Archive for December, 2019

Custody Cliff Notes…And How to Win

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

It is obviously unfortunate that so many people fight over their children…and who is more fit to raise them.  Statistics only tell a small part of the story.  For most of us, reality and day to day life dictate outcomes.  When parents do not live close to each other, the reality is that one parent will receive the lion’s share of physical custody.  It is plain unworkable to say the least.

Chancery judges are well-aware that a child cannot be equally split, unless you live a short jog from your ex.  Children need and deserve a primary custodian and anything short of neighboring your ex will preclude an award of joint physical custody.  Is there an easy answer short of getting back together?  Probably not, but the continuity of care of the child(ren) is always paramount.  Employment obligations also play a huge role in an award of physical custody.  Let’s explore the topic and attempt to find some clarity.

Although many people believe that equally split custody of a child is workable, the truth is that it is almost impossible in the real world.  For starters, the odds of you perpetually living in the same school district as your ex are not good…and that will always preclude true joint physical custody.  Never forget that courts are inclined to finalize your custody case and to never hear from you again…they have long lines and limited time.

What is my best advice as to winning custody of your child?  It may be more basic than you realize.  So, here are my 5 tips for obtaining custody…the “cliff notes”, if you will. 

1. Do not disparage or speak any ill of your ex…it is not good for your child and will reflect poorly upon you as a parent. See our many articles on parental alienation at They are available on our website, see the search bar at the top.

2. Have basic facts and witnesses that support your claim that you are the primary custodian of your child…remember that joint custody is a rarity and the more involved caregiver has an enormous upperhand.

3. Ensure that your child is given every opportunity to thrive academically and that you are helpful with their schoolwork, that you are highly involved in their lives.

4. Make absolute that your child is not around people with a history of domestic violence, drug use, or excessive alcohol consumption.  The court will not look kindly upon putting innocent kids in a crime-ridden scene.

5. Recognize that some degree of involvement of the “other” parent is paramount to your child’s happiness. They will not easily thrive without feeling love from both who created them. Cooler heads usually prevail, and anger is not helpful in any courtroom.

At the end of the day, the better parent has the upperhand…and should.  Being the better parent is not as easy as it seems for many of us.  If we can take the time to consider and trust our most basic judgments about what is best for our little ones, we have increased the odds of winning full custody of our kids.  Remember, in the end, that it takes two to create them, and although no one “wins” a custody battle, one of you will get the short end of the stick.

Sink or Swim? Childcare Costs Rising

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

Having a child brings about major financial stress: The cost of raising a child in 2018 was $233,610 – (excluding the cost of college)– for a mid-income family, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This figure only considers costs prior to your child turning 18…not 21.  (Mississippi recognizes 21 as the age of automatic emancipation unless a minor is married or joins the military full-time).  Expect that figure to rise by a few thousand bucks each year. 

The financial stakes are sufficiently higher for new parents than in previous generations.  This trend is primarily due to a combination of both changing demographics and economic pressures faced by those having children in the modern world.  The new reality is that the vast majority of our population cannot afford to have children at all, as harsh as it may seem.   

In the context of practicing domestic law, my peers and I receive a large number of calls regarding child support obligations.  Often, they consist of a dad calling in an attempt to avoid paying support.  I would like to give a rough sketch of the math behind my opinion that these calls are not only irritating, but nonsensical…at best. 

Average per capita income in the state of Mississippi is around 32k (thousand).  After taxes, average take-home pay is roughly 2k per month.  When our state’s child support laws come down to calculating support, 14% of the take home (plus or minus, depending on a few other factors, but this number is a solid baseline) will be paid to the child’s custodian.  So, in our example, average income dad will owe about $280 per month, or $3,360 per year.  Until the age of 18, he will owe $60,480.  Sounds like a big burden, right?  Not so fast.

Consider this; given that the average cost of raising a child is about FOUR TIMES that amount until age 18, it seems pretty clear that dad is shouldering only a quarter of the burden (and yes, single dads do exist…I happen to be one so if you are also take no offence in my example).  Is state law failing to keep up with the exponentially rising costs of child rearing?  From my perspective, the answer is more than clear.

There are never simple solutions to complex problems, and never will be.  As frustrating as it is, the only cure to the financial struggles faced by single parents starts with making sound choices about whether kids are affordable for them in the first place.  Based on current law, dad gets off pretty easy.  Based upon common sense, 14% of income as child support is terrible public policy.  Even if the baseline support guidelines were raised to 20%, mom would still have close to two-thirds of the burden.  Take a moment to digest how archaic our support laws really are.

So, now we need to look at all of this in the context of custody factors (Albright factors…who gets the child and an award of support).  The third factor in Albright is “The parenting skills and willingness and capacity to provide primary care for the child”.  So to all of you dads out there, be forewarned:  working those long hours will work to your disadvantage if you are seeking custody.  Get ready to pay child support absent extraordinary circumstances.

In sum, my observations are fairly basic in the scheme of things.  As I have stated, non-custodial parents, as much as they may feel cheated, get off easy financially.  Shouldering on average a quarter of the costs of child-rearing should be a relief, so non-custodial parents are lucky in that regard.  Our legislature needs to pass an increase in child support reflective of the actual costs today…not based on decades old data. 

I recommend that anyone reading this write your local representative and voice this concern.  Regardless of the sacrifices we must make, our children should never go without.

Screen Time: What’s Best For Our Kids

Friday, December 6th, 2019

My son, fortunately, attends a top-tier academy with strict academic requirements.  My family and I would settle for nothing less.  When I finish work in the afternoon, my mom (who is a lifesaver) and I look over homework, make revisions, and help when needed.  This process often takes around 2 hours…a day.  The principle of his school is adamant that children should only be allowed to use screen devices (tablets, smart phones, etc.) on weekends.  Seems a bit harsh, right?  Well, I am not quite as rigid, but it seems that some degree of limitation is necessary.

Screen time has been blamed for everything from mental health issues, social instability, and even some degree of developmental problems in both children and teens.  The issue has become so prevalent that the Journal of the American Association devoted significant resources in exploring the issue.  Is there an adverse effect on kids who are in front of a tablet, video game, or t.v.?  Does the age of the child play a role in determining what is appropriate? It seems that the results are actually a mixed bag and depend largely on age. 

A recently published JAMA Pediatrics analysis of dozens of past studies on screen time and academic performance suggests that pondering “how much” may be the wrong question, even when nearly half of all say they’re online about constantly.  Welcome to the digital age.  For us middle-aged folks, it seems like the entire modern world is often unrecognizable. This study found that the types of screens children are using and their age—rather than the total amount of time, has the most significant impact on learning, behavior, and overall academic performance.

There is actually, according to this analysis, some advantage of watching television and playing video games for young children because they tend to learn by repetition and observation, and teens generally do not reap the same result.  Linguistic ability appears to be aided in young children by listening and watching.  In fact, it also appears that teens suffer adverse academic consequences when allotted more than a small amount of any screen time.  The researchers drew this conclusion on a randomized basis, and the science appears accurate in my estimation. 

I am a child custody attorney, not a child psychologist.  However, having dealt with hundreds of parents and children in tough legal battles, there are some observations that seem to be beyond dispute.  So, here is my short list of what I can say with certainty.

1. Children who are given unfettered access to screen-based devices suffer not only academically, but behaviorally. Unlimited access is never a good thing.

2. Parents can use the reward of screen time to increase their childrens’ drive to do homework, and do it well.  It is simple Pavlovian psychology.  For example, “Sure you can use the IPad for 90 minutes if you do all of your assignment correctly”. This method has worked quite well with my 10 year old son.

3. Some degree of time with the tablet/phone is not detrimental, so long as it is content appropriate.

I would advise any person seeking custody or increased visitation to be prepared to answer simple questions about their plan to help their child succeed in the real world–and the landscape of modern electronics.  If any good lawyer starts to grill you about your plan and your answer is “I really haven’t thought much about it”, you just got dinged a way you won’t see until the court rules.  As is often said, a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

Always be prepared.  Raising children and implementing simple rules, with balance, demonstrates to the court that you are fully vested in your child, that you are dedicated to their well-being.  After all, that is what you are fighting for and, if prepared, will more likely win control of their upbringing.  When the dust settles, you will realize that you are in control of every aspect of their livelihood.

Matthew Poole is a single father and child custody attorney located in Northeast Jackson, Mississippi.  He has managed over 1,300 domestic cases since 2004.