Archive for the ‘To Move or Not to Move; The Million-Dollar Question’ Category

To Move or Not to Move; The Million-Dollar Question

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Our office frequently receives questions from both clients and curious would-be custody litigants as to whether moving from Mississippi will adversely impact their custody case and the corresponding rights they have to custody of their children. As expected, there is no simple answer to complex problems that life often presents parents and child custodians. However, a brief review of the applicable law does shed much-needed light into the darkness that accompanies ignorance of Mississippi custody law.

One can refer to the phenomenon as “home court advantage” or “home state preference”, but at the end of the day, the label is not what defines impact on parents’ and childrens’ lives. When a parent moves outside of Mississippi, the million-dollar question is always whether that move will trigger a potential modification of custody of the child/children. Our analysis and estimation of legal ramifications of moving must begin with the few things we can know with certainty. I will begin by stating with zero equivocation that I have recently seen a dramatic increase in litigation wherein the custodial parent moves far away from Mississippi.

The well-settled standard for modification of physical custody of a minor child (or multiple children) is relatively straightforward on its face: when custody has been awarded to one parent (by a court of competent jurisdiction) modification will be allowed ONLY upon a showing of:

1. A material change of circumstance—to be distinguished from a mere change which is not evocative of the well being of the children involved.

2. The material change in circumstance must demonstratively adversely affect the welfare of the child/children.

3. That a change in custody must be in the best interests of the child/children. {Polk v. Polk, 589 So.2d 123 (Miss. 1991), Pace v. Owens, 511 So. 2d 489 (Miss 1987)}. In Pace, the Supreme Court mandated that Chancellors make specific findings of fact in support of any decision to modify physical custody of children. All three prongs above must be addressed with specificity in the official court record.

It is notable that the standard for modification of custodial rights is applied in a different manner wherein the parents have joint physical custody and one parent makes a unilateral decision to leave Mississippi’s jurisdiction. The burden of the remaining parent is thereby reduced and there is no longer a requirement that proof demonstrate an adverse affect on the children, thereby prong #2 above would be null and void under these circumstances. McKree v. McKree, 486 So. 2d (Miss Ct. App. 1998).

So the answer to our query is well settled? Not so fast. It appears to myself and my clerk, the Honorable Kenneth Davis, Esq., that Chancellors across our great state have significant leeway and remarkable discretion in making determinations as to whether the “trigger” of modification of custody has been met, thus allowing a parent remaining in our state to initiate a well-founded claim for custody modification. Can the move of a custodial parent meet the threshold burden bestowed upon a non-custodial parent to achieve modification child custody? The best answer is probably, but not certainly. Most important is to recall that the POLESTAR (most important) consideration for any Chancellor is what is best for a child {Albight v. Albright, 437 So. 2d 1003. (Miss. 1983)}. See also Miss Code Ann. §93-5-24 (1972, as amended). The totality of circumstances will dictate the outcome in the vast majority of domestic litigation. It is reasonable and understandable that litigants want clarity and desire certainty. Finality is incredibly valuable. However, would-be litigants that are able to appreciate the big picture and viewpoint of Chancellors (who are the “super-guardian” of all children in their respective jurisdictions) and the subjective elements are most often successful in navigating treacherous child-custody matters.

I have 14 years of experience in domestic litigation and can say without shame that clear answers are often elusive. There is a best path forward in any family issue that you are facing, and my staff and I are dedicated to fight to vindicate your custodial rights. While there may be no simple answer, the path forward is always based in love for your children and a deep desire to impact their well-being in a meaningful and permanent way. It can be done. Where there is a will, THERE IS A WAY.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic relations attorney with 14 years of determined focus in family law and domestic litigation with an emphasis on case evaluation and analysis.