Archive for January, 2020

What Kids Need…The Court’s Role

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Why is it that so many of us have difficulty getting along with our exes?  Is there a way to move beyond the struggles we face in attempting to co-parent?  It seems clear that many of us let emotion get in the way of what is best for our kids.  Oftentimes we forget that children do not understand adult problems.  All that they see is two parents who fight and fuss at the drop of a hat.  So, what are the remedies to this corrosive behavior that impacts the little ones so negatively?  There is no magical panacea, but after managing close to 1,500 domestic custody matters in the past two decades, I have a few ideas that hopefully will help.

I want to state up-front that the vast majority of the people reading this are concerned for what is best for their child or children.  Thank you for that, they will reap the rewards of your care and concern.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the fray with an ex, to fight and fuss over even the petty things.  How many times have you lost your cool and it affected your child?  It happens…even to good people.  Is there some way to bury the negativity you harbor toward the ex?  Let me start by saying that our focus has to be on the little ones…they did not ask to be brought into a tumultuous situation.  They have zero grasp of adult relationships…and they deserve peace and innocence in childhood.  When they become adults, all of the beauty of innocence disappears.

When attempting to co-parent with an ex, even if you have primary custody, make sure that you value their role in your child’s upbringing.  You do not have to put them on a throne, but realize that your exes’ sense of self-worth is reflected upon the child.  Remember that severe parental alienation is ground for a change in custody of a child (Mississippi began this practice as early as 2013 and it has been upheld by the appellate courts).  No matter your feelings toward the ex, make sure you are a beacon of hope, positivity, and happiness for your child.  No kid wants to believe that one of their halves is worthless.  It reflects on their own sense of self-worth. 

Here is my short list of ways to de-escalate the tension that will ultimately hurt your child.

  1. When the conversation between you and the ex turns into something unrelated to the kids, remind them that your concern is child-centric…not about past events that you both recall.

  2. If voices are raised, remain calm.  Do not fight fire with fire.  It is better fought with water.

  3. Keep in touch with your ex about the child’s grades, behavior, and school programs.  It may seem like a minor thing to you, but these acts show respect for the child’s co-creator and benefits both.

  4. Remember that your child loves without the judgment of an adult and that their other parent needs to be a source of positivity…you can make that happen with a firm deliverance of assuring that you value their role in your child’s life.

  5. Always keep your child aware that they can call their dad/mom at any time if they want an ear to lean upon.  They will ultimately benefit from the unfettered communication.  We all need it at some place and time.

In short, the court will be glad to see a source of positivity in the sea of hate that they swim through on a daily basis.  It isn’t difficult to be a shining light in the dark of custody litigation.  Simply keeping priorities in order and demonstrated are not complex tasks.  Any chancery judge in Mississippi will be happy to see that not all litigants are angry, even vindictive.  That mindset goes a long way and is the path to getting a great result from your local child custody judge.  Don’t ever forget that your child is more than your flesh and blood.  You are their mentor, teacher, and best friend.  It may take a village to raise one, but it takes a strong parent to create a strong future leader.

“A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” (Avoidable Custody Mistakes)

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Ok, I am sure you are thinking of the saying quoted above.  Sounds like something uttered from grandma and irrelevant to child custody litigation, right?  It is not only relevant, but the key to stopping the bleeding early on.  It can help anyone in a custody dispute from an all-out hemorrhage, saving not only money but lost sleep and stress that accompanies those who procrastinate dealing with their custody matters.  I have said it and will repeat myself again…hire a lawyer before your case spirals out of control.  It is easier to do it right the first time.  Cleaning up the mess of procrastination is not so easy. 

When I was a young attorney (no grey hair) in the early part of the millennium, I wanted desperately to believe that simple solutions existed for those parents who are victimized by an abusive or controlling ex.  It has taken me close to 2 decades to realize that the more difficult the relationship is/was, the tougher it will be to attain clarity and peace of mind moving forward.  So will it be for our kids.

I also know this to be true not solely from representing clients in sticky places, but because I have lived it myself.  Going through my own custody battle gave me a perspective I could have never imagined.  Thankfully, I have full custody, legal and physical, of my ten year old son and have for over 9 years.  I can relate to the stress you are going through more than you may know.

So, back to the topic, based on the title of this article.  What is a stitch in time?  Saving nine?  Well, the obvious is that when we address custody issues early on they are seen on a level playing field by the court.  If you are seeking say, joint custody, for instance, and have waited until your child is kindergarten aged, you likely missed the boat.  See our multiple articles regarding the extraordinary importance of continuity of care.  Also, as an example, if you claim to be the better parent and are seeking full physical custody yet sat still for years, your argument is now diluted.  It is weaker than the proverbial glass of water. 

So, here is my advice…take it or leave it.  I can only offer.  If you let a custody case spiral out of control because you are in denial, you, as well may deny that you are coming down with the flu, pneumonia, or worse.  Getting control early is key to a reasonable resolution. 

  1. Do NOT believe that your good luck will keep you safe from the pain and expense of litigating over a child/children.

  2. Do NOT wait until the last moment to hire an attorney…the worst attorney in town will get the better of you with relative ease.  Trust me, I have had to embarrass many people who let their ego lead them into self-representation.  It is part sad and part comical.

  3. DO consult with a duly qualified lawyer, preferably one who specializes in family law, as so soon as friction is noticeable with your ex.

  4. Do NOT believe that your case is easy and that the evidence presents itself.  The way to introduce evidence is highly technical, even the most seasoned attorneys can mess it up and often do.

  5. DO seek advice from at least 3 lawyers prior to hiring one…and trust your gut instinct.  The cheapest is likely not going to put the time in that is required to succeed.

  6. DO a basic calculation of the financial ramifications over the life of your child, college too.  It truly is amazing how expensive they are, and the burden should be borne by two, not just you.

So, let us recap.  Procrastination is bad.  A mediocre lawyer beats a smart non-lawyer…every single time.  A total catastrophe can be avoided, but only for those who are able to stare reality in the face.  If you are able to relate to this article, call me or any other qualified domestic lawyer.  I am sure that, at the end of the day, you will be glad you did.  After all, that one stitch is your best shot at avoiding it all unraveling before your very eyes.

Reading Your Custody Lawyer’s Mind

Friday, January 17th, 2020

When people call custody lawyers (divorce-related or not), they are usually in for a big surprise.  These cases are most often fueled by animosity toward the other parent.  As we all know, when people are highly emotional, we tend to make mistakes.  The pain of divorce is absolutely terrible for those involved.  What seem to be simple custody cases are also full of hurt and negativity.

I want to make two simple points in this article.  The first applies only to those who were married and divorced or those who are now divorcing.  The second only to those who were never married to the opposing parent.  Here is what we are thinking each and every time.  So, here it goes, my first (and best) article of 2020.  

1. Married and divorced parents go through various emotional phases when they contact divorce lawyers.  Only when they have accepted that no easy solution exists and the emotion is under control can a reasonable and cost effective solution be had.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for most.  Never forget the well-known lawyer quote, “criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, and domestic lawyers see good people at their worst”.  That couldn’t be more true.  Some people wait years to come to an agreement.  And some never go to the courts at all because these are complex and fact-driven matters.  No form exists to get you what you want.  Neither does it for your ex.  Many callers believe that firmly.  Call the chancery court and find out for yourself.

2. If you are expecting a child and unmarried, it is crucial to understand that establishing fair parameters is best accomplished before the child is born…especially paternity.  Men are disadvantaged when step one, paternity, is not agreed upon, so to you guys, be forewarned.  For the women, collecting his tax returns and pay stubs early on is a necessity.  Although there is some debate about whether evidence of pre-birth intentions of the parents has much weight, it is certainly a good place to start.  Don’t forget that expenses will steadily rack up after the pregnancy…a huge source of frustration for both involved…and of the emotion you should be avoiding…negativity.  If you believe that the State of Mississippi will help you in obtaining custody or visitation, you are incorrect.  Child custody battles are not only emotionally taxing, they break the bank for most.  Exceeding 20-25k is not entirely unusual…per side.  Scary thought, right?

Seeing the big picture in your custody battle, married or not, requires a massive degree of restraint.  As I have often said, if everyone were reasonable, I wouldn’t have a job (at least not as a domestic attorney).  Cooler heads should, and usually do prevail.  Being prepared for what lies ahead is front and center.  After all of the dust clears, seeing the mess you are in can and will be cleaned-up, but if you let anger and sadness make your decisions, be prepared for a life-long battle that only hurts the kids.