Archive for May, 2019

True No-Fault Divorce States…Not Mississippi

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

It is always crucial to have a basic understanding of Mississippi custody and divorce laws before a domestic battle, or even a bare negotiation that impacts your future tremendously. Even though our state presents some unique challenges due to the fact that we are not considered to be, nor should be, a “no-fault” state, the reality is that we have laws that are protective of the sanctity of marriage and are not conducive to an easy divorce. What do I mean? You either have to agree on ALL divorce terms, or litigate by proving grounds until a final resolution is met. This is crucial because certain steps can reduce complexity and help you to save the time, money, and stress that accompany any divorce.

Mississippi differs greatly from our western neighbor, Louisiana. In that particular state, people are permitted a divorce after a sufficient time of being separated (365 days as I recall, but I am not licensed there and this should be noted), and Mississippi is not anywhere close to following that rule of law. As a matter of fact, Mississippi residents, even though not entitled to a divorce after any length of separation, are generally not any worse off than our westerly neighbors unless they have no kids or significant property holdings. Simply put, you either prove grounds for divorce or must agree to all terms……custody, child support, division of all property, insurance, alimony……you get the point.

I cannot state how many people contact me for a “no-fault” divorce without realizing that, although inexpensive, requires total and complete agreement. Frankly, that dynamic can be quite frustrating for any domestic lawyer. My advice to you is to at least make a short list of the things you can agree on prior to separation so that your case can be made more simple, and thus less expensive. At the very least, it will assist your lawyer in forming a solid game plan for successful resolution.

In our state, do not forget that there is not much leeway in negotiating the child support aspect of you case if you are not the primary custodian. If you have 1 child with the spouse, you will pay 14% of gross “adjusted” income, 20% of same for 2 children, and 22% for three, for instance. This begs the question of what the “adjusted” portion means, and that is an excellent question. Without boring you to sleep with a tremendous amount of legal jargon, it will generally consist of post-tax income but adding back to that retirement withholdings and other non-mandatory items that are not required by law. That is about as clear as I can make that point so that non-lawyers have a general idea of what to expect from a custody proceeding.

My advice is as follows: Have the conversation about your post-divorce life plan with your spouse before calling an attorney, particularly when kids are involved. Produce all financial documents to your husband or wife so that there are not accusations of untruthfulness. Consider insurance, college, and future expense thoroughly. And last, but certainly not least, never hold a grudge, it simply prolongs your own pain and expense through one of the toughest times in your life.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson Ms. family lawyer with 16 years of experience.

New Custody Rules…And Similar Advice

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Child custody cases are never easy. Oftentimes they require a year or more of litigation and many, many thousands of dollars. There have been several recent developments in Mississippi law that will affect each and every child custody case in this state, some are meaningful and will make a major impact, others will not. Custody matters are never straightforward and and those who believe they are simple likely need a straight-jacket and some serious psycho-therapy. And this is the reality when child custody is front and center in your life.

Easy advice is not readily available for those who are seeking simple solutions. There are a few recent changes to both statute and common law that will impact any child custody case in our state, although they rarely make outcomes differ. The basic paradigm is still in place…the best interests of the children will always be paramount. We have a piece of advice that is entirely obvious and commonly ignored…follow the existing court order precisely, do all you can for your kids, and never, ever fail to exercise visitation when it is availed to you. Be as involved with the kids as possible, help with homework, and do not let a new romantic relationship impact your little ones in a negative manner.

Chancery court is the sole arbiter of who wins child custody. Chancellors are the ultimate guardians of all children in their respective jurisdictions. Even though finances are of concern as well in every divorce, the clients we have the most compassion for are those who will fight to have their kids with them as much as possible. As a single dad, I share their raw emotion. It makes the job all the better to represent like minds.

Some recent legal changes that impact custody cases in our state include changes to the alimony laws which now present previously unforeseen obstacles, the judicial decision that marijuana use is a ground for divorce under the existing statutes and now considered tantamount to opiate use, and that habitual cruelty is now more easy to prove and encompasses more bad conduct as grounds for divorce. Child custody law has also been affected by these changes to cases that also apply to childless divorces. I want to be clear that all legal decisions regarding child placement are highly subjective and dependant on a myriad of factors.

Based on existing law and the subtle changes to Mississippi custody and divorce law, I have a few simple observations and a small piece of advice. My previous article the pointed to the absolute importance of continuing care of your child is a must-read. I also would like to point to the importance of moral fitness in any custody matter. Although it is often said that only God can judge, try telling that to your local chancery judge.

Law has and always will change. Your custody case will also have a changing life of its own. Being a little behind on your child support and then asking for a modification of custody as a defense is a very precarious scenario for any litigant. Never forget that one must possess “clean hands” in order to ask to court to intervene in their domestic case. At the end of the day, two wrongs never equal a right. That never needs to be forgotten.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.