Archive for April, 2019

A Day Late and Dollar Short: The Huge Custody Hurdle

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

We spend much of our time talking about all of the factors that impact court custody decisions and there are certainly plenty. The Albright factors dominate much of the information we provide to prospective clients, as they should. They permeate every aspect of custody outcomes. If you look at the search bar on our site and place the word “custody” within it, it will become clear how permeating these factors are in custody law, and that they are the cornerstone of domestic litigation involving children. Is there one factor that rises above the terrain in terms of its power of influencing outcomes? My answer is…..yes.

The most important factor (aside from some extremely horrible parenting which rises to the level of abuse/neglect) is continuity of care. As an example, I have multiple times encountered a prospective client that may very well be a better parent than the alternative parent. We just received a call from a gentleman that appeared to deeply care for his 6 year old daughter and also to be a loving, concerned dad. He is responsible, has a great job and stable home. According to him, mom was not as good a parent as he. That may well be the truth. However, he waited, and waited, and waited……..6 YEARS to call an attorney and attempt taking custody from her. Big mistake. His window of opportunity has shrunk to the point of being nearly non-existent.

I must say bluntly that if you are truly the better parent, then you must act quickly and decisively. The most difficult argument for any attorney, which is entirely nonsensical (even somewhat comical) on its face, is to say to a judge, “Your Honor, my client will be demonstrated to be the better parent, although he/she left the children with the worse parent for half a decade”. Good luck selling that to any court in Mississippi. Keep in mind that the old saying “The law aids the vigilant” could not be more applicable than in child custody cases. There is a natural proclivity for any judge not to disrupt the usual routine unless an exceptional danger to the child exists.

Some may ask, “But what if I can prove that I am more capable as a parent, that I have a better home, school district, morals, etc.?”, and that is a fair question. It is a very good question and rightfully in play. If I may respond, my retort would be that the child needs stability also…….changing custody can and usually will be traumatic for them. Although a parent may well be “better”, they are unlikely to overcome the huge obstacle of not having been sufficiently “present”. Be careful about sitting on the sideline, being a day late and a buck short will be one tough hill to climb. Better parents frequently lose custody cases for this simple reason. It is most often a loss that could have been easily avoided.

In short, my simple advice is that if you are the better parent, demonstrate that fact by not leaving your child with the lesser parent. Actions truly speak louder than words, especially in Mississippi Chancery Courts.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi family attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition at the University of Mississippi, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will speak to members of the Mississippi Bar on behalf of The National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure. The seminar is certified for 6 hours of legal continuing education credit.

The Truth About Costly Kids

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

I absolutely love helping parents who love their kids and to fight for what is best for them….it is the most fulfilling part of a difficult job. I can easily relate to their plights simply because I am one of the crowd. I have fought through child custody cases since 2004. When I became a father with sole custody of my son in 2009, I particularly realized that children are an incredible blessing and also an expensive addition to our lives, even for those fortunate to have better than average incomes. I began to directly relate to so many of my clients, the ones who desperately wanted to raise their children as the primary custodian. Also noted is that the raw financial data regarding child-rearing is not particularly encouraging for most folks and presents a harsh fiscal reality for most.

Are you truly prepared to be a parent? With the risk of appearing heartless, I must say many of the people who contact my office are not even able to afford a pet, and quite far from affording a child. Let alone, they often struggle to even afford themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of raising a child until age 18 is $233,610. Mind you, this does not include college or related expenses. The monthly expense far exceeds $1,200. As much as my heart hurts for the single mom of 2, 3, or 4 kids, I also see a society in meltdown because of the failure to acknowledge the basic expenses of our children. We simply cannot sustain a broken moral system where the government must fill the gap caused by poor decision-making of moms and dads alike.

Why do I point these matters out to my readers? I do not simply expect my advice will be heeded by most people after all. I hope that the truth will resonate for a few of you. Please consider another path or plain old abstinence before expecting a lawyer to fix your terrible financial plight due to the children you cannot afford. It is not only unfair to you, but to the innocent lives you brought to our world.

The last time I looked at the data, Department of Human Services in our state was chasing over a quarter-million (yes, over 250,000, almost ten percent of our entire state’s population) deadbeat parents for past-due child support. We are in terrible shape in this state if things do change. The government is simply overburdened and unable to fight for every innocent child effectively.

Now we should pivot slightly and look to college expenses and things get really scary. Obviously college costs have risen dramatically as of late and continue to do so. More than 19.9 million students are projected to attend colleges this fall. Fact: In 2019, the average annual cost of college education (room and board, tuition, fees) is approximately $21,000 at public schools and $47,000 annually at their private counterparts. That is some serious lifting for any parent, even with six-figure income.

Everyone can hopefully one day enjoy the experience of parenthood, but only if able to do so. Never forget that 14 percent of your child’s other parent’s (talking to you dad) adjusted income (usually around 10 percent of take-home pay) is not sufficient to raise a single child. The laws must be changed to hold those who create children sufficiently responsible for their outcomes. The choices we make ourselves must also be strongly considered.

In summation, Mississippi chancery courts exercise broad authority in determining all custody and support matters that come before them. Chancellors have broad discretion and will exercise them to the benefit of fairness for all, particularly your kids, but never forget that the law prefers those who help themselves first.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic lawyer who specializes in domestic conflict management. He is a single father and passionate about the best interests of children. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 at the Pearl, MS. Marriott.

Facebook: The Great Divorce Equalizer

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Most of you who are reading this post remember simpler days, those pre-ancient times even prior to “Myspace”, and possibly from the era where cellular phones were reserved for the elite upper classes and the size of a half-loaf of bread. Gone are the days of simple social interaction. Once upon a time in the 1990’s, when I was a teenager, my peers and I had to actually call a young woman at her home if we wanted to see her outside of school. On an actual “landline”. Usually we expected to be fully screened by her mom or dad before speaking to her. It was all in due course and expected. Then in the late 1990’s came the internet. Communication with potential mates became plentiful, if not burdensome. God help marriage. Times have certainly changed.

Although most have realized some benefit of the wide-open communication brought by Facebook and Instagram in connecting with old friends, the perils are laid bare in the context of our most sacred social institution…..marriage. In 2005, I opened a practice focused on domestic litigation, and not necessarily by pure choice. Many of my closest friends had difficulties early in marriage and kids in tow as well. They saw no easy out and no way to salvage their sanity and their childrens’ well-being. Complex problems require complex solutions and plain will to fight for what is fair.

When social media became entrenched within our everyday lives, our cultural landscape became forever altered. When people are more easily accessed, spoken to, and available for picking their brains or for plain run-of-the mill conversation, we open a new paradigm…..some good, some dangerous. I have to dig deep to recall a single divorce case in the past decade that did not require subpoena to a social media provider. At this point, the legal teams at Facebook and Instagram have me on speed dial. The results of the subpoena power demonstrate that so many married people essentially live a double life. It is all too easy to hide behind a keyboard and away from the reality of normal married life.

My posts often lack advice (sadly it is not easy to come by, nor do I possess the ability to solve complex relationship issues), some are purely observation. I hope that anyone can derive at least a few helpful words from each of my posts. I truly appreciate my readers. So many of you inspire me to maintain my desire to speak about the unspeakable.

My sole tidbit of information that may well be beneficial when faced with divorce is that a decent lawyer is only a subpoena away from obtaining every social media post and response thereto since the day you walked down that sacred aisle. It is all fair game in the process of legal discovery, and although some attorneys are too inept (or lazy) to do so, make sure that you recognize the possible reality…..facing hard, cold facts that impact your divorce.

Social media is a proverbial gold mine for domestic attorneys like myself, and the best of us know that a small investment in a subpoena for document production can and often does pay huge dividends for our clients. Issuing a well-placed subpoena “duces tecum” (for document production) can be a major asset for a client, especially in today’s age of hyper-social interaction. Do not assume that you are operating in a private realm if online. That assumption is not only dangerous in the context of divorce and child custody, it is just plain dumb.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Custody and Divorce Attorney. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 at the Marriott, Pearl MS on divorce procedure and practice. Multiple continuing education credits will be granted for both government and private institutions. Access further information at their website.

Can I do this by Myself?

Monday, April 1st, 2019

At the law office of Matthew S. Poole, we field a myriad of questions from callers and emailers about the vast subject of Family Law. Some questions are well-versed, imaginative and even thought provoking. Others are laced with raw emotions and these may take us some time to determine the real nature of the call. And then there are those calls that seem to take our collective breath away. Some silly, some sublime and far too often the inquiry is, even for us simply unbelievable. One such inquiry that seems to recur about twice a month now involves a party to a newly filed Divorce proceeding who wants us to direct him to the forms that he can use to represent himself through the legal battlefield. Read that again. Takes your breath away, right? I’ll let you in an a very poorly kept secret: There are no forms that you can use to prepare you for this legal matter.

Let me paint the picture for you, as follows:

You and your wife (or husband, but I will be gender specific just to represent the male in this article) have decided that this is “it” – the marriage is over and a divorce is eminent. And so you decide together that you will agree to save money and only hire one attorney. No worries, right? After all, we have agreed to a divorce….what could go wrong? In a word: Everything.

Be advised that an attorney can only represent ONE party in any adversarial proceeding. And I can hear you whispering under your breathe that this divorce is agreed to and is not “adversarial”. Wake up and understand this: all divorce proceedings are adversarial by definition. That is not to say that everyone must be opposed to the other person involved about every issue; however, a divorce is “you versus me”. Otherwise, why are you getting a divorce?

Now I hear you whispering that you are smarter than that “pencil neck” that your wife hired….And you might be correct , but unless you are an attorney, then you are outmatched. You may be thinking “There is no way can that hired gun can understand everything about my case and my family as well as I do. No way can I be outsmarted in my world by someone not in my world”. Makes sense to me. After all, everyone wants to play fair, right? Don’t kid yourself. That lawyer, pencil neck or not, does this for a living and he is NOT on your side. He cannot be on your side, as this is specifically prohibited by the Rules of Ethics. That’s right – the Rules dictate that he must represent his client against you with zeal. (Please refer to blog article of December 5, 2018 “Are you smarter than…”).

Perhaps there is absolutely nothing that you are prepared to fight about. The marriage is over, the kids are grown and gone and there is no value to anything that you have accumulated during the course of the marriage. She can have the furniture and the new blender and you get the lawnmower and the poodle pup. This situation, while not very common, does occur. Even in this instance, an attorney should be utilized to make sure the pleadings are correctly drafted and appropriately filed with the Court and, most importantly, that the Final Judgment of Divorce is presented to the Chancellor and entered. Can you imagine if you sought to save a few dollars and ended up doing it all wrong, only to find out years removed from the filing that your Divorce was never finalized? We have dealt with this exact occurrence and the conversation with the new fiancee’ explaining why the upcoming nuptials must be postponed was more than a little uncomfortable.

More often; however, there are minor children involved, assets and liabilities that must be divided and satisfied. The subject matter is a maze: a legal minefield chock-full of traps and pitfalls. The pleadings can be confusing and the Property Settlement Agreement is usually more than 20 pages in length. There are several ways that you can be confused, or misled, or worse – lied to. Can you spot all of the angles and complexities? Probably not.

A friend of mine who was going through a divorce in a neighboring State commented to me that he couldn’t afford to hire a divorce lawyer. He had 3 children all under the age of 11, a house with a hefty mortgage, some savings and other assets as well as some debts incurred by both he and his estranged wife. He said that they were going to work it all out and he was going to represent himself. Sound familiar? I gave him this same advice that I now give to you, my reader: You can’t afford NOT to hire a lawyer.

Michael Louvier received a B.A. from University of New Orleans (1988) and a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law (1994) and is currently the lead Law Clerk to attorney Matthew S. Poole. He is married 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).