New Custody Rules…And Similar Advice

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.

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