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Hindsight is 20/20: Lessons From an Attorney Divorcee’

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

I am currently an attorney in the state of Alabama and have known Matthew Poole since 2003 during our time with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. Following is a first hand experience that is significant when confronted with divorce.

The old saying “hindsight is 20/20” is certainly an overused cliché, but could not be more fitting to describe my experience with divorce.  I learned some difficult lessons over the course of what I describe as my “4 year divorce” and my goal is to provide you with a map to avoid the same mistakes I made. You may hear that no divorce is the same, but most divorcees face many of the same pitfalls.  If my open and honest discussion helps just one other dad avoid four years of trials and tribulations, then this blog will be a success. If one child benefits from the message about the importance of co-parenting, this is a pure success.

To paraphrase a wise saying, “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.”  Four years of journaling my divorce provided me the unique opportunity to reflect on where I was emotionally at each step of my divorce.  My journal is a snapshot of my thought process at the very moments I made each mistake in my divorce and would certainly be the “knowing where I was” and having the opportunity to see it in hindsight gives me the clarity I need to “know where I am going.”

Wrong turns in divorce don’t start at the moment the divorce is finalized; not even close.  Vital decisions are made in the pre-divorce period that will carry long-lasting implications and results in newly divorced fathers facing nearly insurmountable odds of being the best dad they can be.  There comes a point in the pre-divorce process that the inevitability of divorce sets in.  For me, this crucial point came after months, or more realistically years, of efforts to keep my family together.  I was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and filled with anxiety about the unknown.  That is when I made not just the first wrong turn, but THE wrong turn that set me on a path that took me fours years to begin to correct.  I have a name for it. I call it my moment of “white flag surrender.”

Waiving the proverbial white flag was my way of doing what I thought was best for my children.  Remember, if you are in unfamiliar territory and you are exhausted and desperate, you will not make the best decisions for your family.  I agreed to give my ex-wife everything and I mean everything.  My wife got the kids, house, condo, cars, bank accounts, and even family heirlooms.  I walked away with my clothes. I made the mistake of representing myself, and that is something even the finest lawyer should avoid.

My first wrong pre-divorce decision directly resulted in my starting my new life as a single dad unable to support my kids in the way they needed. If you have yet to hear your attorney or judge use the phrase “best interest of the child,” you soon will.  Every decision made during the entire pre-divorce and divorce processes should be made through the lens of what is in the best interest of your child.  That is to say, while contemplating decisions you face, you must ask first “what is in the best interest of the child?” Having two emotionally and financially secure parents is always in the best interest of your children, and by doing what I thought best. I wrecked myself financially and then emotionally, thus, leaving my children with less than 2 reliable parents.  

Navigating the divorce process was stressful, but by putting myself in a position of weakness (i.e. impatience) during my pre-divorce surrender, I fared much worse in the final divorce decree (more on that in later blog entries).  Every hasty decision (there were many!) I made was in the interests of receiving finality instead of with the realization that the court’s order would be in place barring monumental litigation.

Divorcee Life-lesson One:

Pre-divorce is not the time to throw in the towel to all of your ex’s desires and demands, even if you think this might be what is best for the kids.  Remember, two financially strong and emotionally stable parents are what is ultimately in the best interest of the kids. Pre-divorce is tough. The whole process is foreign to you.  You will be scared.  You will be emotionally drained.  You just want the pain and discomfort for everyone to end.  Believe me, I know.  But you will only make matters much worse for your kids, your ex and yourself if you do not position yourself to exit your marriage as financially secure as you can justly make it for yourself. If you resist the urge to surrender (and dang it is a strong urge), you will be a better single father, a better ex-husband, and ultimately, that is all that matter to your children.      

As you set out on your new journey as a single dad, you will need to prepare yourself for the stresses that await you throughout the divorce process. It is pivotal that you fight the urge to waive that white flag before you ever get started. Do not set out on this path alone and don’t be ashamed to ask someone to be a part of your support network. Use every tool you have to remain focused on the best interest of the kids while fighting that urge to throw in the towel. If you will heed this advice you can come out the other side of your divorce much better prepared to take care of your kids while avoiding the four-year journey I took down the wrong path filled with pitfalls disappointment and heartache.

If you are contemplating a divorce, whether it be high-asset based or the primary concern is that of your child’s well-being, The Law Office of Matthew Poole has the experience and expertise to assist you in making one of the most crucial decisions of your life. Don’t attempt going it alone, even if you are an attorney.

And There Were Still Twelve – Domestic Violence and Divorce Grounds in Mississippi

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Recently, the Mississippi Legislature again voted against a bill that would make domestic violence the thirteenth ground for divorce in Mississippi. As to be expected, there has been large public backlash around the state regarding this decision. Much of this criticism seems to be directed at the legislature’s seeming insensitivity to the seriousness of domestic violence. While our office condemns domestic violence in every form, it is important for Mississippians to know the effects of this decision on a divorce case in the state.

There are twelve grounds for divorce in Mississippi, which are listed elsewhere on our website for your viewing. Our concern today is the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, which is the ground most likely to be at the front of a divorce where domestic violence is occurring. While domestic violence is still not explicitly a part of Mississippi divorce grounds, cruel and inhuman treatment allows abuse to be addressed by courts in the state. The phrase is vague, and has been examined through many different lenses throughout the years.

Marriage is, for lack of a better word, hard. Arguments and unpleasantness are simply parts of both marriage and life. Therefore, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment must extend beyond rudeness, unkindness, or mere incompatibility. Although the word “habitual” indicates that this behavior must be continuous or systematic, Mississippi courts have held that a single instance can provide grounds for a divorce. Kumar v. Kumar, 976 So.2d 957, 961 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). Physical violence or even a threat of it isn’t required to show proof of cruel and inhuman treatment. Cruel and inhuman treatment can also take the form of emotional abuse, which can later lead to actual violence.

The case of Harmon v. Harmon, 141 So. 3d 37 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014) showcases less severe grounds enabling a divorce in Mississippi. In that case, a wife testified that her husband of five years regularly accused her of adultery, called her derogatory names, followed her on breaks from work, and appeared often at her place of work. Her daughter and co-workers testified to her agitated manner following his actions, and that she was experiencing suicidal thoughts as well as murderous thoughts about her husband. The husband was also a compulsive gambler. The court of appeals affirmed the grant of divorce based on habitual cruelty. This case shows that grounds much less severe than physical domestic violence can effectuate a divorce in Mississippi, and that habitual cruel and inhuman treatment is an effective ground for divorce under even minimally violent or abusive circumstances.

While the Legislature’s decision is disappointing, the twelve current grounds for divorce in Mississippi sufficiently allow for a divorce to be granted. The Legislature declining to add domestic violence as a thirteenth ground does not mean that occurrences of domestic violence cannot provide a ground for a divorce. The current statutes provide grounds for divorce in abusive scenarios, albeit under a different label. It is also important to also note that Constructive Desertion can be recognized as ground for divorce when the conduct of one spouse is subjectively ruining the ability to maintain a normal, healthy marriage.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, our office encourages you to seek help, and to feel confident in pursuing a divorce because of that violence. Despite the number of grounds staying at twelve, Mississippians should feel confident in the professionals of the legal system, and their ability to realize when domestic violence entitles a person to a divorce.

By Kenneth Davis, J.D. Candidate 2017.  Law Clerk to Matthew Poole. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Divorce Misconceptions

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

In our office, we see a variety of mistakes made by clients, many of which have an impact on the outcome of their divorce in terms of the division of assets, awards of alimony and/or attorney’s fees, and even in the determination of custody of the minor children. Keep in mind that much of the financial responsibility is the responsibility of the non-custodial parent. Do not ruin your own finances. Do not allow the potential future cost of your children’s college education to be forgotten in your divorce – your spouse owes his or her fair share. After all, the minor children did not ask to be brought into this world; both of you created them, and BOTH of you are responsible for giving them a fair shot in life.

1. When things get rough at home I should move somewhere else. False (with some caveats). The most common mistake we see is the belief that one can simply leave the marital home when things go sour. Our advice to any client is that leaving the home prior to a court order being issued is a mistake, unless of course there is a legitimate fear for you own safety or for the safety of the minor children. Many Chancery Courts in Mississippi routinely rule that the party who has left the marital home without proof of provocation forfeits his or her equitable share of the value/equity of the marital domicile. Trust the advice of a trained professional and duly licensed attorney before making a hasty decision to jump ship altogether.

2. It is okay to start dating as long as I am separated from my spouse. False. Mississippi does not recognize legal separation, and if children are involved, you automatically start out “behind” in terms of the factors considered by the court in an award of custody – Albright v. Albright considers moral fitness as well as continuity of care, so tread very lightly and perhaps just try to enjoy being single for a while (until your marriage is officially dissolved). Also, the Chancery Courts in Mississippi will generally give favor to the adult in the room, i.e., the person who valued the sanctity of marriage until the bitter end, regardless of fault.

3. It is acceptable to drain our joint bank accounts. After all, they are in my name also. False (With a few exceptions). There may in fact be circumstances wherein you should attempt to recoup losses or ensure that future bills will be paid, but this is a challenging and complicated issue. We recommend that you consult with your attorney before taking any such measures, and keep in mind that any action you take out of anger or spite will likely be adverse for you when your case is heard by a Mississippi Chancellor.

4. It is okay to utilize social media to vent about my spouse. We have freedom of speech, after all. False. Any disparaging of your spouse is not solely in the context of personal free speech when children are involved. The Chancery Court is the ultimate arbiter (a.k.a. the super-guardian) of all minor children within its jurisdiction. Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social media platform as a forum to vent your frustration is ill-advised. Exercise patience and trust the court to make a fair and consistent judgment, one that will be in the best interests of your children. Divorce, even when relatively amicable, is never easy, and it can be tempting to vent your frustrations or to seek emotional support on social media. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this type of behavior rarely, if ever, earns you favor in a Mississippi Chancery Court.

5. It is my right to choose to minimize my spouse’s contact with the children until the divorce is final. False. (With rare exception). The only legitimate reason to become an obstacle to your spouse’s visitation with your minor children prior to a divorce being finalized is when there are safety concerns which can be shown by proof – if the evidence does not demonstrate that your children are in danger when in the care of your spouse, be careful. The last position you want to be in is to have to explain why you took the reins of child custody without the permission of the court. Remember, the Chancery Court is the legal “super-guardian” of all children within its jurisdiction, and that responsibility is taken incredibly seriously.

If you have a question about this article or about child custody in general (whether in the context of a divorce or otherwise), or if you simply would like to share your input, we would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact The Law Office of Matthew Poole, via telephone at (601) 573-7429 or email at matthewspoole@gmail.com. We are best equipped to assess your situation and give you some practical advice on steps you can take to receive a favorable result in Mississippi Chancery Court.