No Law Degree Needed to Know What’s Fair

April 18th, 2018

Many lawyers will tell potential clients that immediate action is needed to protect their rights and that they need to file a lawsuit now. This is often correct, as claims often go stale and witnesses forget what they have seen. However, in domestic relations law, sometimes the best practice can be resisting the urge to file a lawsuit and go to war.

Chancery courts are courts of equity, which means that the chancellors of those courts will seek to rule in a way that is the fairest to both parties. This allows clients who are not familiar with the process of a lawsuit to do a lot of the ground work themselves or through their attorneys. You do not need a law degree to know what is fair. Our office often receives calls from potential clients who have not talked to the other party about the situation, when that actually may be the best course of action.

Of course, sometimes lawyers may be more aggressive about starting a case than they should be. The thought process is that maybe the other side will realize what an inconvenience a lawsuit is and will be open to settling. While this may work sometimes, it seems like an unnecessary step in getting to what’s fair. Those two parties who once shared a bond or perhaps still share a child can only benefit from at least trying to communicate about what is fair to make it easier on everyone involved.

If you believe that a lawyer you meet with seems hell-bent on filing a lawsuit to get you what’s fair, you may want to speak to a different lawyer. When you leave that lawyer’s office, you should not feel as though you must file a lawsuit or they will not help you. Some parties only need the advice from a lawyer to try to talk to the other person, and in most situations it is worth the time and effort to try that. Otherwise, the nasty back-and-forth of a lawsuit will drain the time, resources, and emotions of the parties.

The lawsuit is a great thing that allows Americans to seek redress of the wrongs done to them. However, this process can also be abused. In chancery courts, where equity is king, sometimes the best option is to talk it out. If you visit a lawyer who seems to not consider that an option, a second opinion may be just what you need. If you or someone you know is going through a situation like this, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the experience in these matters and will give you an honest answer as to all of your options.

Frontline Prospective On Child Custody Law

April 13th, 2018

Working under Matthew Poole, a saying that I hear almost every day in the office is: “if everyone was reasonable, child custody lawyers would be out of a job.” As the main individual who handles calls to our office, I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is true. Working in a family law office can definitely show you the bad side of good people, and the people that call our office are usually in situations where tempers and emotions are high. As the person in our office who handles the majority of these calls, my perspective is that there are things that people can and should do to both save money and to help their situation in the long run.

From the start of my employment here, I noticed some commonalities between the variety of different calls we would receive on a daily basis. The main commonality in every call that we have received is lack of communication between the potential client and the person they are having issues with. If I could give any advice to those in these situations it would be that communication is key. There are so many situations where if the two people could just put differences aside and start a conversation with one another, it would save them so much heartache and money. After an extensive case study on custody matters, our office has found that 25% of people agree to settle their case with the same agreement that was offered to begin with. This shows that if the two people could just communicate without getting attorneys involved, they would not waste thousands of dollars on litigation; giving them more money to spend on the child.

I understand that communicating in situations like divorce and child custody can be tough. But in those circumstances, particularly when children are involved, being able to talk to the other side is vital. For instance, being able to have an open dialogue with the other parent in a child custody case can and will make it easier to deal with them later on down the road. Even though it’s hard, it would be so beneficial for the children if their parents were able to talk and communicate with each other about the children’s needs. It’s not easy for someone going through something like this to shelf their emotions and be the first one to reach out and start a dialogue, but in all honestly it is the best course of action to resolve their issue. To put it simply, every dollar spent on a lawyer could be spent on the kids. Why waste resources on litigation when simple communication could resolve the issue and leave that money available for the child? Doing so would dramatically decrease stress and replace it with tranquility. Just remember, the happier that a parent is, the happier the child will be.

Price is certainly something that most potential clients are sensitive to, and therefore we encourage all of our clients to attempt to talk with the other side as much as possible. Communication can help iron out many of the problems present, and can lower costs greatly for both parties. We understand this can be tough in a situation where there was a falling out of a once caring relationship. Unfortunately, there are times where starting a conversation is next to impossible and getting an attorney involved is the only option. If you believe hiring an attorney is your only avenue of relief, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We will do our best for you when communication has broken down in your relationship to get you a fair result.

Written by J. Tyler Cox, J.D. Candidate, Mississippi College School of Law, Class of 2018.

Annulments: What They Are and What They Aren’t

April 9th, 2018

An annulment is an interesting way to sever a relationship that may resemble a divorce in some regards, but is actually quite different. Our office receives many calls asking how to get an annulment, when maybe that person only has divorce to look to for relief. While a divorce severs a valid marriage, an annulment states that the marriage in question was never valid for a reason that existed at the time of the marriage. Annulments can be difficult to obtain, as there are only limited circumstances in which a Mississippi court will grant one. Time plays a factor as well, as a suit for an annulment must be brought within 6 months after the ground for annulment is or should be discovered.

Mississippi law states that a marriage is deemed valid if there is solemnization (a ceremony) and a proper license. When two people decide quickly to get married without any input or help from others, these are easy things to gloss over, especially in the rush and excitement of saying “I do.” A “marriage” with only one of these requirements met will not meet Mississippi’s standards, and therefore a marriage was never legally formed.

Of course, certain marriage even with these requirements met may not be considered valid under any circumstances, as in the case of bigamy or incest to a certain degree, and does not have to be brought within 6 months of the formation of the “marriage.” Dissolving a marriage involving either of those grounds simply requires a petition to the proper court by either of the parties along with sufficient proof. The other grounds for annulment in Mississippi are incurable impotency, adjudicated mental illness or incompetence of one or both of the parties, the parties being too young, pregnancy of the wife by another person if the husband did not know of the pregnancy, or where a party’s consent to the marriage was achieved through force or fraud. In other words, informed consent is paramount to any marriage.

As you can see from the limited grounds for annulment in Mississippi, there are many situations where an annulment is not available to the parties, and they will have to pursue a divorce to legally terminate their relationship. A common misconception that we hear is that because a marriage was short, then the parties can get an annulment instead of a divorce. While marriages that may be properly annulled by Mississippi courts are often short, the length of the marriage by itself is not enough for an annulment.

Annulments are an interesting creature of domestic relations law and can be confusing and difficult to pursue. If you believe you may have a ground for an annulment that can help you avoid a long and costly divorce, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have experience in making the determination as to whether a marriage can be rendered moot and can be considered to have never existed, whether an annulment is a possible remedy, or whether divorce is the only avenue.

Hire a Lawyer… Fast

April 4th, 2018

Getting served with legal papers is not a fun experience. There is really no other way to put it. It doesn’t help that these papers are often served on the person at work to avoid confrontation, which adds to the embarrassment and confusion. However, as stressful as being involved in a lawsuit is, swift action in hiring counsel is an extremely important step in addressing it.

One of the common scenarios given in my first year of Civil Procedure was that clients would be served with papers requiring an answer (30 days in Mississippi), would lay the papers on the counter, and forget about it for 26 days. They would then see the papers while cleaning up and realize that they needed to hire a lawyer. While it may be tempting to try and ignore the fact that you are being sued, you should take fast action to protect your rights to be heard.

In custody actions, the summons is different than one requiring a written answer, and provides the person served with a time and place certain to appear and defend themselves. That hearing is called a temporary hearing, because it outlines the Court’s order on what the parties are to do until trial. This temporary order includes the parameters of visitation with the child as well as the support obligation of the parent who is not exercising primary physical custody. Depending on the space of the court docket, these temporary hearings are usually not set for very far out from the service of the complaint, so that the party bringing the suit can get some temporary relief while awaiting trial.

When you are served with papers such as these, don’t lay them on the counter and forget about them! As Jimmy Two Times would say in the 1990 film Goodfellas, you need to go “get the papers, get the papers.” Get those papers and take them to a lawyer before that temporary hearing date so that you and your attorney can talk about what will be the most effective strategy from there. The sooner you hire a lawyer when you are served with papers, the better. If you are served with custody papers, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the skills and expertise to make sure the proper strategy is in place before the temporary hearing so as to get you the best result in your case.

Written by J. Tyler Cox, J.D. Candidate of Mississippi College School of Law, 2018.

Alimony as Punishment?

March 28th, 2018

Probably the most common misconception about alimony is that it is a punishment for the person who has been ordered to pay it. Some believe that if their spouse has cheated on them, or has engaged in any type of misconduct, that they are entitled to alimony simply based on fault. This is simply not true. Basing alimony wholly on whether the other party is at fault would basically make alimony an award for punitive damages, which is a totally different beast altogether. Although fault is a factor when considering alimony, the main hurdle in any alimony dispute is need.

Punitive damages are damages that exceed simple compensation and are awarded to punish a defendant. Punitive damages do not take into account the need or income of the person being awarded those damages, but rather serve as a warning or discouraging measure to make sure that other people do not engage in similar behavior. For example, punitive damages are commonly used in torts cases where a court punishes a company for a misdeed in order to stop it from doing the misdeed again and to dissuade other parties from doing the same. Punitive damages are responsible for the TV commercials and billboards that speak of large awards won for clients.

The purpose of alimony is to offer support for a spouse who is financially-dependent on the other. Even though fault is a factor that a court will look at, a court will focus primarily on the need of the spouse seeking alimony. In other words, alimony can be awarded to a spouse if that spouse is in need of support because they are not equipped to maintain the level of lifestyle that they have grown accustomed to while being married. For example, if a wife never had a job while married and now is getting a divorce, a court may award her with alimony so that she may begin to get back on her feet since the main income earner in her household is no longer present.

There are four types of alimony:  (1) Periodic Alimony, the more traditional type, with no set termination date and allocated month to month based on need;  (2) Lump Sum Alimony, awarded as a fixed sum that can be paid all at once or in installments;  (3) Rehabilitative alimony, developed to assist a spouse when reentering the workforce after their marriage; and  (4) Reimbursement Alimony, awarded to a spouse who supported the other spouse through undergraduate, graduate, or professional school. A court may award just one type of alimony or a combination of the types.

While alimony and punitive damages may seem the same, they serve two totally different purposes. Punitive damages are a punishment payment made out to the other party, and while people who are ordered to pay alimony may see it as a punishment, alimony is actually just based on the need of the other party. There are two totally different criteria when awarding both punitive damages and alimony. Courts in Mississippi will in fact look at fault when awarding alimony, but only after an intense need-based analysis by the chancellor to determine how much and what type should and will be awarded. Confusing these two are very common among people who come into our office, and we are well equipped to answer any questions that may arise when dealing with these issues. Contact our office if you or anyone you know have any questions about alimony, awarding alimony, or any other questions please do not hesitate to ask.

Mississippi Child Custody Factors: Financial Situation of the Parents

March 23rd, 2018

One of the worst-kept secrets in the world is that kids are expensive. They break stuff, get sick, and outgrow clothes faster than you can buy them. In child custody cases, the court will take into consideration the finances of the individual parents, not because affluence counts higher in favor of custody, but that the ability to provide for that child is extremely important. This is not to say that the parent with the most money wins. It means that if one parent is totally broke, then they will have an uphill battle in showing the rest of the factors weigh in their favor.

Parents in a good financial situation will have an easier time showing that they can provide for the child, and possibly to spoil them to some extent. Spoiling does not mean turning the child into Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Spoiling means being able to buy the child a new bike, a baseball glove, and send them to college. A good financial situation also means that the parent can provide the child with a great place to live and can afford utilities without having to worry.

Courts may also look at the parents’ financial situations by seeing if the parents are responsible with money. Credit card debt, crazy investments, and buying clothes and jewelry beyond your means will lead a judge to believe that you have trouble limiting your spending, which can adversely affect the child. A parent who can show that they have their finances under control will have the upper hand regarding this factor of a child custody determination.

This factor is one that often confuses and scares clients that come into our office. Often, these are the parents who acted as a homemaker during the relationship or who never completed school because of childcare. The financial situation of the parents does not mean that the parent who makes more money will automatically win. It is simply one factor that can help a chancellor make their decision. Taking care of a child takes a responsible person, and one of the easiest ways to show your responsibility is to prove that your financial situation is a good one for the child to grow up in. If you have a question about your child custody case, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. We love helping people take care of what is important to them, and would love to help you too.

Mississippi Child Custody Factors: Stability of Parent’s Home and Employment

March 18th, 2018

Stability is one of the most important things in the raising of a child. Kids have it tough, and having a stable home gives them one less thing to worry about. As such, in custody cases the court will take into consideration the parents’ abilities to provide a solid place in which to raise a child. Kids are also expensive, so the stability of employment will also be examined, as stable employment means steady money coming in to support that child.

There are several indicators of stability of a home environment that can help a court make this determination. If one parent has lived in the same place for an extended period of time and the other has moved a high number of times, it would appear that the child would have stable, predictable housing. Stability can also come from routines within the household. If one parent can show that while in their care the child goes to bed at a reasonable hour, gets three squares, and brushes their teeth twice a day, that would show to a chancellor that the home is stable.

The stability of the home can also encompass other things, such as substance abuse or violence. A parent who has had issues with drugs, becomes intoxicated often in the presence of the child, or has frequent guests who do these things will have a tough time winning this factor in a child custody case. Violence toward others, especially to the child, will also give a judge concern with giving custody to that parent.

Firmness in the parent’s employment will also be examined in child custody cases. Much like when a boss is looking at an interviewee’s resume, a judge will be concerned if one parent has been terminated from several jobs recently. On the flip side, if one parent has held down the same job or has received promotions at work, that parent will be viewed as the more able to provide for the child.

Children have an absolute need for stability. They are going through life and learning along the way, and knowing their home environment will be the way it is gives them more ease. With stability, kids are free to devote their time and energy to doing things that kids should be doing. Firmness in the home and employment is one of the most important things you can show to a court in a child custody case. That shows that you can use your time and energy to being there emotionally for the child instead of having to worry about shelter or a paycheck. If you or someone you know has a question about your child custody case, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. We are knowledgeable about these cases, and will give you an honest answer.

Mississippi Child Custody Considerations: Preference of the Child

March 11th, 2018

Perhaps one of the more daunting and trying considerations for parents involved in a child custody dispute is the preference of the child. Parents contesting child custody are often nervous that their child’s preference will not be favorable to them because of a number of different reasons manipulating that child’s decision making. Sadly, this could even include the other parent’s influence. However, the preference of the child is but one of many considerations that chancellor’s weigh in their analysis of the Albright Factors to decide the best interests of the child.

By statute, the preference of the child will not be considered by a chancellor unless the child is 12 years old or older. After the sufficient age of 12, a child in a child custody case could be allowed by the court to express their preference as to which parent they would prefer to live with. A chancellor, however, is not required to honor the wishes of a child as to whom he/she would prefer to live with, but will only make that decision based on whether the best interests of the child is served by allowing them to express a preference.

This consideration is considered dismaying by some because of a parent’s ability to manipulate the feelings of a child in regards to the other parent. For example, there unfortunately are parents that will promise their children a later curfew, a new phone, or even a new car, just to manipulate the child into wanting to live with that parent. Although offering favors to their child may sway that child to their side momentarily, ultimately, a chancellor deciding the case will see that for what it is and take that into consideration when making his final decision.

Even though there are parents who attempt to essentially “bribe” their own children to make them want to live with them, a court will not make a decision based on the child’s preference if their preference is not in their best interest. It is understandable that this factor can cause a sense of uneasiness and worry in parents when dealing with a child custody dispute. Our office handles child custody disputes every day, and can help ease those worries. If you have any worries or concerns involving your custody disputes, or just have any questions at all involving your custody related issues, please contact our office. Thank you for following this series and please continue to follow along each week as we explore the Albright Factors.

Mississippi Child Custody Considerations: Home, School, and Community Records

March 6th, 2018

A child’s home, school and community environment will have a huge impact on that child’s development as a person, and will likely shape them for the rest of their journey through life. This is where they will form bonds of friendship, get involved in the community, and get an education that will help them meet the challenges of adulthood. One of the most common misconceptions regarding this factor is that a court will only look to whether a change in custody will result in the child being “uprooted” from their community or school. While this is certainly a potential aspect in a chancellor’s analysis of this consideration, a chancellor will ultimately focus more on each of the parent’s ability to take their children to and from school on time and the children’s absences from school while in each parent’s custody. The courts primarily focus on whether the child(ren) are in a stable environment and if awarding custody to another parent would improve or provide that stability.

Courts have regularly weighed this factor unfavorably against a parent if/when a parent relies on others to drop off and pick up their children from school. For example, the Court of Appeals in Mississippi has found in recent cases that when one parent habitually struggles getting their child to school on time, that is weighed negatively against them in favor for the other parent, even if the other parent would need to “uproot” their children in order to be awarded custody.

When considering this Albright factor, the court also focuses on the child’s attendance in school when in the custody of each parent. If the child has an abundance of absences from school while in the care of the mother, that fact would be weighed unfavorably against her in the determination of custody. Also, for instance, if while the father had custody the family moved frequently and the children were forced to change schools and communities often, a chancellor would certainly weigh that fact against the father, especially if the mother has maintained stable household.

We talk to many people who have questions about this factor and many who come into our office have concerns about how their child’s school and community record will affect their case. The home, school, and community record of the child is but one factor among many in a chancellor’s Albright analysis when determining child custody. If you, or anyone you may know, have any questions about how this factor or others may impact your case, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the insight to the application of these factors to answer any and all questions you may have. We are glad to help you in this uneasy time. Please continue to follow our website’s series on the Mississippi child custody factors.

Mississippi Custody Considerations (Albright Factors: Moral Fitness of Parents)

February 27th, 2018

Here in Mississippi, it is well settled that the best interest of the child must be the polestar consideration in all custody decisions. In deciding the best interest of the child in custody cases, it is the chancellor’s duty to consider that the relationship of parent and child is for the benefit of the child, not the parent. To determine where the child’s best interest lies, the court must weigh a slew of factors when deciding custody. Among these factors one of the most critical consideration is the moral fitness of the parents. Especially here in Mississippi, deep in the Bible belt, this factor is perhaps taken into consideration more than any other factor.

When weighing this factor, the chancellor will make a judgment on who he or she finds to be morally fit to receive custody of the child. The chancellor will question both parents’ morals to find who should be awarded custody based on the best interest of the child. For example, a court will take into consideration whether either parent had an affair or has a drinking problem.

When it comes to the moral fitness of the parents, how those morals impact the children is key. For instance, if a mother’s paramour had constant exposure to the child and was in the home for extended periods of time with the child, the court would perhaps weigh that negatively against the mother. Bad behavior on one of the parent’s part is essential to the court’s analysis, however it is whether that bad behavior is exposed to the child that will cause the court to weigh in favor of the other parent.

As with the factor of the emotional bond between the parent and the child, a guardian ad litem (GAL) will play a large role in determining which parent possesses the better moral fitness to raise the child. The GAL will use home visits to make this determination, often with a prescheduled home visit, and possibly with an unannounced visit. This helps the GAL determine whether the scheduled visit (which often goes well) was the real deal, and not just a gilded image of everyday life in that home.

Many of our clients have questions about this factor because it is such an influential consideration in the eyes of the courts of Mississippi. Although this factor is important to the courts analysis in child custody cases, it is but one factor among many that a chancellor weighs in awarding custody. If you or anyone you know has any concerns or is unsure about the moral fitness consideration, or any other considerations, please contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office is pleased to assist you and answer any questions you may have.