandparents by the legislature is not an exhaustive list of factors the courts consider when making a determination of visitation with a child. Furthermore, the particular facts of your case are determinative of the proper court in which to file your petition for visitation rights. Establishing visitation rights of grandparents can be complicated and should be done with advice and representation by a qualified attorney.

If you are a loved one has questions about grandparent visitation issues, schedule a consultation with the Attorney Matthew S. Poole. Matthew has over a decade of experience representing parties in all matters of visitation, including many grandparents.

What does “custody” really mean?

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

You’ve probably heard it before: “I have full custody of my kids” or “I have legal custody” or “He has physical custody of the children” or “We have joint custody of our child.” All those mixing of terms can make child custody confusing, but it shouldn’t be. Child custody in Mississippi is awarded in two ways – “legally” and “physically” – and can be combined in a number of ways to fit the best interest of the child.

Legal custody” pertains to the rights bestowed upon a parent to make decisions of health, education and welfare of the child. “Physical custody” describes the time a child resides with a parent. When parents use “joint custody” to describe their custody arrangements then the court has granted both parents shared rights of custody either physically or legally or both. Generally, parents with “joint physical custody” equally share physical custody of their child and it is exercised every other week. “Joint legal custody” means the parents share in the significant (i.e., not whether the child needs a band-aid) health, education and welfare decision making of the child, regardless of which parent has physical custody of the child at the time decisions are made. The right to share all of the child’s official records is presumed and paramount. Parents might share joint legal custody while one parent has physical custody or parents could share joint physical custody while one parent has legal custody. It should be noted that good communication between parents is paramount to the court’s consideration of whether joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child. Even if the court determines that both parents are equally capable of making legal decisions in the best interest of the child, poor communication between the parents typically results in the Chancellor arbitrarily designating one parent as the sole legal guardian of the child.

Each child custody case is different as evidenced by the many combinations of legal and physical custody, however all custody cases are decided using the same polestar determinant: What is in the best of interest of the Child?

If you or someone you love has questions about their child custody issues then schedule a consultation with the Attorney Matthew S. Poole. Matthew has over a decade of experience representing parents in divorces where child custody is the central issue and in child custody modifications.

Myth: Courts Give Mothers Preferential Treatment for Child Custody When Child is Young

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Early American courts favored mothers over fathers for custody of young children. The legal tradition of preferential treatment of mothers eventually led to the adoption of the “tender years” doctrine. However, Mississippi courts no longer give preferential treatment to mothers of young children in child custody cases, with limited exceptions.

The “tender years” doctrine is a 19th century principle rooted in common law and stood for the premise that a mother of children of tender years (generally 4 years or younger) was presumed to be the best parent to care for young children. This was the legal rationale courts used to award mothers custody. Mississippi, as have most states, has trended towards a more balanced examination of both parents in determining which one is the best custodial parent of a child. Rather than completely abolish the “tender years” doctrine, it has been included as an Albright Factor (discussed extensively in other blog entries). Thus preferential treatment, as it relates to the “tender years” doctrine, is still a factor, but weighed against all the other factors courts consider.

There are, however, rare exceptions to the general rule against preferential treatment of mothers. When chancellors (family law judges) apply the Albright Factors to their analysis of the parents in a child custody case they do so with the best interest of the child as the overriding determinant. Courts in Mississippi consider it the best interest of a breastfeeding child of tender years to remain with the mother, thus giving these breastfeeding mothers preferential treatment in cases of child custody. Of course a father may present facts to the court, such as drug use of the breastfeeding mother, which override the interest of a young breastfeeding child remaining with the mother.

Suffice to say that the preference given to mothers in child custody determinations has diminished in weight to an appropriate position as one of a dozen or more Albright Factors. Ultimately, courts are going to consider many factors when making a child custody determination of a child of tender years. If you are a father or mother of children of tender years there are many issues to consider with an attorney. Matthew S. Poole has the experience and expertise to assist you in all your child custody needs. If you or anyone you know has a question about child custody matters, please contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole at 601-573-7429.

Hindsight is 20/20: Lessons From an Attorney Divorcee’

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

I am currently an attorney in the state of Alabama and have known Matthew Poole since 2003 during our time with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. Following is a first hand experience that is significant when confronted with divorce.

The old saying “hindsight is 20/20” is certainly an overused cliché, but could not be more fitting to describe my experience with divorce.  I learned some difficult lessons over the course of what I describe as my “4 year divorce” and my goal is to provide you with a map to avoid the same mistakes I made. You may hear that no divorce is the same, but most divorcees face many of the same pitfalls.  If my open and honest discussion helps just one other dad avoid four years of trials and tribulations, then this blog will be a success. If one child benefits from the message about the importance of co-parenting, this is a pure success.

To paraphrase a wise saying, “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.”  Four years of journaling my divorce provided me the unique opportunity to reflect on where I was emotionally at each step of my divorce.  My journal is a snapshot of my thought process at the very moments I made each mistake in my divorce and would certainly be the “knowing where I was” and having the opportunity to see it in hindsight gives me the clarity I need to “know where I am going.”

Wrong turns in divorce don’t start at the moment the divorce is finalized; not even close.  Vital decisions are made in the pre-divorce period that will carry long-lasting implications and results in newly divorced fathers facing nearly insurmountable odds of being the best dad they can be.  There comes a point in the pre-divorce process that the inevitability of divorce sets in.  For me, this crucial point came after months, or more realistically years, of efforts to keep my family together.  I was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and filled with anxiety about the unknown.  That is when I made not just the first wrong turn, but THE wrong turn that set me on a path that took me fours years to begin to correct.  I have a name for it. I call it my moment of “white flag surrender.”

Waiving the proverbial white flag was my way of doing what I thought was best for my children.  Remember, if you are in unfamiliar territory and you are exhausted and desperate, you will not make the best decisions for your family.  I agreed to give my ex-wife everything and I mean everything.  My wife got the kids, house, condo, cars, bank accounts, and even family heirlooms.  I walked away with my clothes. I made the mistake of representing myself, and that is something even the finest lawyer should avoid.

My first wrong pre-divorce decision directly resulted in my starting my new life as a single dad unable to support my kids in the way they needed. If you have yet to hear your attorney or judge use the phrase “best interest of the child,” you soon will.  Every decision made during the entire pre-divorce and divorce processes should be made through the lens of what is in the best interest of your child.  That is to say, while contemplating decisions you face, you must ask first “what is in the best interest of the child?” Having two emotionally and financially secure parents is always in the best interest of your children, and by doing what I thought best. I wrecked myself financially and then emotionally, thus, leaving my children with less than 2 reliable parents.  

Navigating the divorce process was stressful, but by putting myself in a position of weakness (i.e. impatience) during my pre-divorce surrender, I fared much worse in the final divorce decree (more on that in later blog entries).  Every hasty decision (there were many!) I made was in the interests of receiving finality instead of with the realization that the court’s order would be in place barring monumental litigation.

Divorcee Life-lesson One:

Pre-divorce is not the time to throw in the towel to all of your ex’s desires and demands, even if you think this might be what is best for the kids.  Remember, two financially strong and emotionally stable parents are what is ultimately in the best interest of the kids. Pre-divorce is tough. The whole process is foreign to you.  You will be scared.  You will be emotionally drained.  You just want the pain and discomfort for everyone to end.  Believe me, I know.  But you will only make matters much worse for your kids, your ex and yourself if you do not position yourself to exit your marriage as financially secure as you can justly make it for yourself. If you resist the urge to surrender (and dang it is a strong urge), you will be a better single father, a better ex-husband, and ultimately, that is all that matter to your children.      

As you set out on your new journey as a single dad, you will need to prepare yourself for the stresses that await you throughout the divorce process. It is pivotal that you fight the urge to waive that white flag before you ever get started. Do not set out on this path alone and don’t be ashamed to ask someone to be a part of your support network. Use every tool you have to remain focused on the best interest of the kids while fighting that urge to throw in the towel. If you will heed this advice you can come out the other side of your divorce much better prepared to take care of your kids while avoiding the four-year journey I took down the wrong path filled with pitfalls disappointment and heartache.

If you are contemplating a divorce, whether it be high-asset based or the primary concern is that of your child’s well-being, The Law Office of Matthew Poole has the experience and expertise to assist you in making one of the most crucial decisions of your life. Don’t attempt going it alone, even if you are an attorney.