The New Tax Bill: What Does It Mean?

December 12th, 2017

The Republican Party’s new tax bill that is currently in the works will have an effect on Americans and the amount of money they take home.Taxes are a necessary evil that Americans are all too familiar with. Taxes pay for roads, schools and medical expenses for many people. They are also a constant reminder of having a smaller paycheck. The Republican Party’s new tax bill that is currently in the works will have an effect on Americans and the amount of money they take home. The size of this effect is to be determined, but this tax plan is something that married couples who are considering divorce should be aware of.

As is being heavily reported in today’s news, the House and Senate Republicans have both passed a version of this tax bill, and will confer in the coming days to agree on a final version. And while the impact on corporations is likely to receive more news coverage, the bill is being touted by the GOP as a plan to allow the average working-class American to bring home more money after taxes. Many Mississippians fall into this category, so the tax bill will have a significant effect on residents of our state.

Of course, a tax bill as majorly different as the one that is currently being voted on could have major implications on married couples, and therefore on divorced couples. There is talk of some deductions increasing, namely the standard deduction and child tax credit. This could impact familial decisions regarding custody of the children more than taxes have before, so that is something for parties to keep in mind when discussing child custody.

Although none of the proposed tax provisions are set in stone, whatever version of the plan that is introduced is sure to have an effect on the finances of Mississippians, and therefore an impact on their decision making. The most important thing about receiving help is asking. Taxes are not something that the everyday person (or many attorneys) knows a great deal about, and therefore there is nothing wrong with seeking advice regarding how this new tax plan may impact your family. Knowledge is one of the most powerful weapons you can possess, especially when it involves your family’s finances. If you have a question about tax implications in your divorce, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole, and we will be glad to give any advice we can about this impact.

The 8.05 Financial Declaration: Pen and Sword

December 4th, 2017

Change in life is inevitable, and these changes can often lead to large legal implications. Modifications of child support are no different. People change jobs, lose jobs, make more money and make less money. When these things happen, modifications of child support obligations are often one of the first things people consider. That obligation cannot be changed without an order doing so from the court that established the original decree. A helpful tool in this process is the 8.05 Financial Declaration, named for the Uniform Chancery Rule that requires it. While rather simple, this form can be the difference between a win and a loss in court.

The 8.05 is straightforward enough. It lists out the party’s income, assets, liabilities, and monthly expenses. The assets that must be listed include vehicles, guns, TVs, lawnmowers, and even furniture. Other things listed are mortgages and loans (in today’s world, often student loans). Clients are often concerned at how much financial information they are being asked to reveal, however when a party is requesting a modification of child support, full disclosure of finances is extremely important. The 8.05 is the requesting party’s way of showing the court their finances in a clear and concise way, and by swearing that the figures are accurate, the party is gaining the court’s trust that their modification request is being made in good faith.

As stated in previous posts, modification of a child support obligation requires a showing of a material change in circumstances of the father, the mother, or the minor child. This can be for any number of reasons, none of which really matter without an adequate showing of proof. This is why the 8.05 is so important. When filled out correctly, this document provides hard numbers for the court to look at to aid in their decision. The 8.05 also provides support to your attorney for any more abstract arguments they may use to plead your case. The pen is mightier than the sword, but an accurate financial declaration can act as both in a child support modification case.

Clients often have many questions when filling out an 8.05, and with the extensive information that is requested in the document, those questions are usually not a surprise. When help is needed, attorneys are glad to extend that to their clients, as they should be. A full and honest financial disclosure can be your best friend during a child support modification lawsuit. While the 8.05 is simple on its face, it should not be completed in a rush, as it is an extremely sharp sword to be used in your favor. If you or someone you know is seeking a modification of a child support obligation, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the experience to guide you through this difficult process, and emphasizes the little things that may turn out to be an important element in the outcome.

How Long Does a Mississippi Divorce Really Take?

December 1st, 2017

One of the more common questions about divorce in Mississippi is a totally understandable one: how long does it take? Clients are often surprised at how long their cases last, especially when in their minds it is clear that divorce will only benefit everyone involved. The answer to the question of length of a divorce case in this state is often the classic lawyer reply of “it depends.” This is an honest answer, as the length of a divorce can be fast or slow depending on many different things, and a major part of the process is the client’s proper understanding of the fickle nature of time in a divorce case.

As we have talked about elsewhere on our website, there are two ways to get a divorce in the Magnolia State. One is an irreconcilable differences divorce, sometimes referred to as a “no-fault” or “agreed to” divorce. In an irreconcilable differences divorce, much of the timetable for the process is the 60-day waiting period required after the filing of the complaint. After that period, assuming that the parties still agree with the terms of the split, the final judgment need only be signed by a chancellor of competent jurisdiction to be final.

The other way to get divorced in Mississippi is through a lawsuit, which has a much more volatile timeline than an irreconcilable differences divorce. Lawsuits involve filing pleadings, serving process on parties, and getting discovery requests out, and that’s just to get started! After the suit is initiated, it is likely that several court appearances will be needed to properly address the claims. These hearings take place for a number of reasons such as obtaining temporary relief, compelling documents that were properly requested but not produced, or asking for a continuance. Once you combine these hearings with crowded court dockets, the timetable for a divorce can be a total mystery, even to experienced legal professionals.

The process of a lawsuit is unfamiliar territory for many clients. Ideally, every stage of a divorce would occur without incident and on time, and divorces would be faster and easier to obtain than they are. However, much like life and marriage, divorce is a complicated issue with many variables at play. Combining two parties, the lawyers, the court system, the schedules of everyone involved, and possible mishaps during the lawsuit makes a natural cocktail for a wait that seems like forever. In a time where people desire concrete answers to questions, there simply is not one with the amount of time a divorce lawsuit takes.

Almost without exception, divorces are expensive, stressful, and, above all, time-consuming. When you add the client’s desire to get a divorce and be done with the experience, the process becomes even more of these things. Our office believes that clients should know the dedication and time that a divorce may require, so that they do not feel like they are in the middle of the ocean without land in sight. This is of course not the answer that many seek, but we firmly believe that in situations like divorce that honesty is truly the best policy. If you are in need of help through a divorce, please call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole to schedule a consultation.

Defending a Modification Lawsuit

November 22nd, 2017

Along with stubbing your toe and trips to the dentist, being sued is one of the more unpleasant experiences someone can encounter. Being sued for a modification of child support, visitation or custody is no different. An alleged change in circumstances often pries into two of the most private areas of a person’s life: their home and bank account. When defending a modification lawsuit, it is important to know what the other side must show, and what you can do to combat that evidence.

As mentioned in our previous posts, to be awarded a custody modification, the requesting party must meet a three-part test. There must be a material change in circumstances in the custodial home that occurred since the original decree, that material change must adversely affect the child, and a modification must be in the best interests of the child. The analysis for a modification of support is very similar: one may be awarded if there has been a substantial or material change in the circumstances of the father, the mother, or the child or children.

When a person is sued for modification of child custody, often there is some sort of abusive or neglectful behavior alleged to show the material change. In these cases, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed to represent the child’s interests in the lawsuit, which can include a home study of the child’s living environment. This part of the process literally invites the legal system into your home, which is one of the personal areas of life. If you are the parent defending a custody modification, the best way to interact with a GAL is to show that your home is a suitable environment for your child. That means keeping your home clean, having ample food in the house, and, depending on the season, working heat and air. If there is some question as to your relationship with your child, show the GAL that the claim has either been exaggerated or that you are honestly working to improve that relationship. The GAL’s opinion is a large factor in the outcome.

Another common modification lawsuit is one that seeks to increase or decrease a person’s child support obligation. This arises when there is a belief that the obligor either has more or less income than when the agreement or order was entered. In these cases, one of the things that seems to bother clients the most is the revealing of their financial information. As private as finances are, a necessary evil of a support modification lawsuit is the ability to study this information to determine if there has been a material change in circumstances. Just as that information can be used to support a modification, you can introduce evidence that shows that your obligation should remain the same (or even be lowered). This could be for a number of reasons, such as the minor child now attending private school or having some major need that was unforeseeable at the time the agreement or order was entered.

Being the defendant in a lawsuit is not a fun thing, but it also isn’t the end of the world. Defending a modification lawsuit is similar to defending others: poke holes in the other side’s argument. If a problem in your relationship with your child has been falsely alleged, discredit that story. If there is a problem with that relationship, show an effort to be improving it. If it is alleged that you make more money and can pay more child support, put on proof of why that is not the case. Mississippi courts know that parenting is difficult, and co-parenting even more so. Showing a court that the child’s best interests are served by your custody or that your support obligation is what you deserve to pay is how to successfully defend a modification lawsuit. It sounds simple, but like many legal situations it can be extremely difficult. If you have a question about a modification lawsuit you are facing, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole at 601-573-7429.

How Do You Know A Change Is Material?

November 16th, 2017

Of the many different legal situations that our clients come to our office with, modifications of child custody are some of the more complicated and misunderstood. Obviously, the custody of a child can only be changed by a court of competent jurisdiction, and the party requesting a modification has certain evidence that it must show to the court to win their case. A change in custody can be a very drastic measure for a child, and courts rightfully take this burden of proof seriously. Mississippians deserve to know what the state’s courts will likely consider a material change and what will not be enough to win a modification suit.

To be awarded a modification of a child’s custody, there must be a material change of circumstances in the custodial home since the original court order, that change must adversely affect the child, and the modification must be in the child’s best interests. This change must have been unforeseeable at the time of the original court order. If a material change is shown, the chancellor then determines whether that change is the one that adversely affects the child, and then analyzes the Albright factors (elsewhere on our website for your viewing) to make a decision on custody. Determining whether a change is “material” can be difficult, as even Black’s Law Dictionary merely defines “material” as “important” and “having influence or effect.”

In some cases, the materiality of the change is rather apparent. In Hall v. Hall, the father filed a petition for modification of child custody alleging, among other things, poor dental care rising to neglect and improper treatment after a dog bite. Hall v. Hall, 134 So.3d, 822, 824 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014). Testimony showed that one child’s teeth were rotten and black despite the father carrying dental insurance on the children, and that the mother failed to properly treat a child for a dog bite and also failed to inform the father about the bite. The chancellor, while acknowledging that accidents happen, considered the mother’s failures regarding the dog bite to be a material change in circumstances that adversely affected the child. The Mississippi Court of Appeals found no error on the chancellor’s part, and upheld the decision.

Other times, a change may be significant, but not material. In Giannaris v. Giannaris, the trial court awarded a modification in custody to the father after he argued that his relocation to California for work, the mother’s refusal to communicate with him, and the mother’s animosity toward the father’s new wife amounted to a material change in circumstance. Giannaris v. Giannaris, 960 So.2d 462 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). The Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that since the Court had never found the relocation of a custodial parent to constitute a material change, that the relocation of a non-custodial parent did not either. This is just one instance in Mississippi case law where a change that many parents may see as material was determined to not be by the court.

Child custody cases are a fascinating blend of law and drama, as the wants and needs of many parties intersect, and often collide. These cases are also complex, with many pitfalls that may not seem obvious at first glance. Our office often speaks with clients that wish to pursue a modification who are surprised at the amount of evidence they need to show the court in order to win that case. Custody cases are long, expensive and stressful, and Mississippians deserve to know what they are signing up for when they decide to file a lawsuit for a modification. If you believe a material change in your child’s living situation is worthy of pursuing, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office is experienced in these matters, and believes that you deserve to know your realistic chances of being awarded a modification of child custody.

What Visitation Rights do Grandparents Have?

November 12th, 2017

Grandparents often hold a special and significant place in the lives of their grandchildren as a symbol of love, support, and, as many of us know, discipline. Grandparents also often step into the role of a parent for a child for any number of reasons. This special relationship is highly respected in Mississippi, and the laws relating to the visitation rights of grandparents are no exception. Courts in Mississippi understand the dynamic at play with grandparents and their grandchildren, and if the preservation of that relationship is in the child’s best interest, then that relationship should not be disturbed.

Mississippi law allows a grandparent to petition for visitation rights after the death or termination of parental rights of one of the minor child’s parents. A grandparent may also do so for other reasons, and the court will award those rights if the grandparent has shown a viable relationship with the minor child, that a parent has unreasonably denied the visitation, and that the grandparent’s visitation rights are in the best interests of the child.
Obviously, the phrase “viable relationship” is quite vague, and the statute goes on to define that as a level of financial support of the minor child by the grandparent for more than 6 months, the grandparent having had frequent visitation, including overnight, for at least a year, or the grandparents caring for the minor child for a significant period with the parent absent from the home (including military duty or incarceration).

The wording of the statute gives grandparents many different ways to prove a viable relationship worthy of having visitation rights awarded. Previous overnight visitation is one of the more powerful showings of a viable relationship, as a grandparent being allowed to keep a child overnight demonstrates a large amount of trust and respect between the parent and grandparent. One caveat that grandparents need to be aware of regarding overnight visitation is the presence of the word “including.” A strict reading of this makes it seem as though a grandparent who has not had overnight visitation has no claim, like if the grandparent lives next door to the child and has had frequent visitation, but never overnight. A court’s interpretation and an attorney’s argument of the Legislature’s intent behind this phrasing may both be the difference in a case like this.

Still, a viable relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild can be a tough thing to show in a court of law, as those relationships often go beyond hard proof. Testimony of the grandchild may be the key factor in many of these cases, and many grandchildren are likely too young to have their testimony hold much weight in court. These are just a few of the gray areas that these cases can find themselves in. While cases involving the visitation rights of grandparents can be stressful, expensive and time-consuming, the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole is extremely well-equipped to handle your case with professionalism and personal service. If you believe your visitation rights as a grandparent are not being properly respected and would like to fight for those rights, call our office at 601-573-7429 to schedule a consultation.

Are Attorney’s Fees in Child Custody Cases Negotiable?

November 1st, 2017

Clients have more ability to negotiate attorney’s fees in child custody matters than they often realize. It is obvious to anyone who has had the burden of hiring a qualified attorney in a child custody matter, whether a first proceeding (a.k.a. initial adjudication) or a modification of custody/visitation that cost is always a serious obstacle-even insurmountable to the person living paycheck to paycheck. Depending on a variety of factors, it is typical that custody cases in Mississippi Chancery Courts can take anywhere between 25 and 150 hours of attorney time, and often even more if an appeal is necessary. Experienced custody attorneys usually charge between $200 and $300 per hour, so doing the math can be a scary thought, to put it gently.

It is important that you consider several factors in hiring a domestic lawyer, particularly when obtaining custody of children is the paramount goal. For one, do not hire an attorney who has practiced for a short duration of time (i.e., less than 6-8 years). Also, exercise extreme caution when considering an attorney who practices in multiple areas. Lawyers that litigate injury cases, criminal matters, contractual issues, and custody/domestic law are jacks of all trades, and masters of none. I have rarely observed an attorney that can wear multiple hats effectively. The best family lawyers are focused exclusively in that area, and I battle with the best domestic lawyers in Mississippi on a regular basis. The volume of statutes and case law within even one area of legal practice is difficult to ever have a firm grip upon…..the more areas of practice, the more irons on the fire, and the fire will extinguish itself. Buyer beware.

So what is the best advice, the lessons I can help the legal consumer to benefit themselves and, in kind, their children? The following is a list of basic precepts that will ensure you do not overpay for your domestic attorney, in no particular order;

Don’t attempt to negotiate the retainer AND the hourly rate, pick one and run with it. Since most domestic litigation exceeds the retainer, I would suggest you offer your prospective attorney 20% less than their advertised hourly rate. Even if you can only achieve a 15% reduction you will save a significant amount and make your retainer stretch further than it would have otherwise.

If a significant amount of travel will be needed to prosecute/defend your case, offer the lawyer only one-half of the hourly rate for litigating, my quarter says they will most often accept.

Offer to pay a small expense stipend/retainer ($350-$400) in exchange for a reduced retainer/hourly rate…this will cut much of the hassle lawyers face with seeking expense reimbursement. Time is money for attorneys, and time saved is money earned.

You have nothing to lose, except, well….hard-earned money. Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst you can expect is a resounding “No.” Most lawyers are realists, and we know that there are too dang many of us. You have more leverage in negotiating fees than you may expect.

Always take time to scrutinize your fee-statement. Lawyers are (believe it or not) usually fairly decent and ethical people. However, if something stands out as unusual or if there are an excessive amount of phone calls on your bill, don’t be afraid to question the veracity of those charges. It is not unusual for domestic cases to be 30-35% phone calls, but anything more is highly questionable at the least unless you require extraordinary client attention.

Hiring a domestic attorney can be a nerve-racking experience, and one that should not be taken lightly. Mississippians work hard for their money, and they deserve to feel that those concerns are being heard when hiring an attorney of any kind. Our office believes that when this issue is properly addressed, the lawyer-client relationship experiences growth in trust and understanding, making the unpleasant process of a domestic case a little easier on everyone involved.

Age 12: Not A Magic Number

October 11th, 2017

The law is full of misconceptions, and one of the most common ones that our office receives calls about is the role a child plays in a custody case. Many people seem to believe that when the child reaches age 12, they have the choice of which parent to live with. While age 12 does have some significance in custody cases, it does not give the child license to make that decision entirely on their own. It does, however, allow the child to express a preference, and the way the child chooses to do that may largely affect the outcome.

It is often a joke with lawyers that if we allowed children to make their custody decision, the child would pick whichever parent allows them to jump on the bed and have ice cream for breakfast. That is a slight exaggeration, but judges acknowledge that many 12-year-olds do not have the maturity to make the best decision for themselves. Several factors go into the judge’s decision on how much weight to give the child’s preference, such as the child’s age, their reasons for their preference, and the judge’s personal sense of the child’s maturity level.

If the child has good reasons for picking the parent they want to live with, a judge will most certainly consider the child’s preference. Good reasons include the school situation, the home environment, and, to some extent, the child’s community record. Reasons that will most likely not persuade a judge include picking the more lenient parent, being closer to a girlfriend or boyfriend, or, like the old joke goes, the parent who lets the child eat pizza for every meal. Ultimately, the case largely leans on the child’s ability to make a thoughtful, reasonable argument to the judge about what living arrangement is in the child’s best interest. Below are some examples of good and bad arguments by a child for their preference.

What may work: “Your honor, I want to live with this parent because I believe this environment is best for my personal growth and educational opportunities.”

What will probably not work: “Your honor, this parent is stricter than the other, and therefore I do not wish to live with them.”

A child’s living arrangements is an extremely important decision, and courts prefer to have the child involved as much as possible. Allowing a child of 12 years or older to be able to show a preference and giving them the opportunity to speak on their behalf achieves that while still giving the court enough control over the situation to make the decision that is in the child’s best interest. We often hear the misconception that the child has control over their custody arrangement, and while they do play a role, it is not as great as many people believe. If you or someone you know has a custody problem, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the experience and knowledge to properly address your case and achieve a fair result. With any questions, call our office at 601-573-7429.

Child Custody Modification: What Does It Take?

October 2nd, 2017

Child custody arrangements are almost never easy to deal with, legally or emotionally. They become increasingly complex when one parent decides they deserve more time with the child. Modifications of child custody are long, stressful and expensive. You can probably imagine why, as the living arrangements of a child have a large impact on their development, and therefore courts prefer to leave no stone unturned in deciding on the best situation. Unfortunately, many times a parent is not granted custody because the court has some reservation about that parent’s ability to raise a child. The flip side of that coin is that people can change, sometimes for the better. When a parent who has lost custody improves their situation in some way, it may be natural to believe they are entitled to a modification of child custody. While this is certainly a factor, there are others at play in the court’s decision.

Proving a positive change in the non-custodial parent’s life can often be the easy part of a modification case. In order for child custody to be modified, the non-custodial parent must prove there has been a substantial change in the circumstances affecting the child, the change has adversely affected the child’s welfare, and that a change in custody is in the best interests of the child. Johnson v. Gray, 859 So.2d 1006, 1013 (Miss. 2003). Improvement in the condition of the non-custodial parent does not justify making a change. Touchstone v. Touchstone, 682 So.2d 374, 377 (Miss. 1996).

This is where child custody modifications become the complicated cases they can be. The non-custodial parent could have very well improved an area of their life that the court felt was a concern, but if there has been no adverse change in the custodial parent, a modification of custody will probably not be successful. Therefore, the burden of proof for a non-custodial parent in a child modification case is twofold. The non-custodial parent must show that something has changed with the other parent that has negatively affected the child while also proving that a change in custody over to them serves the best interests of the child. This is quite a high burden to meet, which adds into the stress and expense of these kinds of cases.

Choosing which parent gets more time watching a child grow up is not a fun process, and it can be a difficult thing for parents to hear. Our office believes that child custody should never be dealt with lightly, and that Mississippians deserve to know their options going into a modification case. If you believe you are entitled to a modification of your custody arrangement, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the knowledge of the law regarding child custody modifications to make you feel confident in our legal services, and we also have a great passion for helping children and parents be together as much as possible. Call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole at 601-573-7429.

In Loco Parentis: A Mile In Their Shoes

September 27th, 2017

Many of us have figures in our lives that mirror the role our parents play. Someone you trust, respect, and love. In some adult-child relationships, those people can step into the role of a biological parent. The doctrine of in loco parentis, which roughly translates to “in the place of a parent” addresses these relationships, and attempts to protect the best interests of both the child and the adult. Because of the delicate nature of these situations, Mississippians should know their rights when they believe that a child belongs with them instead of the natural parents.

When a person stands in loco parentis, they have assumed the status and obligations of a parent. Farve v. Medders, 241 Miss. 75, 81, 128 So.2d 877, 879 (Miss. 1961). This means that person provides parental supervision, support and education as if the child were their own. W.R. Fairchild Constr. Co. v. Owens, 224 So.2d 571, 575 (Miss. 1969). In loco parentis status carries the same rights and liabilities that belong to a natural parent, including a right to custody of the child against third parties. Farve, 128 So.2d at 879.

Although in loco parentis grants these rights, the rights of the natural parents are still superior. Mississippi law recognizes the natural parent presumption, which presumes that the biological parents of a child are the best guardians for that child. A third party’s in loco parentis status, standing alone, cannot by itself rebut that natural parent presumption. Smith v. Smith, 97 So.3d 43 (Miss. 2012). For a third party to rebut the natural parent presumption, it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that 1) the parent has abandoned the child; 2) the parent has deserted the child; 3) the parent’s conduct is so immoral as to be detrimental to the child; or 4) the parent is unfit, mentally or otherwise, to have custody. Smith, 97 So.3d at 46. This is obviously a high burden, especially given that clear and convincing is the highest standard of proof used in civil courts. Once the presumption is rebutted, courts may then decide the custody of a child using the Albright factors.  http://www.mspoole.com/case-results/albright/.

Children deserve to have the best parental figures available to them. Unfortunately, sometimes the best parent is not the biological one. When someone stands in loco parentis to a child, that child depends on them to be there for them, and the law can help that person keep their rights to do so. If you or someone you know has a question about in loco parentis rights, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the knowledge, experience, and passion needed to best address your legal situation, and to help you keep your rights to foster a relationship with a child who needs you. To schedule an appointment, call our office at 601-573-7429.