Necessary Divorce Documents—The Short List

July 10th, 2019

Some of these may not be applicable, and often are not depending on the specifics of your case. Many of these are also applicable to any custody matter whether ever married or not. Perusing this list will give you a good feel for the things that can rightfully impact the outcome of your domestic case. Better safe than sorry! (Make sure to run through this list with your attorney to determine whether these are needed in your case.) So here they are, in no particular order.

Business income tax returns for past three to five years (federal, state, and local)

Individual income tax returns for the past three to five years (federal, state, and local)

8.05 Financial Declaration

Proof of spouse’s current income (last pay stub- several would be even better)

Proof of your current income (last pay stub- several would be even better)

Bank statements

Loan Documents

Stock portfolios

Benefits statements

Health insurance policies

Real property appraisals

Prenuptial agreement

List of personal property and approximate value, including home furnishings, jewelry, artwork, computers, home office equipment, clothing and furs, etc.

List of property owned by each spouse prior to marriage and value

List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage

List of contents of safety deposit boxes

Wills

Living wills

Powers of Attorney

Advance Health Care Directives

Personal property appraisals

Automobile insurance policies

Homeowner’s insurance policies

Life insurance policies

Employment contracts

Completed financial statements

Monthly budget worksheets

Other bills (e.g., school tuition, unreimbursed medical bills, music lessons for children, etc.)

Utility bills

Credit card statements (3 year minimum)

Property tax statements

Mortgages and property tax statements

Stock options

Trusts and declarations

Retirement account statements

Pension statements

Certificates of deposit and account numbers

Separation agreement(s)

Although this is not an exhaustive list, it illustrates the complexity of attempting to sever marital bonds and approximate a baseline for distributing marital assets. Every case has unique nuances, but starting here will give you and your attorney the ability to ensure you are not taken to the cleaner, so to speak. If you need assistance in formulating a pre-divorce plan, I have 16 years of experience and the tools to ensure you are treated fairly every step of the way.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic lawyer who specializes in child custody and divorce, including modifications. He is a two-time recipient of the National Family Lawyer Top 10 Award and is an N.B.I. Certified Domestic Relations Instructor. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.

Grandparent Visitation…How to Get MORE

July 5th, 2019

Last summer, we wrote an article about how deployment in a military capacity is quite specifically addressed by our state laws. I am going to republish it in part (it has some minor redactions) below because it is very telling as to the affect of a parent being unavailable to exercise visitation under certain circumstances upon grandparent rights. After the bulk of this somewhat technical article, I will briefly discuss other parent unavailability issues, primarily incarceration of a parent. So, here we go……(this is long, but bear with me, it will be worth it!)

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center (under the Office of the Secretary of Defense), the United States currently has approximately 200,000 active-duty troops deployed across 170 countries.

The Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA) was designed to resolve child custody and visitation issues that military families may face during a soldier’s deployment, temporary duty, or mobilization.

The UDPCVA is divided into five articles, with the first of these defining the foundational terms for the rest. Most importantly, Article 1 states that a parent’s “residence” is not changed during deployment and that deployment cannot be considered in deciding what is in “the best interest of the child.”

Article 2 discourages litigation on child custody and visitation issues by outlining procedural protections for simple agreements between parties.

This act also assists the UCCJEA* in preventing the issuance of competing orders via Article 3, which covers court procedures and includes the use of electronic testimony and the expedition of hearings.

In addition, this article allows for the designation of visitation rights to a nonparent where the court finds that doing so would be in the best interest of the child and Article 4 explains the termination process for these rights following deployment. Finally, Article 5 summarizes the information within each article.

Mississippi Code § 93-5-34 states that “Custody and visitation procedure upon parental temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization” follows the guideline provisions of the UDPCVA on these issues and answers my earlier hypothetical question regarding who would take care of the children similarly to Article 3. It states that “(4) If the parent with visitation rights receives military temporary duty, deployment or mobilization orders that involve moving a substantial distance from the parent’s residence or otherwise have a material effect on the parent’s ability to exercise rights, the court otherwise may delegate the parent’s visitation rights, or a portion thereof, to a family member with a close and substantial relationship to the service member’s minor child for the duration of the parent’s absence, if delegating visitation rights is in the child’s best interest.”

To answer the second question regarding the end of deployment, the same section of Mississippi Code contains a provision like Article 4 of the UDPCVA, stating that “(3) When a parent who has custody, or has joint custody with primary physical custody, receives temporary duty, deployment or mobilization orders from the military that involve moving a substantial distance from the parent’s residence having a material effect on the parent’s ability to exercise custody responsibilities:

(a) Any temporary custody order for the child during the parent’s absence shall end no later than ten (10) days after the parent returns, but shall not impair the discretion of the court to conduct a hearing for emergency custody upon return of the parent and within ten (10) days of the filing of a verified motion for emergency custody alleging an immediate danger of irreparable harm to the child; and

(b) The temporary duty, mobilization or deployment of the service member and the temporary disruption to the child’s schedule shall not be factors in a determination of change of circumstances if a motion is filed to transfer custody from the service member.

(c) Any order entered under this section shall require that:

(i) The non-deployed parent shall make the child or children reasonably available to the deployed parent when the latter parent has leave;

(ii) The non-deployed parent shall facilitate opportunities for telephonic, “webcam,” and electronic mail contact between the deployed parent and the child or children during deployment; and

(iii) The deployed parent shall provide timely information regarding the parent’s leave schedule.

Ok, so what effect would incarceration have on grandparent visitation in our state? What about if a parent or both are in a mental institution? What if they are, in a coma, God forbid? There is little case law wherein other unavailability issues have been hashed out by our appellate courts, although based on my experience courts are willing to bolster grandma and grandpa’s time for any of the above reasons even though no statute exists as it does for military deployments. My advice is to raise this issue with your attorney, it is a solid argument almost every time.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Domestic Attorney with 16 years of trial experience. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019.

*For more information about this statute, go to our search bar on the home page of our site.

Parental Alienation…a Syndrome, or Plain Old Contempt?

July 1st, 2019

This question and conversation comes up quite frequently in domestic cases where parents simply cannot agree…on much of anything. Spending excessive legal fees and lost sleep simply may not be worth it if you plan on “firing the first shot”. The battle that ensues often exacerbates the problem, not curing it or the underlying issues…the “root cause”, as it were. Animosity, and expense (even the cheap lawyers are not cheap by most folk’s standards), grows the more DISagreeable you two are willing to be. In the end, some level of compromise is needed…by both …unless you are realllllllly wealthy, even if so I always prefer some level of agreeability, even if on some minor issues.

I would like to point out that there is a strong and decidedly clear legal distinction between what can and cannot be construed as a “syndrome”, and the advice I have may surprise you. Much relates to the simple mistake of overstating your case. Often the softer approach yields stronger benefits …in the long run at least. After 1,300 domestic cases I have learned that this matters from my own prior overzealousness, a mistake many rookie lawyers learn from, quickly.

The term syndrome has been intertwined with alienation of a parent, but there is likely a better way to advance your case without using medical and psychiatric terminology……that being reducing costs by playing the hand you are dealt in a more clever, less physiologically complex format. Syndromes are well defined and often hard to pinpoint (and prove)…..we will get to that later. What is easy to show is mom or dad disparaging the other to the little ones…regardless of the court ordered language (the judgment), it is always intrinsically terrible in the eyes of a Mississippi Chancery Judge without very good reason. Emphasis on VERY.

So here we are, on the life battlefield, somewhat even because of our own decision making flaws. The kids matter so much, we have to see that we are their only guide to a wonderful life, education, and happiness. It can be accomplished. With that said, let’s outline the next blog on this subject, which is slated for 3 weeks away, just after we finish our series on grandparent rights.

The long and short of it is simple …we will explore 2 courses of action and attempt to decipher which fits a particular pattern of facts best. One course requires a ton of medical testimony, the other most likely will not. We will examine what can be done preemptively to avoid the most expensive and stressful path. Stay tuned and we appreciate you very much.

I hope you will check back soon if these issues pertain to your difficult situation…..I can shed a little light, hopefully more. I will start by charting a relatively simple path toward resolution that will not break the bank. A little information is never a bad place to begin any challenge, and God bless our children.

Matthew is a 16 year practitioner of domestic law. He is a single father and is passionate about the role parents play in their children’s outcomes. He speaks at National Business Institute on July 18.

Pt. One. Grandparent Visitation, the Legislative Mandate…Sometimes

June 16th, 2019

Like just about any other legal matter governed by state statute, the legislature has carved out certain situations in which grandma and grandpa have a right to see their grandchildren. The right to do so is not without its limitations, nor should it be. The matter is governed by MS Code Annotated section 93-16-3 (2013), and reads as follows;

Section One:

Whenever a court of this state enters a decree or order awarding custody of a minor child to one (1) of the parents of the child or terminating the parental rights of one (1) of the parents of a minor child, or whenever one (1) of the parents of a minor child dies, either parent of the child’s parents may petition the court in which the decree or order was rendered or, in the case of the death of a parent, petition the chancery court in the county in which the child resides, and seek visitation rights with the child.

Section Two:

Any grandparent who is not authorized to petition for visitation rights pursuant to subsection (1) of this section may petition the chancery court and seek visitation rights with his or her grandchild, and the court may grant visitation rights to the grandparent, provided the court finds:

(a) That the grandparent of the child had established a viable relationship with the child and the parent or custodian of the child unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights with the child; and

(b) That visitation rights of the grandparent with the child would be in the best interests of the child.

Section Three:

For purposes of subsection (2) of this section, the term “viable relationship” means a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child, the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year, or the child has been cared for by the grandparents or either of them over a significant period of time during the time the parent has been in jail or on military duty that necessitates the absence of the parent from the home.

Section Four:

Any petition for visitation rights under subsection (2) of this section shall be filed in the county where an order of custody as to the child has previously been entered. If no custody order has been entered, then the grandparents’ petition shall be filed in the county where the child resides or may be found. The court shall on motion of the parent or parents direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to the parent or parents in advance and prior to any hearing, except in cases in which the court finds that no financial hardship will be imposed upon the parents. The court may also direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to the parent or parents of the child and court costs regardless of the outcome of the petition.

WOW…..talk about a mouthful of undecipherable legislative jargon. I want to cut through said jargon and simply point out a few key points that are applicable to the majority of those who are reading this article. No one cares to read legalise, sometimes not even the writer of this piece who, many moons ago, was not a lawyer. Let’s start by looking at the bones (basic structure) of the statute’s most commonly invoked provision.

The viability of the relationship is paramount to obtaining rights to see your grandkids. Other than the extreme scenarios mentioned in section one (1), which include death of a parent or the termination of their rights as a parent, viability is the cornerstone of the majority of grandparent litigation. As you can clearly see in section 2, the language is not entirely clear until we break down the fundamentals of the English language. The gist of it is that grandparents who have done the following are clearly entitled visitation rights:

1. Given 6 months of financial support to the child/children

2. Had a year of frequent visitation with some overnight visits as well

3. Cared for the child for a large amount of time because parents are not available due to military service or incarceration

The unusual thing that muddies the clarity of this section is that the word “or” only appears between prong 2 and prong 3…..which begs the question “do prongs one and two need to both be met? Or do they function separately?”. Even though less than clear, it appears that the legislature intended the latter…..they simply could have placed an “or” between all three prongs. Welcome to legislative lingual murkiness at its best. If you meet any one of the three prongs, you have demonstrated a viable relationship and your foot is in the door, so to speak. From there, you can begin the process of obtaining one of the most important familial rights available….time with the grandkids.

If you need help with a grandparent related legal issue, I have 16 years of experience dealing with some of the most complex related cases. Telephone consultation is always free of charge.

Matthew Poole is a 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar and 2003 Finalist at the University of Mississippi School of Law annual Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition. He will speak to members of the bar for the National Business Institute on July 18 at the Pearl, MS Marriott.

A THREE PART SERIES ON GRANDPARENT’S VISITATION

June 7th, 2019

By: Michael Louvier

INTRODUCTION

More and more often, the calls and emails to the Matthew S. Poole law office are originating from concerned Grandparents seeking visitation rights with their grandchildren. This topic was briefly touched upon in December of 2018 (“Happy Holidays to Everyone…Especially Grandparents” posted December 29, 2018); however, I believe this subject matter deserves a much more thorough examination and explanation. To that end, in the following weeks I will submit three (3) separated blog entries dedicated to the issues related to and surrounding GRANDPARENTS VISITATION.

In the initial entry, I will discuss the specific language of Sec. 96-16-3 (Miss. Code Ann. 1972), which is the controlling statute of this matter of law. This installment may, indeed, be somewhat repetitive of the December 29, 2018 entry mentioned above; nevertheless, it is certainly worthwhile to re-examine the elements of the statute as included by the State legislature.

The second installment will explore in more depth the individual elements of the statute. Within that article, I will seek to explain what a “viable relationship” means as it relates to Grandparents and Grandchildren. I will also discuss within the second installment the importance of financial support, both before and after the birth of the child.

The final article in this series will include a discussion of certain and very specific cases recently decided in Mississippi courts. The sudden military deployment, or incarceration, or even the death of a parent can give rise to a grandparent seeking assistance to ensure that their precious grandchildren can/will visit.

There can be no debate that Grandparents visitation rights have become a more commonplace cause of action in Chancery Court. I hope to shed some light on this ever-changing subject while dispelling some myths and misconceptions. I hope that you will visit this site in the upcoming weeks to read this series.

Michael Louvier is a regular contributor to the Matthew S. Poole Website blog. Michael is a graduate of Brother Martin High School, New Orleans, LA (1983), University of New Orleans (B.A. Political Science/English 1988), Mississippi College School of Law (Juris Doctorate 1994). He has been married for 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20). Michael and his family have lived in the Jackson, Mississippi area since 1991.

Ever-Relevant…The World Wide Web

May 26th, 2019

By: Michael Louvier

Does anyone even remember when we referred to the internet as the “World Wide Web”? That is where the “www” in the site addresses that we all visit daily originated. Back then we tried to be cool and called it “The Web”… That was back in 1990 something prior to Al Gore inventing the internet (rumored, yet to be proven).

Today the internet is as commonplace as travel by automobile. Google and Google Maps have completely replaced the phone book as the easiest and most used methods of finding a business. The computer that we all carry around in our pockets (commonly referred to as a smartphone) will deliver you the phone number, web address, ratings, directions to and almost any other information that you could possibly desire about a business. The Yellow Pages have gone the way of the buggy whip. If you don’t immediately what a buggy whip is (or was), that’s my point.

Immediate and almost unlimited access to information is what the internet delivers. Prior to the “immediate information age”, lawyers actually had to research the law in books. By using the correct search tools and key words, recent and relevant case law is literally at the lawyer’s fingertips after proper training. Today lawyers and law firms save untold amounts of money on books and paper, and they save even more time and money (client’s money, thankfully) by utilizing the internet for legal research and the online filing of pleadings, motions and other case related Court documents. A lawyer may now “e-file” a pleading in a case from his home or office laptop computer. Furthermore, he can accomplish this task at any time of the day or night, regardless of whether or not the Clerk of Court is open. Alas, the internet has made the modern law office much more streamlined and efficient.

Please do not interpret the phrase “streamlined and efficient” to mean that your divorce and/or custody case will now be “easier” or even “less complicated”. Quite the contrary, the internet has made the profession of law more complicated and more competitive than ever. The fact is, everyone has access to this information. Everyone has become more streamlined and efficient. Lawyers, litigants, Judges, and even the children caught up in a custody battle have more information at the ready than ever before. The onus is; therefore, on the lawyer to be well prepared to use this wealth of information or, if the facts gathered by the other side via the internet (Social media) are harmful, he/she must be somehow savvy enough to not allow it to burn his or her client.

As Matthew Poole has previously stated in his article “Facebook: The Great Divorce Equalizer” (posted April 14, 2019): “…a decent lawyer is only a subpoena away from obtaining every social media post and response thereto since the day you walked down that sacred aisle.” More to that point, a Subpoena Duces Tecum served on the wireless provider will provide data regarding texts and calls – that is: who texted or called whom, and when, and how long was the conversation, etc.

This information can, of course, be very damaging to the divorce litigant with that “special someone” waiting in the wings as they text love notes to each other at 2:00am. This data could certainly be used to show that a parent has no idea that the teenager at issue in the custody battle is also texting and calling and snapchatting at all hours of the night and day – during school hours and instead of studying. This could be used to demonstrate a lack of willingness to actually “parent” the child or, even worse, the lack of ability. The Albright Factors, by default, as discussed on this blog site many times, just got introduced to the digital age and the 21st century.

As the love interest in the movie “The Social Network” (2010) told Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook: “it’s the internet…its written in ink”. So be aware of your digital footprint, as it is very easy to use against you in Court, or in your favor if your lawyer is inclined to do the dirty work against your ex for your benefit.

Michael Louvier was born in 1965 in Metairie, LA, graduated from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans in 1983, received a B.A. from University of New Orleans (1988) and a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law (1994) and is a regular contributor to the blog tab on the world wide website of attorney Matthew S. Poole – www.mspoole.com. If you are reading this, then you obviously have access to the internet and are on the site. Odds are, you are no longer depending on a “dial-up” modem to support this visit. Please include this site into your favorites list and click onto this site often. And may the force be with you. (Sorry, I could not resist a 1970’s reference).

Michael Louvier is married 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).

TAGS: Family Law, Subpoena, Custody, Divorce, Social media, Albright factors

THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES – SOME FACTS AND SOME FICTION

May 20th, 2019

By: Michael Louvier

“The Mississippi Department of Human Services is dedicated to serving others while providing a wide range of public assistance programs, social services and support for children, low-income individuals and families. The agency seeks to empower families so they can become self-sufficient and responsible for their future success.” (Source: MS.gov)

The family law office of Matthew Poole fields many telephone calls and emails with a similar message: The DHS is handling a child support case for me and they aren’t doing anything. Before you roll your eyes and assume that this article is a “hatchet-job” against the DHS, please understand that this is not at all my intention. Fact is, the DHS has many hard working and dedicated case workers and social workers who are doing the very best that they can. As with many of our government employees, both State and Federal, they are very often over-worked and under-paid.

With that said, let me get right to the actual point of the article: What the DHS does and what they don’t do, as it relates to a child support case.

The Department of Human Services acts as a “debt collection agency” for the State of Mississippi. That is, the child support division, through the many case workers and attorneys, strive to enforce the statutory guidelines regarding child support against punitive parents. This usually means fathers of children, either unwed or divorced, who are neglecting to adequately provide financial support for their children. The DHS will take on such cases, free of charge, for individuals who qualify. And that is the key element to this difficult equation: there are so very many individuals who qualify because of their low income. It stands to reason that the lower income single parent needs the child support funds more urgently than the DHS can accomidate. This fact creates a “Catch-22” (my apologies to Joseph Heller) in that these cases are of vital importance to the parent trying to raise a child (or in many instances children) without sufficient funds and yet the DHS is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of cases in each and every county throughout the State of Mississippi and; therefore, the system is slow and the receipt of these vital funds is delayed. The longer the delay, the more vital the funds become. And this circular pattern continues and will continue ad nausium.

Once a Judgment for Support has been obtained by the DHS through the Chancery Court of the county wherein the child (or children) resides, there are several ways that the Judgment can be enforced. The most common way is through wage garnishment. The DHS can garnish the pay of the punitive parent as much as 35% of the paycheck. Unfortunately, many of these fathers simply change jobs, and now the DHS must become “private investigators” to seek out and find the new place of employment. This game of cat and mouse is very common. Another tool at the disposal of the DHS is the interception and seizure of any tax refund that the punitive parent is entitled – State and/or Federal. This power is quite effective, unfortunately it is only a “once-a-year” tool. The DHS can have the driving privileges of the punitive parent suspended. And finally, if the amount owed becomes substantial enough and there is no reasonable efforts to pay, the punitive parent can be incarcerated. These last two measures are an effective motivation for a parent to pay; however, if these options are employed by the DHS, this does nothing to financially support the child. The punitive dad is now driving on a suspended driver’s license or worse, he is in jail…but little Johnny is still going to bed hungry.

Over-worked with massive and ever growing case loads, while seldom appreciated and most definitely under-paid and for the reasons stated above often incapable of making a real difference – this is the unfortunate status of the Department of Human Services.

Some things that the DHS cannot do for their clients (or payors) include the enforcement of a schedule of visitation, nor can the DHS dictate the manner in which collected funds are spent.

All too often, a parent will complain that his child support obligation is being satisfied (either voluntarily or though some collection/garnishment activity) however the custodial parent will not allow for any substantial visitation with the child. This is not something that the DHS will assist you with. Another common complaint is that the mother is using the child support funds on herself: getting her hair and nails done or buying new clothes for herself but not the child. Again, the DHS is not interested in this type of problem. And while the DHS cannot and will not assist you with these issues that are relevant to the best interests of the welfare of the child, these are certainly NOT excuses or valid defenses for not satisfying a child support obligation.

Michael Louvier received a B.A. from University of New Orleans (1988) and a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law (1994) and is currently a contributor to the blog articles for attorney Matthew S. Poole. Michael is married 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).

True No-Fault Divorce States…Not Mississippi

May 14th, 2019

It is always crucial to have a basic understanding of Mississippi custody and divorce laws before a domestic battle, or even a bare negotiation that impacts your future tremendously. Even though our state presents some unique challenges due to the fact that we are not considered to be, nor should be, a “no-fault” state, the reality is that we have laws that are protective of the sanctity of marriage and are not conducive to an easy divorce. What do I mean? You either have to agree on ALL divorce terms, or litigate by proving grounds until a final resolution is met. This is crucial because certain steps can reduce complexity and help you to save the time, money, and stress that accompany any divorce.

Mississippi differs greatly from our western neighbor, Louisiana. In that particular state, people are permitted a divorce after a sufficient time of being separated (365 days as I recall, but I am not licensed there and this should be noted), and Mississippi is not anywhere close to following that rule of law. As a matter of fact, Mississippi residents, even though not entitled to a divorce after any length of separation, are generally not any worse off than our westerly neighbors unless they have no kids or significant property holdings. Simply put, you either prove grounds for divorce or must agree to all terms……custody, child support, division of all property, insurance, alimony……you get the point.

I cannot state how many people contact me for a “no-fault” divorce without realizing that, although inexpensive, requires total and complete agreement. Frankly, that dynamic can be quite frustrating for any domestic lawyer. My advice to you is to at least make a short list of the things you can agree on prior to separation so that your case can be made more simple, and thus less expensive. At the very least, it will assist your lawyer in forming a solid game plan for successful resolution.

In our state, do not forget that there is not much leeway in negotiating the child support aspect of you case if you are not the primary custodian. If you have 1 child with the spouse, you will pay 14% of gross “adjusted” income, 20% of same for 2 children, and 22% for three, for instance. This begs the question of what the “adjusted” portion means, and that is an excellent question. Without boring you to sleep with a tremendous amount of legal jargon, it will generally consist of post-tax income but adding back to that retirement withholdings and other non-mandatory items that are not required by law. That is about as clear as I can make that point so that non-lawyers have a general idea of what to expect from a custody proceeding.

My advice is as follows: Have the conversation about your post-divorce life plan with your spouse before calling an attorney, particularly when kids are involved. Produce all financial documents to your husband or wife so that there are not accusations of untruthfulness. Consider insurance, college, and future expense thoroughly. And last, but certainly not least, never hold a grudge, it simply prolongs your own pain and expense through one of the toughest times in your life.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson Ms. family lawyer with 16 years of experience.

New Custody Rules…And Similar Advice

May 8th, 2019

Child custody cases are never easy. Oftentimes they require a year or more of litigation and many, many thousands of dollars. There have been several recent developments in Mississippi law that will affect each and every child custody case in this state, some are meaningful and will make a major impact, others will not. Custody matters are never straightforward and and those who believe they are simple likely need a straight-jacket and some serious psycho-therapy. And this is the reality when child custody is front and center in your life.

Easy advice is not readily available for those who are seeking simple solutions. There are a few recent changes to both statute and common law that will impact any child custody case in our state, although they rarely make outcomes differ. The basic paradigm is still in place…the best interests of the children will always be paramount. We have a piece of advice that is entirely obvious and commonly ignored…follow the existing court order precisely, do all you can for your kids, and never, ever fail to exercise visitation when it is availed to you. Be as involved with the kids as possible, help with homework, and do not let a new romantic relationship impact your little ones in a negative manner.

Chancery court is the sole arbiter of who wins child custody. Chancellors are the ultimate guardians of all children in their respective jurisdictions. Even though finances are of concern as well in every divorce, the clients we have the most compassion for are those who will fight to have their kids with them as much as possible. As a single dad, I share their raw emotion. It makes the job all the better to represent like minds.

Some recent legal changes that impact custody cases in our state include changes to the alimony laws which now present previously unforeseen obstacles, the judicial decision that marijuana use is a ground for divorce under the existing statutes and now considered tantamount to opiate use, and that habitual cruelty is now more easy to prove and encompasses more bad conduct as grounds for divorce. Child custody law has also been affected by these changes to cases that also apply to childless divorces. I want to be clear that all legal decisions regarding child placement are highly subjective and dependant on a myriad of factors.

Based on existing law and the subtle changes to Mississippi custody and divorce law, I have a few simple observations and a small piece of advice. My previous article the pointed to the absolute importance of continuing care of your child is a must-read. I also would like to point to the importance of moral fitness in any custody matter. Although it is often said that only God can judge, try telling that to your local chancery judge.

Law has and always will change. Your custody case will also have a changing life of its own. Being a little behind on your child support and then asking for a modification of custody as a defense is a very precarious scenario for any litigant. Never forget that one must possess “clean hands” in order to ask to court to intervene in their domestic case. At the end of the day, two wrongs never equal a right. That never needs to be forgotten.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.

A Day Late and Dollar Short: The Huge Custody Hurdle

April 24th, 2019

We spend much of our time talking about all of the factors that impact court custody decisions and there are certainly plenty. The Albright factors dominate much of the information we provide to prospective clients, as they should. They permeate every aspect of custody outcomes. If you look at the search bar on our site and place the word “custody” within it, it will become clear how permeating these factors are in custody law, and that they are the cornerstone of domestic litigation involving children. Is there one factor that rises above the terrain in terms of its power of influencing outcomes? My answer is…..yes.

The most important factor (aside from some extremely horrible parenting which rises to the level of abuse/neglect) is continuity of care. As an example, I have multiple times encountered a prospective client that may very well be a better parent than the alternative parent. We just received a call from a gentleman that appeared to deeply care for his 6 year old daughter and also to be a loving, concerned dad. He is responsible, has a great job and stable home. According to him, mom was not as good a parent as he. That may well be the truth. However, he waited, and waited, and waited……..6 YEARS to call an attorney and attempt taking custody from her. Big mistake. His window of opportunity has shrunk to the point of being nearly non-existent.

I must say bluntly that if you are truly the better parent, then you must act quickly and decisively. The most difficult argument for any attorney, which is entirely nonsensical (even somewhat comical) on its face, is to say to a judge, “Your Honor, my client will be demonstrated to be the better parent, although he/she left the children with the worse parent for half a decade”. Good luck selling that to any court in Mississippi. Keep in mind that the old saying “The law aids the vigilant” could not be more applicable than in child custody cases. There is a natural proclivity for any judge not to disrupt the usual routine unless an exceptional danger to the child exists.

Some may ask, “But what if I can prove that I am more capable as a parent, that I have a better home, school district, morals, etc.?”, and that is a fair question. It is a very good question and rightfully in play. If I may respond, my retort would be that the child needs stability also…….changing custody can and usually will be traumatic for them. Although a parent may well be “better”, they are unlikely to overcome the huge obstacle of not having been sufficiently “present”. Be careful about sitting on the sideline, being a day late and a buck short will be one tough hill to climb. Better parents frequently lose custody cases for this simple reason. It is most often a loss that could have been easily avoided.

In short, my simple advice is that if you are the better parent, demonstrate that fact by not leaving your child with the lesser parent. Actions truly speak louder than words, especially in Mississippi Chancery Courts.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi family attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition at the University of Mississippi, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will speak to members of the Mississippi Bar on behalf of The National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure. The seminar is certified for 6 hours of legal continuing education credit.