Messy Divorces: A Few Tips and One BIG Key

February 21st, 2019

Most people seeking divorce are surprised at the complexity and cost associated, particularly when assets and child custody issues are hotly contested. One thing I have learned in 15 years and 1,300-ish domestic cases later is that clients will either be an asset for fair resolution or they will get in their own way to the extent of holding up a fair and final resolution for them and their children. My goal here is to help you the former and avoid being the later……even if the advice isn’t exactly what you wanted to hear.

Let’s start by starting some fairly obvious things you may need to be reminded of. First, never forget that marriage is a partnership, and our state begins any divorce with the notion that what is yours is his and vice versa. It is not to far different than a business partnership for the purposes of our discussion.

Secondly, Chancery Court judges do not value a litigant who comes across as angry, vindictive, or belligerent. To put it lightly, your testimony will be tainted as long as those attitudes persist. Coming across as the nice person you hopefully are will go further than you might think. A courtroom will never be a sparring match where overt aggression is effective, although there is a time and place for heavy-handed techniques. Trust your lawyer and avoid being the bad cop.

Third, do not assume that the court is familiar with every facet of your case. Specific evidence, be it documentation, witness testimony, an object, even your own diary need to be presented in a clean, thorough and articulate manner or expect that they are unknown to the judge. Keep in mind, hundreds of cases are on their docket at any given time.

Now the biggest and best for last. This tip is so important and also the most overlooked, largely because it is so very counter intuitive on its face. This tip is rooted deeply in basic human psychology, difficult to carry out, and may even require a degree of acting on your part.

So here it is after much adieu……..NEVER, EVER let your spouse know how badly you want out. They will expect you to give up more and take less. They will smell blood in the water and become a shark. Avoid this trap and you won’t have to “buy” your way out of an unhappy marriage. This is tough to execute, but trust me, it works.

Matthew Poole General Biography, 2019

Matthew has lived in the Jackson area since 1989 and is an honors graduate of Jackson Preparatory School, Millsaps College Political Science Department as the recipient of the Second Century Scholarship, and the University of Mississippi School of Law. At Ole Miss, he was named Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition in 2003.

He began his legal career at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office in 2004 after graduating from Ole Miss Law and served in the executive division as a policy advisor to Jim Hood and assisted in formulating Department of Human Services practices and procedure as well as administrative procedures in the areas of civil and insurance related litigation.

After leaving government service, he spent 2004 and 2005 serving as associate trial counsel at Wilkins, Stephen’s and Tipton and represented Medical Assurance Corporation, G.E. Medical Protective Corporation, Merck Pharmaceuticals, and GlaxoSmithKline Corporation.

Matthew opened his domestic litigation practice in 2005 and has taken over 300 domestic cases through final trial. He has been named a Top Ten Mississippi Domestic Attorney twice since 2014. He has been honored to serve as Justice at the Mississippi College School of Law’s annual Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Moot Court Competition on several occasions.

Matthew has a nine year old son, Lucas, and is particularly focused on custody matters and modifications as well as contempt issues that are associated with them. He is passionate in advocacy for single parents and children who are the victims of abuse and neglect.

Beware of the Third Adult

February 13th, 2019

Divorce is never easy. This could be the “Captain Obvious” statement of the year. No one ever gets married thinking “the divorce from this person will be painless.” Of course not-people don’t get married with the thought going into it that divorce is inevitable. In fact, there are several clients at the Matthew S. Poole law firm that have declared Pre-Nuptial agreement was not contemplated prior to marriage because the dissolution of the marriage was unthinkable. “No way will we ever be divorced!” Sound familiar? Of course it does. You and I either are those people or we know people who come to mind immediately. And so I will repeat myself: Divorce is never easy.

No matter the reason for the divorce, there is always a recovery period for each party. Often times an ex-husband busies himself with his work, or an ex-wife occupies her time with the kids, perhaps one moves away to be closer to their family, or takes a new job. Personal feelings change and may also stay stagnant as life moves on ever so constantly. Everything is fine…until that fateful day that the ex meets that new someone else. I’ll call them the “third adult”.

As the title of this article suggests, I am not a proponent of the third adult in terms of the impact on children. I am also not a big fan of the forth adult. They are the people who make a family lawyer’s practice thrive. They are the new love, the new “voice of reason”, at least hopefully. The third and forth adults in this equation are the new people that one meets and begin a new and, hopefully, lasting relationship with. And they always have a different agenda than yours of just a few short years ago. That is, the new love interest comes into your life and, more importantly, the lives of your children, with a new and different set of priorities. BEWARE.

Beware does not mean steer-clear forever, but proceeding with caution. Beware from this writer’s point of view does not mean that meeting someone new and falling in love and starting fresh is inherently bad. Beware means please keep in mind the best interests of your children, as the new person in your life may not have adhere to these same priorities. All of a sudden there are yours, mine, ours, his, theirs, etc…. the already disjointed family dynamic takes on a whole new twist. Invariably what may have been an uncomfortable, awkward and time consuming holiday transfer of the children can become an all-out “battle royale” to determine at whose house Santa actually comes. Summer vacations become a contest instead of a relaxing time.

Your new significant other may not appreciate your child support obligation as a legal mandate. They may want to spend that “wasted money” on a new car. Your budget may not allow for all things that everyone wants and needs, and it’s always easier to appease the voice that is closest to your ear. Don’t fall into this trap! Not only is it the beginning of the next round of Contempt filings in Court, but it is not fair to your kids. Be cognizant of your children, their needs, and your legal and moral obligations to them. Also, your ex is the parent of you children and, in most cases, is not your enemy. Your divorce notwithstanding, you have a common goal: to raise your children to be happy (as happy as they can be)…to become well adjusted adults who thrive in their own lives, despite your own shortcomings. Don’t allow the new person in your life to negatively impact your role.

Let me now take a bit of the sting off of the harsh realities presented here. So far, all that I have stated is that the new person in your life is no good, all bad, not welcomed. Please understand that I am not at all suggesting that people who are divorced should not seek to find love and happiness in their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Happiness is (or should be) the ultimate goal for all of us. In fact, my children would both readily tell you that my only wish for them in their lives is for them to be happy. (Full disclosure: I am thrilled that my daughter is happy living in Denver, Colorado, despite the fact that it makes me quite unhappy that she lives so far away and I only get to see her twice a year…the fact is that her happiness is not contingent on my happiness.) I am, therefore, urging you parents of broken families to simply consider your children, and their happiness, before you put your own wants and needs, and especially the wants and needs of your new love intetests, at the forefront.

This article is meant to warn you against placing new priorities, because of new people in your life, where they are not proper. The theme of this article is consistent with my other offerings: keep the welfare, best interests and overall protection of your children as your top priorities, no matter in what new situation you find yourself. To do otherwise is, by definition, contrary to the best interests of your children. The law always values and encourages parental involvement and the bonds that come from interpersonal ties, as it should.

I will make clear to include more subtle points of law in my next addition and I hope you will read as I expound on this subject: Child Custody Modification.

Michael Louvier: B.S. University of New Orleans (1988), J.D. Mississippi College School of Law (1994)

My Ex and my children have moved to another State! What can I do?

February 4th, 2019

At the law office of Matthew Poole we have been fielding more and more “out of State” calls. These are contacts to us either by phone or by email about a multi State custody issue. The contact is more and more often initiated by a non-custodial parent who is now struggling to enforce his/her visitation after some serious geography has become involved. Either the Ex has moved to Mississippi, or away from Mississippi – with the children. No matter the reason for the move, or even which party moved, the schedule of “every other weekend, etc…” is now impossible. This new situation begs the obvious question: What can I do about this??

When divorced parents continue to live in the same area, the logistics of the exchange of children, the scheduling of ball games and dance recitals and everything else that goes with the day-to-day joys and “difficulties” of your kids is easily worked out. Although these parents might feel awkward and uncomfortable, it is just easier to get things done for the kids. After all – the “best interests of the children” is always the target, right? Mix a few hundred miles of highway between the houses and this delicate balance goes from a bit unpleasant and compromising to unworkable and unfair. Unfair to whom, you ask? This is unfair to everyone, especially the children. Keep in mind that the travel to and from house to house is endured by the kids, too. And the farther away from the non-custodial parent they move, the more difficult and tedious this issue becomes. A disruption of their plans and favorite activities is never a pleasant subject to broach, also. So keep these delicate subjects in mind when you are attempting to come up with a viable solution.

All of these different problems and headaches and obstacles to a simple issue: I just want to see my kids! Is there a solution? The short answer is YES – Always. When a schedule of visitation is no longer workable, and the parents cannot come to an agreement or a meeting of the minds, the Courts are available for a modification. Remember that your rights as a parent are NOT diminished by the distance between you and your children. In fact, the Constitution of the United States guarantees a parent’s rights, and the protection of those rights. These rights are defined as fundamental rights; that is, the most protected of all rights. See Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982). What this really means to you, the non-custodial parent, is that any decrease in your visitation should be viewed as more than simply “not good for me and my kids”…it is viewed as Unconstitutional!

The Mississippi Chancery Courts are referred to as the “super-guardians” of the children involved in cases that they handle. That is: the Chancellor must put the protection and best interests of the children as a paramount standard. And it is without debate courts hold that maximum involvement of both parents is consistent with the “best interests of the children” policy. With these tenets in mind, it stands to reason that a reduction in visitation because of the re-location of either parent would be inherently contrary to the best interest of the children. Protect your rights – cherish and protect your relationship with your children – and doing may very well mean that you have to go back to Court. Extended holiday periods, travel expenses, or even a true modification of custody are all issues that are on the table after a move of parent/children.

My next article will open yet another can of worms common to the subject of child custody/visitation: the introduction of the “Third adult”. I hope that you will log in to read that one, too.

Michael Louvier is a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law (1994). He has been married for 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).

OUR CHILD IS GOING TO COLLEGE! WAIT…WHO’S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?

January 24th, 2019

Michael Louvier, J.D.

As of last week my son Nick is a student at Mississippi State and my wife and I, and our entire family for that matter, could not be more proud of him. It is a time that we have experienced before with my daughter, Amy, in 2012, and so maybe we have some perspective on this transition. The family dynamic has changed, of course, as our last child is now “living on his own”.

The family finances have, also, changed; what with another rent payment, new utility bills and the other costs that come with a child “living on his own”. Factor in the books, extra fuel associated with travel, food, lab fees, parking fees, fraternity or sorority dues, etc. etc. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the most important cost factor: TUITION. Suffice it to say that the tuition and all of the other expenses related to attendance at a four-year university is quite high.

This type of transition can be a very stressful and expensive time for all families. For parents of children whose families are divided by divorce or other circumstances, this new chapter in your life and, more importantly, the life of your child, will be exciting, stressful, and expensive, of course. And so the “million-dollar question is: Who pays for all of this? (It’s not quite a million dollars – it just feels that way).

Whether the parents are no longer married or were never married it should be obvious that a Court Order is best source for guidance on this issue. However, absent specific language in the judgment, this remains an unanswered question. This is not a simple “child-support” matter. Many divorces are settled out of court with the parties agreeing to matters of child custody and child support being contained in a Marital Dissolution Agreement a Property Settlement Agreement. Unfortunately, many of these Agreements do not speak to this issue within the “four corners” of the document. Still others include a generic mention that “non-custodial parent will pay for college” or some equally vanilla and non-descript language.

Perhaps the Agreement was prepared when the child was very young and college was not being contemplated yet. Or maybe it was simply assumed that the parents would “share” these costs and therefore no language about college was included. Whatever the case may be, a child’s decision to go to college may be considered “a material change in circumstances justifying child support modification.” See Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So2d 1376 (Miss. 1991). Another interesting and more recent case is Harris v. Porter decided by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2016. In Harris, a modification of child support was granted after a showing that the child “clearly showed aptitude for and the potential to benefit from college according to her high-school record” and the father was financially able to help with college expenses.

If you don’t yet know who has to pay, for whatever reason, you should do everything you can to completely identify how much and then try to reduce that amount.One very helpful organization is Get2college.org. There you will find useful information and specifics about the school that you are planning for and the availability of ACT prep courses and study materials. You will also find help with completing your FASFA (Free Application for Federal Aid). You will also want to visit studentaid.ed.gov. It is worth your time and effort to visit these sites in an effort to get any and all the help that is out there for your child.

Your student has some accountability in this also. The higher the GPA, the more scholarships and grants that you may qualify for. Also, a higher ACT score will not surprisingly increase these awards for your student. Remember that the Court in Harris v. Porter used the child’s high school record to determine her aptitude for college. Can we, therefore, assume that if the child had poor grades and a low ACT score that they would not have ordered the father to pay for the costs associated with college? Hard to say, but the Court’s decision was made easier by the high marks earned by the student.

Be happy for and proud of your child for wanting to go to college in spite of the financial burden. Educate yourself about the costs associated with this next step in your child’s life. And seek the guidance and assistance with aid, grants, and scholarships available. In this instance, knowledge truly is power.

Michael Louvier is a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law (1994). He has been married for 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick 20).

Custody/Divorce Mediation Pro’s and Con’s

January 18th, 2019

Mediating a domestic case can often provide significant benefits to everyone involved–with the right mediator, that is. First, let us briefly discuss what mediation is, and is not. Mediation is defined (by Black’s Law Dictionary) as “a private, informal dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party, the mediator, helps disputing parties to reach an agreement”. In essence, it is simply a facilitator of communication and compromise between those in conflict. A cooler head is so often needed in the emotional turmoil of custody and divorce law.

The sole downside to mediation is that it is not binding on the parties and not enforced as would be a judgment in court. The local sheriff will not help in effectuating a mediator’s judgment, because frankly there is no judgment at all. Mediation is still a highly effective tool, and I will lay bare the reasons that I strongly believe it more often helps than hurts.

  • Court dockets are slow, mediation can resolve dispute quickly. A good mediator knows how to lean on both parties and seek middle ground within weeks, not months and even years. Time is precious and domestic court cases are not sensitive to how much of it you will spend.
  • Mediation is private. Do you want harmful allegations and bare emotion made a part of public record? It does not take much for anyone who looks to see all of the details of a nasty court case, whereas mediation is confidential and private.
  • Mediation can (not always, but most often) save you attorney fees and protracted litigation, multiple court appearances, and the stress that accompanies them.

I would like to state unequivocally that a good mediator be neutral yet decisive and be able to exert pressure on each party to compromise. One of the best domestic mediators is going to be John Grant III, a recently retired Rankin County Chancery Court judge. He now works for the Shows Law Firm in Flowood, Mississippi and embodies all of the qualities an effective mediator requires. I am not being compensated in any way for this opinion, and want to be clear that my thoughts are a result of having practiced in front of him for well over a decade. He is thoughtful, neutral, and will push to resolve domestic disputes confidentially and in fairness to all.

Matthew Poole Speaking at National Business Institute Seminar on Divorce Practice and Procedure

I want to briefly mention that I will be speaking on divorce practice and procedural issues at the National Business Institute Continuing Education Seminar on July 18, 2019 at the Marriott Hotel, downtown Jackson, Mississippi. I am joining 5 other lecturers for the “Family Law A-Z” seminar and look forward to (hopefully) making some sense of the steps in simplifying a path to a clean, stressless divorce which can save your clients, or you, time money. I hope to make this as fun, yet informative as possible. My fellow lecturers and I will surely have some insight that is useful and practical for domestic practitioners.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney and nationally recognized expert in the area of custody and divorce law. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 2004 and is located in northeast Jackson.

Child Custody Challenges Equal Danger + Opportunity

January 8th, 2019

Happy 2019 to everyone reading this post. I am truly amazed that thousands of people read them every month, in large part thanks to Google and its reach. That is truly humbling to know and I thank you all for spending the time– it truly makes writing rewarding. Now, on to one of our very favorite topics…..legal realities.

Anyone who is familiar with our blog knows that we enjoy debunking myths. I am certain that most people that contact us in a disputed divorce that is also coupled with disagreement about child custody, be it joint or primary custody, visitation with their kids, and so forth, are looking for easy answers. Some even think that we sneaky lawyers have a form you can fill out and submit it to the court to obtain custody. Some feel we are holding back for profit. I assure you, that is far from legal reality.

H.L. Mencken (for those of you not familiar with the now deceased journalist, look him up on Wiki…he was controversial and improper at times, but often right) once noted that “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong”. Americans, especially litigants, love simple solutions and immediate gratification. We are all made that way to some extent or another, myself included.

If I had to guess, over 90 percent of people seeking child custody advice are looking for a quick, cheap solution. Dealing with the rights and protection of children and what is best for them is never that simple. Children obviously bring a new dynamic to parent lives and therein lies the rub. All hope is not lost though; you may, and likely do have opportunity to better your children through the rough sea of custody litigation.

Although there has been significant debate about the interpretation of the Chinese word for “crisis”, often interpreted as “danger and opportunity”, the concept holds basically true in the narrower context of child custody litigation. So, you are probably asking yourself “what is the best advice for the parent fighting for custody, Matthew?”

My tip is a simple one: spend your energy not looking for a simple solution, look for the best solution for you and your kids. And remember, it is a whole lot easier, cheaper, and less stressful to get professional legal advice and do it the right way the first time. Going back and trying to undo what has been done is always the tougher path.

Think of it like this: It is far easier to build a home on a piece of cleared land than to go demolish an old house, clean all the debris and then start from scratch. Trust your instincts about the legal advice you get. And if you sense a lawyer is simply trying to get paid and push you into a prolonged battle, do not walk away, run. The opportunity to get it right may only happen once.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi domestic attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Trial Competition, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE…ESPECIALLY GRANDPARENTS

December 29th, 2018

As the year 2018 comes to an end, it is appropriate and perhaps customary to reflect on the events and happenings of the past twelve months and look forward to the New Year to come. This may be especially true of the members of families who have experienced the difficulties of a divorce and custody matter where children are divided between households.

In my previous article we explored some generic ways that we can make this time of year a bit more joyful for everyone with a specific focus on our children. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so soon, and if you have read it, we hope that you appreciate the common sense suggestion (and legal benefits that accompany these issues) of “Be Nice” that it promotes. For all our future blog entries, you may automatically infer and assume that “be nice” is a given. In this short work we will attempt to expound on “be nice”, but with a more specific focus on our parents: the grandparents of our beloved children. They are often the most valuable asset to young ones.

Pursuant to Section 96-16-3 of the Mississippi Code, a grandparent may be allowed visitation when the grandparent shows a viable relationship with his or her grandchild has been established, visitation with the grandchild has been unreasonably denied, AND visitation is in the grandchild’s best interest. (Emphasis provided). The AND in that sentence is not at all suggestive or subtle: it is a mandate that all 3 elements are proven. A grandparent must show to the Court that these three factors, cumulatively, exist in their case, else any legal action taken may be fatally flawed. As always, these elements are considered on case by case basis and the terms are subject to the interpretation, and significant weight given to each, is in the discretion of each individual Chancellor. That said, consider the following:

The Mississippi laws include provisions for grandparents to seek legal relief regarding child custody and/or visitation. In fact, calls and email inquiries involving Holiday visitation for grandparents are becoming more and more frequent. Of course the specifics are as diverse as the spread of individual dinner tables; of course, but the central and prevailing question is almost always the same: How can I get Grandparent’s rights so that I can see my grandchildren during the Holidays? It’s a fair question that usually would be easily solved if the adults in the children’s lives would all heed our prior advice repeated above. But not everyone can or will simply “be nice”. Those instances may require legal action, to-wit:

WHAT IS A VIABLE RELATIONSHIP?

A viable relationship is difficult to define, but it is something more than a Birthday card and a text every now and then to say “how is school?” and “I wish you would come see us sometime”. Those gestures are nice and I encourage this type of contact. If you have this relationship with your grandchild, keep it up and good for you! If not, then maybe you should seek to incubate and nurture a relationship. (Those words are chosen intentionally so that you will approach this with “baby steps”). You can’t be fake, it can’t be forced and it cannot be for reasons other than the love of the child. A viable relationship with a child, or anyone for that matter, is none of those things.

This generation of parents is unfortunately forced to rely on neighbors and friends and, thankfully, grandparents, in the day-to-day business of child rearing. Parents work, kids participate in school and after school activities. This is all healthy and normal, and time consuming. The grandparents that participate in this juggling act/struggle are more likely to fair well in their efforts to have meaningful time with the kids. And if they must press this matter to Court then their efforts will always be a factor and should be rewarded. That is not to say that a “score-card” is being kept, or that one should be kept. Do what you can when you can. Financial support and assistance for your grandchildren is also considered, but that alone will not convince the Chancellor that a viable relationship exists.

Some are more able to participate because of their job or transportation or schedule flexibility or what have you, and some simply cannot do it. They should not be punished, right? Yet some grandparents are able but maybe not so willing to help out when the parents are in a pinch. It’s not as easy to discern who can and who can’t. It’s much easier to figure out who will and who won’t. And so grandpa, ask yourself: when asked to pick up the kids from school or from soccer practice, are you the one in the carpool line? How flexible are you to host the kids for the weekend if asked? Do you offer to keep the scout fees current?

Suffice it to say that a “viable relationship” with your grandchildren is not formed overnight – it’s formed and developed and molded over many nights, months and years. A viable relationship is developed through the sacrifice of time on the part of the grandparent who attends the ballet recital and the baseball games. Are you this grandparent? Or are you too busy to develop a viable relationship with your grandchildren? The good news is that it’s never too late to start.

HAVE I BEEN UNREASONABLY DENIED VISITATION?

A grandparent who lives across the street, across town, or even across the State has a better chance of proving this element than does the one who lives across the country. But again, there is no easy “one size fits all” answer to this query.

Most grandparents would say that ANY denial of a request for visitation with the grandkids is in and of itself unreasonable. But we must assent to factors of the day such as school duties (homework, tests, etc) clubs and activities, or maybe a friend’s birthday party or a planned trip to the water park. In other words, are the requests for visitation interfering with some other important event? If it is, then perhaps the denial is not unreasonable after all. Furthermore, if the request for visitation includes extensive travel, it may simply be unreasonable to drive hundreds of miles for a few hours spent in front of the television with grandma. Perhaps a better question might be “Have I been unreasonably denied a reasonable request for visitation”? Whatever the situation and however geography, employment duties and other logistics play their parts, reasonable requests for visitation made by grandparents who have already formed a viable relationship should not be denied.

WHAT IS IN THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS?

This is the most important question for the Chancellor to ask and attempt to answer. I could (and very well may) write dozens of articles on this subject alone. This question is the polestar consideration for each and every case, as it should be. Ironically, we will spill the least amount of ink, as it were, on this third prong of the test after declaring it to be the most important.

Absent some extraordinary issues, we could all agree that time spent with the grandparents is consistent with our overall meaning of the phrase “best interests of the children”. To that end, parents reading this article should always want the best for their children and grandparents visitation, even if they are the parents of your ex, should be part of your routine whenever possible.

May God bless you and your family during this Holiday Season!!!

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi lawyer who specializes in family law and domestic relations conflict resolution. Matthew was admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association in 2004 and was named Top 10 Family Lawyer in the State by the National Association of Family Attorneys in 2018.

Merry Christmas To Everyone…Especially Our Children

December 18th, 2018

My name is Michael Louvier, Law Clerk to Matthew Poole, Esq. At this time of the year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the past year, look forward to the New Year to come, 2019, and to be thankful for what we have today. I thank God everyday for my family, with whom He blesses me every day of my life. I thank God for the unconditional love that my wife and two children and I have for each other. I’m thankful for my parents, who have been married for 62 years, and who set the bar very high for my three siblings and I as parents and grandparents. I thank God for my sister and two brothers, all older than me, and all wiser, as it should be. Especially during this time of the year, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I thank God for the blessing of the multitude of children that He has brought into mine and my wife’s lives. So many children in our 32 years together, 28 years married and 25 years as parents. Nephew, nieces, and hundreds of children have enriched us as a family. They have all made us laugh, cry, celebrate, rejoice and pray, and our lives are much more complete knowing each child. We love them all and say those exact words to them anytime we can. Many are “all-grown-up” adults now, off of dad’s payroll, as it were. And some of these children are having children of their own. We are so proud to be invited to the Baptisms, birthday parties… I could go on and on and on, suffice it to say that my wife and I love children, all of them. And from that love came this article, to-wit

At this time of year it is also appropriate to try to keep the wants, needs and wishes of others in mind, especially our children. Gifts under the tree and good food, desserts and cider are always a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Gift giving, mistletoe and the like aside, making the Holiday Season better for you and yours is always a complicated matter. And so, regardless of your marital situation: married, separated, divorced, re-married, single parent…it really doesn’t matter. If you want to make this Season better for your family and your children more enjoyable and less stressful, I urge you to consider the following:

Whenever you are enjoying time with your family, especially your children, you should always be mindful of your alcohol consumption. If you are an everyday drinker, slow it down. No need to show everyone how much you can drink, it’s not a contest that you want to win anyway. If you are a social drinker, then be more social than drinker. If you rarely drink alcohol and the egg-nog is exceptional, then make sure you don’t overdo it. In short: Be responsible for yourself and be nice. It’s the Holiday Season so Be Sober and Be Nice.

For the split and co-mingled families that live apart and geography and logistics become a variable in this issue – one word of advice: COMMUNICATE. Without communication with your ex (or his mom or the new husband or his 19-year-old daughter, etc., this will be a problem. The more children involved the more difficult the logistics become and; therefore, the more vital COMMUNICATION becomes. Whomever you must coordinate with to make this a less than impossible task, make all plan for exchanges and travel and meeting places early. Attempt to agree on a “half-way point” that is well lit, has a bathroom and some refreshments and maybe even good food. Schedule an agreed to best time and place and stick to it. If you haven’t yet done this part and you are reading this, then you should be searching for the contact in your phone right now. And when you get them on the line, tell them to pull up this site and read this blog. (Do this now!) Travel for this purpose is stressful, potentially dangerous according to weather and other conditions, and potentially expensive. Remember to have the car gassed up and ready to go. Minimize the stress by being the clear voice of reason in the communication. Drive carefully always. If it’s an extended drive, make the ride more comfortable with pillows and blankets and a cooler of water and maybe some snacks and sandwiches. Don’t be in too much of a hurry, as accidents will never get you there sooner. Don’t allow your emotions and the overall vitriol for the “other family” to dictate the plan. Most of all remember that it’s all about the kids, not you. Let me repeat that: this whole plan is about your children, and not about you. Be Flexible, Be the adult….Be Nice.

School is out for everyone, and that is sometimes good news for the kids and the teachers (I thank God for our educators, too!), but not good news for working parents. During your extended Holiday visitation period, your child might have a friend that has some free time. Within your limits when factoring the job restraints, the financial realities and the geographical issues, you may want to ask your child if he would care to include a friend or two in some of your plans. And don’t simply pick them up and go back to your place for some riveting television watching. Go somewhere! Do things! Go to the mall, the movie, museum, Chinese buffet, burger joint, ice-cream shoppe. You get it? Good, now do it! No matter where you live, there is always something to do in your area that is fun and exciting and sometimes even free. If all else fails, order a pizza and rent a good movie. Just don’t be a dud, Dad.

There is a growing debate about limiting access to social media during visits. There is no easy answer except to suggest that your child should feel comfortable to be online, but that she, too, should be aware of your time and your plans, etc. Just because I suggest that it’s all about them is not to be misinterpreted as it’s ALL about them. Kids used to have to drive away in a car to be miles away from you, now they can be sitting next to you on the couch, iphone in hand, and be on a completely different planet than you. By the same token, they can be hundreds of miles away from you and you can be talking to each other as if you were in the same room. Use this Holiday time as an opportunity to enhance your relationship and let social media assist you instead of letting it be a point of contention.

Our previous blog entry “Are you smarter than a 5th grader” could suggest that the higher the grade your child is in, the least likely you are to have any clue about the math and foreign language and almost all other subjects that they take. Get involved in your child’s everyday academic life before they understand how much of it that you don’t understand. Ask your student to share their required reading with you (now you have something to read, mom!) and this will immediately become a topic of conversation between the two of you.

My point in this article is clear: Be good to your children, especially in this Holiday Season. This is the time of year that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

My prayer: Thank You, Lord, for blessing us with these many children in our lives. Let all those parents and others that read this article to gain some guidance from You, humbly, through me. Amen.


Michael Louvier, B.A. (University of New Orleans), J.D. (Mississippi College School of Law) is the primary clerk to Attorney Matthew Poole. He has two decades of legal experience and is the father of three.

ARE DADS STILL THE UNDERDOG IN A CUSTODY BATTLE?

December 10th, 2018

Let’s face it: Fathers who are “fighting” for custody of their children start out with the figurative “one hand tied behind their back”. But in the past decade or more, great progress has been made to allow for a more level playing field. Let’s briefly explore this subject and, hopefully, shed some positive light on this complicated issue.

I am not hesitant to use the phrase “custody battle”, but many times that is the best description of what this type of court case is, or becomes. Many cases might begin with the parents declaring to each other, their lawyers, their families, and most importantly their children, that they only want what’s best for the children. Some parents even try to adhere to this promise. But all too often the proceedings drag on and frustrations set in and what began as a “cordial” case turns into just what we didn’t want or expect: a Battle.

Fighting it out with your ex often becomes the only way to assert your rights regarding everything, including the custody and visitation of your children; unfortunately, the fight itself almost always makes the dad out to be the bad guy. That is, those dads who refuse to accept the “standard visitation” schedule of every other weekend and an extra day or two sprinkled throughout the month are classified as “combative” or hard-to-deal with. The old-fashioned mindset was: How selfish! Those guys are only thinking of themselves and aren’t putting the kids first, some might say. *A personal note: If someone suggested that I was only allowed to see my kids every other weekend as they grew up, there would be more than a battle to ensue – there may have been a pair of handcuffs involved in that conversation. Thankfully, the mindset in this area is more open to the ideas of “Joint Custody” and “Shared Custody” and other forms of co-parenting scheduling plans that include and facilitate the involvement of BOTH PARENTS, not simply more time with mom and less with dad. Of course, when mindsets change, the laws and court decisions follow suit, and that is encouraging.

There are several factors that each parent must consider when they are “battling” for custodial periods of time with your child. For example: always keep in mind the time constraints of your employment when you fight for the extra week-day. If you agree to, or are awarded by the Court, every Wednesday, but you must work until 6:00pm and you are unable to pick up your child from school, then what have you really gained? Geography and logistics must be considered, as well. Same scenario: Dad is awarded Wednesday and he must return the child to school on Thursday morning; however, he lives more than an hour away! The return trip to school must begin at 5:00 a.m. or earlier. Is this a victory for Dad? Is it a good situation for the child? Finances play a part (of course) as does the support system in place for each separated parent. Can Dad afford to take time off work for the extra time? And after this somewhat lengthy discussion, we have yet to mention the child’s wishes and needs. I believe it is safe to say that no loving parent – regardless of any other factor – would choose a custodial period with the child that interfered with an activity that is important to the child. Dads forced with this decision almost always defer to the wishes of the child. This becomes a sword that cuts both ways: now Mom and her legal team can suggest to the Court that Dad doesn’t want extra time.

The Conclusion, if there is to be one in this brief overview of an extremely complex issue, is that Father’s involved in a Divorce proceeding should take great care in avoiding the pitfalls of a “custody battle”. Consider the cost of “winning”. Who benefits? Who loses? Is there any common ground that should be explored? Has reasonableness been abandoned? And finally, but most importantly, what schedule and situation is best for the child?

Maximum involvement of both parents in the upbringing of the child(ren) should be the desired outcome in any case. In more and more jurisdictions, this is the presumption of what is in the best interests of the child. Father’s more and more are being considered “equal” parents. I see this trend as a good one – for Dads and for their children.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family attorney specializing in domestic conflict resolution. He was selected as a 2018 top 10 family lawyer by the National Association of Family Attorneys.

ARE YOU SMARTER THAN…..

December 5th, 2018

Do you remember the popular television game show “Are you smarter than a 5th grader? The host, comedian Jeff Foxworthy, would ask an adult contestant general 5th grade appropriate questions. The more correct answers given, the more “cash and prizes” the adult would win. It was a fun show to watch, especially when the contestant would get an “easy one” wrong; fun for everyone except of course, the contestant.

Your family court dispute is certainly more important than a television game show, and so I will refrain from any “Family Feud” references. But the premise of the game show and your court case is very similar: correct answers are the key to you to winning, while wrong answers can always cause you to lose. With that in mind, let’s discuss the strategy of your case so that you will be able to answer the questions correctly and win the “cash and prizes” that are at stake in your case.

Preparation is the always the key. Gathering your relevant information, anticipating the strengths and weaknesses of your case (as well as your opponent’s), and familiarizing yourself with the process are the steps that the wise litigants take. Listed here are some of the more common steps to this process that you may prepare for, and doing so may make you a better “contestant”, and may save you some money along the way.

Initial questions from your attorney, both before and after you retain his services:

This is an often undervalued or overlooked part of the process; however, wrong answers at this early stage of your case can torpedo the entire effort. Moreover, the questions that are left unasked, either by the client to his attorney or visa versa may leave some of the more important information uncovered. You know your case better than anyone, and so it certainly makes sense for you to prepare for this meeting. Most lawyers have standard intake questionnaires” that are used for the basic information.

Written questions called interrogatories:

This can be very expensive, especially if you are not willing or able to assist your legal team. Its best to have the financials, tax returns and bank records ready when you first meet with your attorney, as this information is almost always going to be needed. Bottom line: the more you can help your attorney with this process, the more familiar you will be with the legal “game”. Be thorough and prompt when you are asked to provide these answers and information.

Demands for your information:

This includes your tax information, banking information, employment information, medical information, social media information, cellular activity, and , any and all other information that is exclusive to you. (YES, they are going to ask these questions, and they are entitled to the answers and information!).

These “questions” are most often asked by Subpoena Duces Tecum issued by the Court and served on either you, or your CPA, your employer, your cellular provider, your medical provider…you get the point. Properly issued subpoenas are honored by the recipient and your private information is certainly in play in this very high stakes game. Beware: social media posts are also fair game. You should always consider that whatever you post might be read by your mom, your priest, or worse: your opponent’s attorney!

Oral questions asked at a deposition:

Deposition subpoenas can be issued for you, or for anyone else who may have information useful to the case (witnesses). Not every case will employ this measure, but there are some things that you should be aware of if you are deposed. Consider a deposition as a practice run for trial. This process, much like the interrogatories, can be very costly simply due its the time-consuming nature. The wise participant prepares himself with his attorney. One helpful tip: Listen to the questions asked and answer it. Added information or expounded upon answers can help the other lawyer.

Oral questions asked at Trial or Hearings in your case:

All of the situations described, above, take place outside of the precence of the ultimate decision maker of your case. Any time the trier-of-fact (most commonly referred to as “the Judge”) is involved with the process, your answers must be correct. The trial portion is usually the end of the case and so these answers are the “Final Jeopardy” of the case. Inconsistent information in any facet of this process will make all of the answers wrong. That’s right: even correct answers at the end of the process, if preceded by a different (not necessarily wrong) response to the same question at an earlier stage in the case, can often prove very costly to the respondent. If the Judge believes you to be untrustworthy, dishonest, without credibility, or even just insincere or cavalier with your answers at trial, you have probably ruined your chances to have your case end successfully.

The best and often most successful contestants, both on the game show and in a legal proceeding are the ones who are best prepared. Any litigant, no matter the issue or type of legal dispute he is involved in, is more likely to satisfied with the results of the action if he is more prepared than his opponent. Therefore, the well prepared litigant in a family law case IS smarter than a 5th grader and the “cash and prizes” are more likely to be awarded to him in the end.

Matthew Poole is an award winning top 10 family lawyer and practices in Jackson, Mississippi. He has managed domestic cases in over 90% of the court districts in Mississippi over a 15 year period.