Posts Tagged ‘Alimony’

The “Other Factor” That Can Sink Your Custody Claim: Alienating Child Affection

Monday, August 20th, 2018

I was recently in trial in the northern part of our great state and had a unique case wherein I had the good fortune of securing custody of a four-year-old little boy for my client, the father. The case was one of the most difficult I have ever handled in 14 years- both legally and emotionally. It was a roller-coaster of facts and subjectivity of the law, to say the least. The opposing attorney was highly competent; a seasoned prosecutor from Lee County- one of the best I have ever faced.

My client was guilty of some degree of minor violence; domestic abuse which was relatively easy to prove, and yet he obtained custody of his son. How can this happen, you may ask, and rightfully so. It seems the long odds stacked against my client were impossible to overcome. This case lasted 23 months in total. The victory was by a razor-thin margin. I was on hanging on every word from the court and counsel opposite until the very end.

Any custody attorney will harp on the factors a court will consider in determining the best interests in a child’s physical placement. Mom no longer has a clear and plain advantage, due in large part to the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The “tender years” doctrine has been significantly eroded, to the point that only breastfeeding an infant child confers some advantage to mom. Dad now starts on equal footing in a custody battle for all practical purposes. As a single father with sole legal and physical custody of my son, I have reaped the benefit of the recent change in law.

Beginning January 10, 2018 our office began a series of articles outlining all of the Albright factors- the defined matters for a court to consider in a custody dispute. We did not write only one article on the only non-specific Albright factor which is the most subjective; the one that is most easily described as a “catch-all”. Up for grabs and potentially up-ending any custody case are “other relevant factors”. What could these possibly be?

In all of the custody experience I have, never did I imagine that I could win a custody case based on these mysterious and elusive “other factors” when my client lost more than half of the specified Albright issues. Not in a million years did I believe that some undefined, highly subjective issue would win the day. And then, exactly that occured. I am still somewhat surprised by the result– pleasantly surprised, that is. The ugly head of parental alienation was the “other factor” that swayed the balance to my client’s victory.

Parental alienation of a child has always been regarded as paramount to a Mississippi court- even more so lately. That said, I have increasingly witnessed first-hand that if the alienating parent’s behavior is severe, courts will likely deem it to be tantamount to child abuse, negating what would be an award of physical custody to the opposing parent. To be frank, a decade ago this “other factor” would have been considered as just another Albright issue. Today, it can upend an entire case. That is music to my ears. Times have certainly changed.

Alienation comes in many shapes and forms. Most often it is in the nature of passive-aggressive parental alienation; making it difficult to get a hold of a child by phone, making subtle comments about the other parent’s morals and character, or even stoking a child’s concern about whether their other parent cares about them. Other times parental alienation takes on an overtly aggressive form.

The case that prompted me to write this article involved mom, who had a bi-racial son, instructing him to call his father and his family a “bunch of n___ers”. And it was all caught on tape. It didn’t happen only once, this four-year-old little guy, half African American, had made the infamous N-word a part of his vocabulary, all thanks to mom. It was horrible to hear on tape, heartbreaking at the very least.

The focus of this article is not necessarily parental alienation, it is a forewarning to parents who engage in extreme behaviors to the psychological and emotional detriment of their child. Be it excessive shaming of a child, prolonged absence, or just plain verbal cruelty, beware of the “other factors”–they can flat sink what would have otherwise been a custody victory. Chancery courts have broad discretion in child custody matters, and anything you say-to your child or anyone involved-can and will be held against you.

My last piece of advice is relatively simple. Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great heart”. I couldn’t have said it better. When navigating the treacherous waters of child-custody litigation, do not forget that children need love, happiness, and innocence of adult issues as much as they need food and water. It is easy to lose sight of this fact when angry at an ex-lover. Keep sight of what matters most: protecting your child from turmoil and shielding them from despair.

If you are involved in a child custody case that requires a robust knowledge base and formidable experience, I will gladly attempt to point you in the right direction. Be forewarned- simple answers to complex issues, particularly those involving child custody, are elusive and require a high level of competency. If you need just that, contact us anytime.

Matthew Poole is a single parent of an eight year-old boy, Lucas. He is well-acclimated to the various challenges that face single parents, both professionally and personally. His practice has been focused on child custody matters for 14 years as a parental advocate.

Best Quick Tips in a Contested Divorce

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

If you are going through a fault-based divorce, you already realize that it can be a cumbersome and frustrating process. In 14 years of practice, it never has ceased to amaze me that potential divorcees so often greatly underestimate the burden, stress level, and emotional turmoil that divorce causes, particularly when child custody is a hotly contested item. Gone are the days of simplicity in domestic separation. In our modern world, husbands are by far more likely to seek custody of children and raise fault grounds against their wives. Also, it is fundamental to understand the importance of shifting family dynamics. Now it is not uncommon to have a stay-at-home husband and a professional wife who has supplanted the traditional husband’s role. I have compiled a short list of simple advice that can save you time, legal fees, and stress that accompanies each and every contested divorce (particularly those that impact the innocent lives involved–your children).

Make sure you keep up with your witness’s phone numbers and addresses. Also, if you are aware of any social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.) or website information pertaining to your spouse, obtain as much information as possible. If you expect your lawyer to locate these for you, be prepared to see additional legal fees.

DO NOT throw away any bank, credit card, tax, investment, or retirement account information. It is easy to hide and can vastly increase the cost and burden of divorce.

If you are in a violent relationship, seek to record any conversations/events that will prove this to the court. Also, make sure you back them up in at least one other device.

Consider hiring a private investigator. Their hourly rates are often cheaper by far than even the least expensive attorney. If you need to access a good one, call me.

Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Fear, anger, disappointment, and grief are usually present to one extent or another in any divorce.

Don’t assume that you are not entitled to some form of alimony, be it lump-sum, reimbursement, periodic, or rehabilitative. Speak to an experienced attorney as to whether you have a valid claim.

Don’t discuss in any negative way your frustrations with your children; it will most likely bite you. Kids are innocent and have no place involved, no matter how tempting it may be.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss any custody, asset distribution, or alimony-related matter and rest assured we will turn over every stone, leaving none unturned, to your advantage. I have 14 years of experience of focused practice in domestic relations law and can help you determine the best path forward and through these stressful situations.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic relations attorney with 14 years of focused experience in family law with an emphasis on litigation and case assessment.

 

Finances In A Divorce

Monday, May 7th, 2018

A person’s financial situation has more influence over day-to-day life than almost any other aspect. Finances influence our ability to enjoy certain luxuries that life brings. Money is also a very private subject. Almost universally, it is considered rude to inquire about someone’s finances in a social setting, and also viewed as arrogant to brag about money. Therefore, when a prospective client comes to our office seeking to initiate or defend a domestic lawsuit, they are often surprised at the level of financial disclosure that comes with that proceeding.

Finances indicate more than personal wealth. They are a good indicator of a person’s ability to hold down a job, ably manage their finances, and to provide security for their families. Directing your finances in a sensible way shows the court a certain level of maturity. Money is hard to earn, and easy to spend. In domestic litigation, especially when children are involved, courts take into consideration how the litigants have been able to soundly oversee their earnings.

A parent’s finances are a factor in child custody cases, and the financial situation of the parents is even included among the Albright factors that chancellors use in making a child custody determination. You can view an earlier post on our website about that factor as well as the other Albright factors through our website’s blog search function. This does not mean that chancellors will simply look at which parent makes the most money and award custody to that parent. It is but one factor to show that the person seeking custody is able to provide for the child as they need and deserve.

Income also plays a large part in the awarding of alimony or separate maintenance. If one spouse in a divorce makes much more money and the other party needs some financial assistance, courts will take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to avoid alimony.

One of the most important documents in domestic litigation is the 8.05 Financial Declaration, named for the Uniform Chancery Rule that requires certain financial disclosures to be made. This document lists a person’s income, assets, and liabilities. Having an ex-spouse be able to see that information can make clients uncomfortable, but they are important declarations to make in these cases. Chancery courts, which handle domestic matters, are courts of equity. This means that chancery courts attempt to resolve disputes in a way that is fair to both litigants and that avoids unjustly enriching one party over the other. These rules regarding financial disclosures can be a friend to those who follow them, and a foe to those who don’t.

Our office understands the uneasiness that comes with giving out financial information, but we also have the experience to know that following these rules can only help the court look favorably upon a party. For a person involved in domestic litigation, being able to show the capability to control their finances will go a long way in achieving whatever goal that person wishes to reach. If you or someone you know has a question about the financial reporting involved in a lawsuit, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We will be happy to lend our knowledge to give you a response that is the truth, and to help you navigate any domestic legal issue you may have.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney who specializes in family litigation. He was admitted to practice in 2004.

Alimony as Punishment?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Probably the most common misconception about alimony is that it is a punishment for the person who has been ordered to pay it. Some believe that if their spouse has cheated on them, or has engaged in any type of misconduct, that they are entitled to alimony simply based on fault. This is simply not true. Basing alimony wholly on whether the other party is at fault would basically make alimony an award for punitive damages, which is a totally different beast altogether. Although fault is a factor when considering alimony, the main hurdle in any alimony dispute is need.

Punitive damages are damages that exceed simple compensation and are awarded to punish a defendant. Punitive damages do not take into account the need or income of the person being awarded those damages, but rather serve as a warning or discouraging measure to make sure that other people do not engage in similar behavior. For example, punitive damages are commonly used in torts cases where a court punishes a company for a misdeed in order to stop it from doing the misdeed again and to dissuade other parties from doing the same. Punitive damages are responsible for the TV commercials and billboards that speak of large awards won for clients.

The purpose of alimony is to offer support for a spouse who is financially-dependent on the other. Even though fault is a factor that a court will look at, a court will focus primarily on the need of the spouse seeking alimony. In other words, alimony can be awarded to a spouse if that spouse is in need of support because they are not equipped to maintain the level of lifestyle that they have grown accustomed to while being married. For example, if a wife never had a job while married and now is getting a divorce, a court may award her with alimony so that she may begin to get back on her feet since the main income earner in her household is no longer present.

There are four types of alimony:  (1) Periodic Alimony, the more traditional type, with no set termination date and allocated month to month based on need;  (2) Lump Sum Alimony, awarded as a fixed sum that can be paid all at once or in installments;  (3) Rehabilitative alimony, developed to assist a spouse when reentering the workforce after their marriage; and  (4) Reimbursement Alimony, awarded to a spouse who supported the other spouse through undergraduate, graduate, or professional school. A court may award just one type of alimony or a combination of the types.

While alimony and punitive damages may seem the same, they serve two totally different purposes. Punitive damages are a punishment payment made out to the other party, and while people who are ordered to pay alimony may see it as a punishment, alimony is actually just based on the need of the other party. There are two totally different criteria when awarding both punitive damages and alimony. Courts in Mississippi will in fact look at fault when awarding alimony, but only after an intense need-based analysis by the chancellor to determine how much and what type should and will be awarded. Confusing these two are very common among people who come into our office, and we are well equipped to answer any questions that may arise when dealing with these issues. Contact our office if you or anyone you know have any questions about alimony, awarding alimony, or any other questions please do not hesitate to ask.

Alimony: The Million Dollar Divorce Question

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Alimony has been discussed at length in jurisprudence of the courts ever since the time it was recognized as a legitimate cause of action, far before any living attorney practiced law. Alimony often has been considered to be a punitive measure taken against a cheating partner. While fault is a factor in alimony (see Armstrong v. Armstrong – the most cited case that outlines the basic factors for the court’s consideration of alimony), fault is only one factor that the court will consider. It is important to note that even in an irreconcilable differences divorce that a chancellor may award alimony if there were issues reserved for determination by the court and not agreed to by the parties.

The findings of fault have taken on elevated importance in recent alimony cases heard in the chancery courts of Mississippi. Not long ago the court of appeals considered a case where they reduced the monthly alimony payments of a husband from $4,000 dollars to $2,500 dollars because of the wife’s alcohol abuse. Although the husband’s role in the deterioration of the marriage was significant and something that was to an extent stipulated to by both parties, the court determined that a substantial reduction of the wife’s (a homemaker) need for alimony was in order. Ultimately, the court determined that the factor of fault aligning with her alcohol abuse warranted a considerable reduction in the husband’s monthly alimony obligation. Also, it is important that any party to a divorce recognize that the presence of children is a major factor to be considered by the courts in the awarding of alimony. In another recent case, although the parties had separate estates that were roughly equal, the court made a determination that the presence of autistic children warranted an award of alimony due to the discrepancy in income. Essentially, the husband made an argument that the court erred in allowing such a sizable alimony award because it consisted of “post-emancipation child support.” However, the court rejected this argument and rightfully so.

It is also interesting to note that under certain circumstances, an unemployed husband can be required to pay alimony. For instance, in one recent court of appeals case the court upheld an award of a chancellor wherein the husband, now unemployed, had demonstrated previous earning capacities far in excess of that of his wife. One of the main reasons the court upheld this award was because of his acknowledgement of several relationships during the marriage and his dissipation of assets on trips and gifts for his girlfriend. It is crucial to understand that alimony is not intended to make the parties financially equal, and there are instances in which a denial of alimony will be affirmed by the court as well. It is important to keep in mind that earning capacity and ability to earn a sufficient living is a huge consideration for any court in an award of alimony. The chancellor in another recent and noteworthy court of appeals case determined that even though the wife had no income, she was a registered dietician and was able to renew her certification and training and thus had sufficient earning capacity. The court rejected her argument that the chancellor should have found that her husband had dissipated assets by paying $30,000 dollars to settle a separate lawsuit. The court viewed this as disposition of assets which were in fact marital.

If you need assistance in any alimony, permanent alimony, lump sum alimony, or any other issue dealing with modification of alimony, please feel free to call us. We’re best equipped to assist you and point you in the right direction as far as your legal rights are concerned. Law Office of Matthew Poole. 601.573.7429.

How is a Temporary Hearing (for alimony or other expenses and potentially child custody) in a Divorce Action Different from a Final Hearing on the Merits (Trial)?

Friday, November 18th, 2016

If you and your attorney have pursued a temporary hearing in a divorce action, there are several reasons that you were counseled to go forward with that temporary hearing prior to going to a final trial on the merits of the entire case.  It is important to understand that in a divorce, a temporary hearing is a hearing that is designed to maintain the status quo between the parties prior to their ability to seek or be heard by at a final trial.  

Many people get less than fair result at a temporary hearing because of the perception that they are required to maintain the typical and enduring financial relationship between themselves and their spouse until they are able to be heard at a final hearing.  It is very important to note that there are often times occasions where a party has been placed under a temporary order to pay, for instance, temporary alimony or continue to make car payments, mortgage notes and pay other expenses of their spouse, but when the parties finally get to trial its determined that no sufficient grounds for divorce exist.  As we have already discussed many times in this blog, the typical grounds for divorce (i.e. the most common) adultery, habitual cruelty, inhumane treatment, habitual alcoholism, addiction to an opiates or other similar drugs, and desertion.  Some other grounds for divorce do exist although they are not as commonly invoked such as incurable insanity, impotency, and bigamy.

It is important that any potential client realize that even if they do get a less than favorable result at a temporary hearing, it is likely because they have been the financial bread winner/provider of the relationship since the inception of the marriage.  There are some instances where the person paying the majority of the bills can and will get a favorable result at a temporary divorce hearing.  Those would include situations where a spouse lost a job due to misconduct, is employed far below their earning capacity, or has exhibited bad faith in the failure to seek adequate employment.  Clients need not worry if they are in a position that their result at a temporary hearing was less adequate than what they seek at a final hearing.  Often times, for instance, a mortgage note will be required to be paid by the person who has paid the mortgage note for the majority of or for the duration of the marriage.  However at a final hearing on the merits, if the person seeking to remain in the marital home cannot afford the mortgage note, it is unlikely that the court will continue to require the primary wage-earner to continue to make that payment, unless it is in the form of alimony.

Alimony has been discussed at length in several of our other blogs, but it is very important to know that the American Society of Matrimonial Lawyers have made a general suggestion and therefore proposed policy that at twenty years of marriage, alimony is almost assured to be paid unto the party needing the stability and experiencing the primary financial hardship as a result of the divorce.  We have seen situations where short term marriages do result in an award of alimony; however the very bottom end of the spectrum of people to be awarded alimony would be in the six to eight year marriage range.  Remember that alimony is based primarily on need, although the courts have recently made certain modifications to the Alimony Laws that indicate that a party who is more at fault is equal to or more at fault than their spouse in the cause of divorce will not be entitled to alimony, regardless of need.

These changes have given hope to the people who have been cheated on, abused, or generally had their rights within the marital institution violated although they have been in a short term marriage.  WE agree with this shift, and feel that it represents strong public policy.  Although we think there are many benefits to this change in the common law of the State of Mississippi, many changes are probably forthcoming in terms of clarifying the courts general position on whether or not the award of alimony is appropriate.  We continually strive to be abreast of the most recent changes in Mississippi law so that our clients are given fair treatment by the courts.  

If you need help with a temporary custody, child support, or alimony hearing, or if you have been served with process or a summons, indicating that you must appear in a Chancery Court in the State of Mississippi regarding a divorce action, we are best equipped to give you the proper guidance and counsel in order to help you effectuate your rights.  Please give us a call at (601)573-7429 or send us an e-mail at matthewspoole@gmail.com.  We will be glad to discuss your case with you and determine how best to proceed.