Attorney Matthew Poole Announces Fundraising Drive for Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth

August 12th, 2017

So often, I, like too many others, have sat idly by as we see the suffering of others.

Sadly, so many children are the innocent victims of abuse of a parent or step-parent. Our great state is riddled with thousands of children in foster care who have been neglected our even outright abandoned by their caregivers. This is the hand they were unfairly dealt in life through no fault of their own. They were brought into a sometimes cruel and often uncaring world. It has come time to give those children a fighting chance to become productive members of society. As a community, it is our duty and calling to provide all children with a fighting chance in this world. The Law Office of Matthew Poole is committed to doing our share in the fight for the children who are not able to fight for themselves.

Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, Inc. is a faith-based, non-profit organization that was incorporated in 1988. Their motto is “Rebuilding Broken Lives”, which emphasizes a providing healing and assistance for children and youth who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment as well as adequately equipping them for a more positive and productive future. Their assistance to children is often the only viable lifeline for these vulnerable youth.

Since its inception, Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth has attempted to create services that fill a need rather than duplicate services already provided by other organizations. They operate the only statewide program of post adoption services that are designed to support adoptive and foster families. They provide Therapeutic Foster Care and Adoption program that serves children with special needs. They also run an Independent Living Preparation Program, which is the only Mississippi state-wide program reaching out to all teens in the Mississippi Foster Care System.

Beginning August 10, 2017, The Law Office of Matthew Poole is offering an incentive to those who wish to join the fight in helping these children. Any of our current or future clients who pledge $100 (one-hundred dollars) will receive a discount in the amount of $200. Any of our clients who pledge $150 will receive a discount in the amount of $300 (three-hundred dollars). Please give to this invaluable cause and receive a credit toward any of the various domestic legal services that we proudly provide. As Mother Theresa once urged, “Even when you cannot do great things, you can do small things with a great heart”. Please visit Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth online at scscy.org.

Not often does an opportunity come along where giving not only costs nothing, but is mutually beneficial for the one who gives. We thank you deeply for your caring. Your small contribution truly makes a difference in the life of a child.

Thank you and God Bless,

Matthew Poole, Esq.

Matthew Poole (601) 573-7429

Grandparents Do Have Visitation Rights!

July 26th, 2017

Are you a grandparent of a child of divorce shut out of your grandchild’s life? In Mississippi, grandparents have a statutory right to visitation with their grandchildren, in limited circumstances. The polestar consideration in matters of child custody and visitation is “what is in the best of interest of the child?” In Mississippi, specific statutes confer upon grandparents certain visitation rights under specific circumstances. Below is the logical flow chart of the specific statutes that apply.

The statutory circumstances that apply to visitation rights are as follows:

Parent of the noncustodial parent;

Parent of the parent with terminated parental rights;

Parent of a deceased parent of the child; OR

Grandparents who do not fit any of the above three categories may still petition the court for visitation rights

Grandparent must prove an established “viable relationship” (defined below) with the child; OR

Grandparent must show the court that the custodial parent unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights; AND

Grandparent must convince the court that granting visitation rights to the grandparent are in the best interest of child.

“Viable relationship” as it relates to visitation rights of grandparents means “a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child, the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year, or the child has been cared for by the grandparents or either of them over a significant period of time during the time the parent has been in jail or on military duty that necessitates the absence of the parent from the home.”

Your rights to grandparent visitation are worth pursuing if such would be in the best interest of your grandchildren. The above summary of the statutory rights conferred upon grandparents by the legislature is not an exhaustive list of factors the courts consider when making a determination of visitation with a child. Furthermore, the particular facts of your case are determinative of the proper court in which to file your petition for visitation rights. Establishing visitation rights of grandparents can be complicated and should be done with advice and representation by a qualified attorney.

If you are a loved one has questions about grandparent visitation issues, schedule a consultation with the Attorney Matthew S. Poole. Matthew has over a decade of experience representing parties in all matters of visitation, including many grandparents.

What does “custody” really mean?

July 19th, 2017

You’ve probably heard it before: “I have full custody of my kids” or “I have legal custody” or “He has physical custody of the children” or “We have joint custody of our child.” All those mixing of terms can make child custody confusing, but it shouldn’t be. Child custody in Mississippi is awarded in two ways – “legally” and “physically” – and can be combined in a number of ways to fit the best interest of the child.

Legal custody” pertains to the rights bestowed upon a parent to make decisions of health, education and welfare of the child. “Physical custody” describes the time a child resides with a parent. When parents use “joint custody” to describe their custody arrangements then the court has granted both parents shared rights of custody either physically or legally or both. Generally, parents with “joint physical custody” equally share physical custody of their child and it is exercised every other week. “Joint legal custody” means the parents share in the significant (i.e., not whether the child needs a band-aid) health, education and welfare decision making of the child, regardless of which parent has physical custody of the child at the time decisions are made. The right to share all of the child’s official records is presumed and paramount. Parents might share joint legal custody while one parent has physical custody or parents could share joint physical custody while one parent has legal custody. It should be noted that good communication between parents is paramount to the court’s consideration of whether joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child. Even if the court determines that both parents are equally capable of making legal decisions in the best interest of the child, poor communication between the parents typically results in the Chancellor arbitrarily designating one parent as the sole legal guardian of the child.

Each child custody case is different as evidenced by the many combinations of legal and physical custody, however all custody cases are decided using the same polestar determinant: What is in the best of interest of the Child?

If you or someone you love has questions about their child custody issues then schedule a consultation with the Attorney Matthew S. Poole. Matthew has over a decade of experience representing parents in divorces where child custody is the central issue and in child custody modifications.

Myth: Courts Give Mothers Preferential Treatment for Child Custody When Child is Young

July 11th, 2017

Early American courts favored mothers over fathers for custody of young children. The legal tradition of preferential treatment of mothers eventually led to the adoption of the “tender years” doctrine. However, Mississippi courts no longer give preferential treatment to mothers of young children in child custody cases, with limited exceptions.

The “tender years” doctrine is a 19th century principle rooted in common law and stood for the premise that a mother of children of tender years (generally 4 years or younger) was presumed to be the best parent to care for young children. This was the legal rationale courts used to award mothers custody. Mississippi, as have most states, has trended towards a more balanced examination of both parents in determining which one is the best custodial parent of a child. Rather than completely abolish the “tender years” doctrine, it has been included as an Albright Factor (discussed extensively in other blog entries). Thus preferential treatment, as it relates to the “tender years” doctrine, is still a factor, but weighed against all the other factors courts consider.

There are, however, rare exceptions to the general rule against preferential treatment of mothers. When chancellors (family law judges) apply the Albright Factors to their analysis of the parents in a child custody case they do so with the best interest of the child as the overriding determinant. Courts in Mississippi consider it the best interest of a breastfeeding child of tender years to remain with the mother, thus giving these breastfeeding mothers preferential treatment in cases of child custody. Of course a father may present facts to the court, such as drug use of the breastfeeding mother, which override the interest of a young breastfeeding child remaining with the mother.

Suffice to say that the preference given to mothers in child custody determinations has diminished in weight to an appropriate position as one of a dozen or more Albright Factors. Ultimately, courts are going to consider many factors when making a child custody determination of a child of tender years. If you are a father or mother of children of tender years there are many issues to consider with an attorney. Matthew S. Poole has the experience and expertise to assist you in all your child custody needs. If you or anyone you know has a question about child custody matters, please contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole at 601-573-7429.

Hindsight is 20/20: Lessons From an Attorney Divorcee’

July 3rd, 2017

I am currently an attorney in the state of Alabama and have known Matthew Poole since 2003 during our time with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. Following is a first hand experience that is significant when confronted with divorce.

The old saying “hindsight is 20/20” is certainly an overused cliché, but could not be more fitting to describe my experience with divorce.  I learned some difficult lessons over the course of what I describe as my “4 year divorce” and my goal is to provide you with a map to avoid the same mistakes I made. You may hear that no divorce is the same, but most divorcees face many of the same pitfalls.  If my open and honest discussion helps just one other dad avoid four years of trials and tribulations, then this blog will be a success. If one child benefits from the message about the importance of co-parenting, this is a pure success.

To paraphrase a wise saying, “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.”  Four years of journaling my divorce provided me the unique opportunity to reflect on where I was emotionally at each step of my divorce.  My journal is a snapshot of my thought process at the very moments I made each mistake in my divorce and would certainly be the “knowing where I was” and having the opportunity to see it in hindsight gives me the clarity I need to “know where I am going.”

Wrong turns in divorce don’t start at the moment the divorce is finalized; not even close.  Vital decisions are made in the pre-divorce period that will carry long-lasting implications and results in newly divorced fathers facing nearly insurmountable odds of being the best dad they can be.  There comes a point in the pre-divorce process that the inevitability of divorce sets in.  For me, this crucial point came after months, or more realistically years, of efforts to keep my family together.  I was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and filled with anxiety about the unknown.  That is when I made not just the first wrong turn, but THE wrong turn that set me on a path that took me fours years to begin to correct.  I have a name for it. I call it my moment of “white flag surrender.”

Waiving the proverbial white flag was my way of doing what I thought was best for my children.  Remember, if you are in unfamiliar territory and you are exhausted and desperate, you will not make the best decisions for your family.  I agreed to give my ex-wife everything and I mean everything.  My wife got the kids, house, condo, cars, bank accounts, and even family heirlooms.  I walked away with my clothes. I made the mistake of representing myself, and that is something even the finest lawyer should avoid.

My first wrong pre-divorce decision directly resulted in my starting my new life as a single dad unable to support my kids in the way they needed. If you have yet to hear your attorney or judge use the phrase “best interest of the child,” you soon will.  Every decision made during the entire pre-divorce and divorce processes should be made through the lens of what is in the best interest of your child.  That is to say, while contemplating decisions you face, you must ask first “what is in the best interest of the child?” Having two emotionally and financially secure parents is always in the best interest of your children, and by doing what I thought best. I wrecked myself financially and then emotionally, thus, leaving my children with less than 2 reliable parents.  

Navigating the divorce process was stressful, but by putting myself in a position of weakness (i.e. impatience) during my pre-divorce surrender, I fared much worse in the final divorce decree (more on that in later blog entries).  Every hasty decision (there were many!) I made was in the interests of receiving finality instead of with the realization that the court’s order would be in place barring monumental litigation.

Divorcee Life-lesson One:

Pre-divorce is not the time to throw in the towel to all of your ex’s desires and demands, even if you think this might be what is best for the kids.  Remember, two financially strong and emotionally stable parents are what is ultimately in the best interest of the kids. Pre-divorce is tough. The whole process is foreign to you.  You will be scared.  You will be emotionally drained.  You just want the pain and discomfort for everyone to end.  Believe me, I know.  But you will only make matters much worse for your kids, your ex and yourself if you do not position yourself to exit your marriage as financially secure as you can justly make it for yourself. If you resist the urge to surrender (and dang it is a strong urge), you will be a better single father, a better ex-husband, and ultimately, that is all that matter to your children.      

As you set out on your new journey as a single dad, you will need to prepare yourself for the stresses that await you throughout the divorce process. It is pivotal that you fight the urge to waive that white flag before you ever get started. Do not set out on this path alone and don’t be ashamed to ask someone to be a part of your support network. Use every tool you have to remain focused on the best interest of the kids while fighting that urge to throw in the towel. If you will heed this advice you can come out the other side of your divorce much better prepared to take care of your kids while avoiding the four-year journey I took down the wrong path filled with pitfalls disappointment and heartache.

If you are contemplating a divorce, whether it be high-asset based or the primary concern is that of your child’s well-being, The Law Office of Matthew Poole has the experience and expertise to assist you in making one of the most crucial decisions of your life. Don’t attempt going it alone, even if you are an attorney.

Social Media

June 17th, 2017

Social media is literally everywhere in our world. When used responsibly, it can be a great outlet for news and sports sources, as well as a way to better connect with old friends and family members. However, the negative effects of social media are well documented, and social media’s presence in domestic law is especially prevalent.

People on both sides of a relationship should be wary of social media use and how it may impact their relationships outside of the Internet. On one hand, Instagram likes or Facebook messages can be seen as done with devious intent by the other party in a relationship. This can obviously lead to situations where one party may be unfaithful to the other, or result in a total breakdown of trust between two people. Communication with someone online is often a reference point for why a relationship did not or cannot work. That being said, people should be careful about how these situations are approached. Assuming the worst can often lead to more distrust in relationships, and it may have been much ado about nothing. It is certainly a shame when two people decide to not be together over something that could easily be avoided.

Understandably, questionable online practices may make a spouse feel that they need to speak with a lawyer about how to approach that issue. However, as powerful as that urge may be, our office would caution people who contact a lawyer solely because of social media use. Without much other evidence of another spouse’s bad behavior, that behavior can be difficult to prove, and can lead to clients insisting there is foul play happening, leading a lawyer down a rabbit hole trying to grab at any proof they can. As appealing as speaking to a lawyer about a spouse’s social media use, our office encourages you to use your best judgment, and to be rather sure there is more to that Facebook message than just a friendly catch-up. If you have any problems with a spouse’s online presence and would like to contact our office, please give us a call at 601-573-7429.

Consent Judgments in Child Custody

May 22nd, 2017

One common misconception about family law in the state of Mississippi is the way that agreements regarding child custody operate. In cases involving child custody, consent judgments may be entered into by parties to best create a custody arrangement for that child.

A consent judgment is a contract of the parties entered upon the records of a court of competent jurisdiction with its sanction and approval. That consent must be present when any order is entered, and the order is considered void if either party withdraws that consent before the judgment is entered. If a party believes that the consent judgment is invalid, they bear the burden of proof in showing that invalidity to the court. Consent judgments allow parents in Mississippi to work out a custody schedule for their child with a lower level of confrontation, stress, and money than in litigation.

We understand that often parties will be tempted to not involve the court system in child custody matters, often to avoid involving the minor child in a lengthy and stressful process. However, as appealing this may seem in the beginning, it is not a good practice to follow. If one party refuses the other party time with the child, there is no court order that a party can seek to have enforced. This is the largest reason that consent judgments should be considered from the outset of a child custody matter. It protects the rights of parents to spend time with their minor children, and it can ease the hardship on the minor child when one parent attempts to have them “pick sides.”

Children are not goods; they cannot be bartered for, and their custody should be taken seriously by all parties involved. Consent judgments in cases involving child custody are often the preferred route for everyone involved, and if done properly they can minimize the stress that these cases have on the parents, the lawyers, and most importantly, the child or children. If you or anyone you know has a question about judgments involving child custody, please contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole at 601-573-7429.

 

One Without the Other? – Domestic Violence Divorce and Child Custody

May 9th, 2017

As has been discussed in this blog and often in recent Mississippi news, the state now allows divorces to be granted for the grounds of domestic violence. While this is certainly a victory for abused spouses of Mississippi, the question now arises of how this will affect child custody decisions made by courts in the wake of a divorce granted on these new grounds. While we believe we know the answer, it is important for Mississippians to know the possible avenues that a court may take.

The amendment to the grounds for divorce as approved by Governor Phil Bryant add the following language to the ground for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment:

Seventh. Habitual Cruel and inhuman treatment, including spousal domestic abuse. Spousal domestic abuse may be established through the reliable testimony of a single credible witness, who may be the injured party, and includes, but is not limited to: That the injured party’s spouse attempted to cause, or purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to the injured party, or that the injured party’s spouse attempted by physical menace to put the injured party in fear of imminent serious bodily harm; or That the injured party’s spouse engaged in a pattern of behavior against the injured party of threats or intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, sexual extortion or sexual abuse, or stalking or aggravated stalking as defined in Section 97-3-107, if the pattern of behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.”

When courts make decisions regarding child custody, they use the factors from Albright v. Albright, which laid out thirteen factors for custody decisions, the most important of which being what is in the best interest of the child. Those factors are available for your viewing elsewhere on our website. The question that the law faces with the passing of this domestic violence amendment is whether the offender in a divorce granted for domestic violence is presumed unfit to have custody of children, or if that behavior is simply another Albright factor.

One major question that could impact a court’s decision is the level of domestic violence that is required for this presumption to be created. Habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, long a ground for divorce in Mississippi, allows for a divorce to be granted for that treatment after only one instance. Kumar v. Kumar, 976 So.2d 957, 961 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). While this may be enough to award a spouse a divorce, is it enough to rather automatically award that spouse custody as well? This may be an instance where a court would use the evidence of that treatment that granted the divorce as an additional factor in a custody matter as opposed to a mechanical application of the law.

A more recent development in this question is the language to the domestic violence amendment that allows a divorce for the use of nonphysical behavior towards a spouse such as threats, intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, and even stalking. While these behaviors certainly affect the relationship between spouses, does that behavior go far enough to create a rebuttable presumption that the offender is unfit to care for their own children? Mississippi courts will soon have to decide.

Another question still is the proper standard of review that courts should use when making these determinations. In child custody cases, a chancellor’s findings will not be reversed unless manifestly wrong or the improper legal standard was applied. Mabus v. Mabus, 847 So.2d 815, 818. The Mississippi Code provides some guidance as to custody and domestic violence, stating that in a child custody proceeding, “there shall be a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest of the child to be placed in sole custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody of a parent who has a history of perpetrating family violence.” Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-24(9)(a)(i). You will notice the statute includes the word “history” when speaking of domestic violence. Courts will have to decide whether that “history” can be established by one instance, such as in divorces for cruel and inhuman treatment.

With that language, it would seem that the rebuttable presumption would arise the same way during a custody proceeding following a divorce on domestic violence grounds. Our feeling is if a chancellor awarded custody of a child to a parent that has been implicated in a domestic violence incident, that most courts would see that decision as “manifestly wrong,” and therefore would overturn that chancellor’s decision. In addition to lowering judicial economy stemming from appeals of those errors, this would not be fair to any minor involved.

While this domestic violence amendment obviously makes huge strides in the realm of the grounds for divorce in Mississippi, it remains to be seen what effect it has on child custody decisions. In our opinion, that rebuttable presumption will still arise, and courts will take domestic violence as grounds to not award custody to the offending party in such a matter. This practice seems to be more in line with the polestar consideration of child custody matters, which is the best interest of the child. Our office will be glad to consult with you regarding matters such as these, and with any other domestic matter you may face. Please feel free to contact our office at 601-573-7429.

Kenneth B. Davis, Mississippi College School of Law J.D. Candidate 2017, Law Clerk to Attorney Matthew S. Poole.

Twelve and a Half Reasons Why

April 17th, 2017

A spokesperson for Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has stated that Bryant will sign into law the proposed amendment to the state’s divorce statute that will allow more divorces in cases of domestic violence. The passing of this bill follows the death of a similar amendment, and the media firestorm that erupted across the state, largely aimed at Representative Andy Gipson (R-Braxton).

As mentioned in our previous article, this amendment adds the language of “including spousal domestic abuse” to the seventh ground for divorce in Mississippi – habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Another change to current Mississippi divorce law is the ability for the abused spouse to serve as a witness of domestic violence. The burden of proof is high, but when corroborated by scientific or medical evidence, the burden lessens.

The standard of proof passed in this amendment shows the importance of quick action in situations of domestic violence. If you or someone you know experiences domestic violence, seek medical help right away if there are injuries that can be used as evidence. Do not wait for those signs of abuse to fade before seeking help. A bruise or a cut may be the difference between being believed about spousal abuse or being waved off as crying wolf.

This seems like a good measure taken by the Mississippi Legislature. It allows spouses who need to leave a marriage to do so easier than before, while still providing enough evidentiary standards to prevent fraudulent or spiteful divorces. This gives spouses a better way to leave a dysfunctional marriage, while protecting people’s names and reputations from false attacks and gossip.

Just as important as knowing what this bill changes is what it has no effect on. The behavior behind a habitual cruel and inhuman treatment claim must still rise above mere unkindness, rudeness, or want of affection. Two spouses simply not getting along is still not grounds for a divorce in Mississippi unless brought through the completely agreed upon route of irreconcilable differences. While this amendment does make divorces easier to obtain through habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, the other grounds are not affected, and divorces can still be difficult to obtain in Mississippi.

We tell our clients this because our firm believes in giving clients realistic expectations about the reality of their case. Mississippians, and legal clients in every state, deserve to be told the truth, and deserve the hardest work that can be provided to them. Our office understands that divorce can be a scary thing. We are here to serve you through that dark hour. If you or someone you know experiences domestic violence or any other recognized ground for divorce in Mississippi, we encourage you to seek legal help, and our office will be happy to serve you in any way possible.