Archive for September, 2018

Time to Re-Examine Joint Custody Arrangements? National Parent’s Organization Says So

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Note: This post is not an endorsement or critique of the National Parent’s Organization, merely an observation and analysis of their position as to the impact of standard (limited) visitation on young lives.

The bulk of Mississippi Chancery Court judges are what practicing attorneys deem “standard visitation judges”. What, in fact, does this term refer to? To state it very bluntly, it signifies that one parent involved in a custody dispute is going to get the short end (very short) of the stick: time to spend with their own children. Although it is not common that separated parents live closely to one another to equally “split the baby”– sometimes this is the case, but one parent (dad, most frequently) is cut out of the bulk of involvement with their own kids. Does this make sense for everyone? Is this reliance on “standard visitation” truly in the best interests of the children who are impacted? The research on point seems to indicate that children suffer from such limitations in sharing near equivalent time with both mom and dad.

Although I confess that The National Parent’s Organization was, until running across the research in question, foreign to me, I will say that they make a valid point insofar that children actually do benefit from what more closely resembles joint custody. In Mississippi, joint custody is presumably in the best interests of children only when parents agree to it. Very seldom, if ever, have I seen a Chancery judge award close to “equal time” with both parents. Is this due to an antiquated thinking, steeped in the belief that children need consistency above all else? It is certainly subject to debate, if nothing more.

In a recent article that appeared on Foxnews.com, a professor Emeritus from Ohio State University, Donald Hubin, Ph.D, postulated that children are disrupted by standard visitation arrangements, which for all practical purposes are in fact, limited visitation schedules. Without expressing my humble opinion too frankly, some of the opinions Mr. Hubin presents are deserving of consideration.

Citing a recent study by the National Parents Organization, Hubin asserts that “The best research on the well-being of children when parents live apart shows that children typically do best when they enjoy substantially equal time in the care of each of their parents”. Further, he states that they do “much better” than children raised in sole-custody situations. Definitely food for thought.

In essence, the thrust of Mr. Hubin’s position is that children are better-suited to have involvement of both parents in their day-to-day activities; doing homework, getting ready for school, extracurricular functions, and the list goes on as such. His conclusion, based upon the “parenting plans” implemented in Ohio’s 88 counties, is that the courts are failing to adequately consider the value of co-parenting on a nearly equal basis. (The article title pretty well sums up his position, “Divorce is hard enough on children–why are our courts making it worse?). The last line of the article simply states, “Our children deserve better”. It is difficult to ignore the power in this simplicity.

In closing, it is clear that some of the thinking that drives child-custody judicial policy needs careful consideration and the ability to strip away preconceived notions that are rooted in tradition more so than logic and reason. While there are never simple answers to complex domestic issues involving children, it remains clear that putting self-interest to the side is often the key to a child’s ability to thrive. Hurt feelings are a given after a tough break-up. I would suggest that anyone going through a custody dispute fully consider shelving all animosity that they have toward the other parent. Even though they may deserve your scorn, your children do not. Consider co-parenting for the sake of your children. They will thank you for it later in life.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 8 year old son, Lucas.

The Best Child Custody Lawyers Get This One Thing: Attitude is Everything

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Never forget that taking a child custody lawsuit to trial is no easy task. It is not outside of the realm of possibility that it could take a year or more, a large amount of money, not to mention many sleepless nights. Not only can close cases be lost with the slightest missteps, relatively strong cases on facts, witness testimony, and documentation can be thrown away as well.

Sometimes what may seem to be a relatively simple win can become stretched into a very prolonged battle. So what gives? Is there a secret to improving your outcome when lifelong implications hang in the balance? Probably not, but unequivocally clients must understand that they only have a brief few minutes for judge to form an initial impression of them, and more importantly, their parenting.

Preparing a client for trial is never an easy task, but without question it can be relatively straightforward when a client is ready to tamp down their level of emotion. It is normal to be upset when your own flesh and blood are torn between you and the “other” parent. I will state that most Chancery Court judges can read you more readily than you realize. They are experts in lie-detection, human intention, and a myriad of other factors that will dictate the outcome of your case. Being honest and forthcoming, including admitting your flaws within reason can be very effective. The judge already knows you aren’t perfect.

We have discussed this general topic from various angles umpteen times through the years, and the repetition is intentional. Let me say clearly: no matter how strong your evidence may be, your demeanor while testifying is just as important in the eyes of the court. It is far too easy to hurt a would-be winner with a bad attitude, pettiness, greed, and anger. Stay cool, calm, even unshakable in the face of the opposing attorneys cross-examination– and trust me, it may seem brutal. Calm goes a long way.

Lastly, but not least, remember that Chancery Court judges are not concerned as much about your difficulties as they are of a child within their jurisdiction. They are the innocent victims. Be sure to keep testimony focused on the children. It is easy to get distracted, but can be avoided with proper preparation. I have had clients and opposing parties indicate extreme panic on the stand. Those scenarios present what I would call horrible optics for the court. Thankfully those cases are relatively few and far between.

If you need guidance in a child custody suit, we are prepared to extract the best results under your unique circumstances. And remember, attitude is everything.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi divorce and child custody attorney and proud father to his 8 year old son, Lucas.

Getting Child Custody Right the First Time: The Tough Road to Modification

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

The stress of divorce or separation when children are a product of a tumultuous relationship can be nefarious to good decision making on so many levels. It is perfectly understandable that people tend to self-preserve when they are under the tremendous pressure of suddenly paying for separate households, attorney fees, and formerly shared expenses. As one retiring Chancellor in Rankin County used to say, wisely I may add, that “two can live cheaper than one”. I surmise that emotional stress is the most likely culprit for the large number of regrettable custody decisions that drive attempts to modify child custody. There are a vast sea of people attempting to modify child custody– a treacherous sea at that.

Cooler heads often and more likely receive the better outcome in domestic relations cases. If I had a dollar for every call we have received in 14 years resembling “I made a terrible decision to have few rights to my children because I just wanted the situation to end”, I would retire today quite comfortably. That dynamic has truly reached epidemic proportions-and there is no end in sight. There may be no simple solution to the complexity of this common problem, but there is always value to clear thinking.

The foremost lesson that may be learned from the mistakes of others is that doing anything right the first time around is always easier than having to clean up a mess, then having to start from scratch. Cleaning the mess of a poor child custody agreement is a greater task than beginning with a blank slate.

Never forget (I am speaking to the non-custodial parents) that you have a tremendous burden of demonstrating that something REALLY BAD is suddenly occurring with your child’s custodian………it has absolutely nothing/nada/zip/zero to do with how your situation has improved or that you have now suddenly seen the light. Your bad decision is not simple to shake off unless your child’s primary caregiver has really messed up. Let that sink in for a moment.

You may be wondering if there is any advice I may give to those (possibly yourself) who have made regrettable decisions with their child custody matter. I do. It is almost never too late to have some remedy, even if not perfect. I suggest that anyone looking to have additional rights to spend time with their child seek to change the angle of approach: argue instead that visitation is not workable.

The standard to modify unworkable or even difficult-to-manage visitation does not require the high burden of proving that the custodial parent is badly messing-up. There is no need to show a “material change in circumstance adverse to a child’s best interests”, only that the visitation has become cumbersome (a better word may be “challenging”), but I digress. Often it is not what you say, but how you say it that is most crucial to outcomes. If the proof is only luke-warm that a negative change is harming your child, there is a different, easier path that often will produce positive results.

In sum, let your desire to love and spend time with your child not be diminished by the fear that accompanies parenthood. There are many routes toward accomplishing a better relationship with your children. The law is, and should always be, sensitive and accommodating to those who love their children. While it is never easy to “split the baby”, your good intentions will always set a path toward a more positive future. Your children will one day thank you for it.

If you are dealing with a challenging custody decision, let us help you get it right the first time around. If you have made a bad decision or received the “short end of the stick” in a custody matter and have a deep desire to strengthen the bond you have with your children, we will approach the matter with vast experience and consideration for your constitutionally protected rights. My associate and I have 27 years of experience dealing with the most difficult custody matters and look forward to using it to your advantage.

Matthew Poole, Esq. is a single parent and has a focused practice of providing remedies to those who seek to strengthen bonds with their children and grandchildren. Lindsey Turk, Esq., his associate, is also a single parent with vast experience in family litigation.