Posts Tagged ‘attorney fees’

Are Judge Ideologies Reflective of District?

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

The short answer is not just yes, but without question. Now, let’s speak to a couple of different issues that frequently come up during domestic and family related court cases. I will pick a few of the most common to best exemplify that no two chancellors are created equally. Some can rule totally ant-opposite each other on the exact same issues and facts. It can be a frustrating scenario for lawyer and client alike.

The Morality Clause

This issue comes up in virtually every case I have ever managed. The difference in results can be, well, astonishing. In some of the more left-leaning counties, chancellors are inclined to determine that there is no harm done to a child by having a non-married romantic partner stay the night or even cohabitate outright. No harm no foul, at least in their view. Try arguing that the sleep over with the new love is harmless in Rankin or Madison county and you will get laughed out of the room unless there is a VERY plausible reason. They almost do not exist.

Alimony awards

An award of alimony is more generous and easily obtained in liberal counties of Mississippi. Some of the old-school, conservative chancellors will award alimony, but the amounts tend to smaller. Be it periodic, lump-sum, reimbursement, or rehabilitative alimony, they are usually more conservative in their awards. Not surprising, right? I will say there is some variance in the awards of alimony vs. no alimony, but not as great as the variance in the bare amount of award. The variations, in my experience, can vary even as much as threefold depending on venue. The difference in even $2,000 a month makes a big difference in most people’s bottom line.

Attorneys fees

This one can be tricky, although there is always a best way to argue that you are entitled to attorneys fees. However, they are far from a guarantee. They are predominately based on ability to pay your lawyer vs. your opponent’s ability to pay theirs. This is where some significant discrepancy comes about in the courts method of interpretation. I have seen some conservative chancellors vanish a wife her lawyer fees request because, even though she made less than she spent, she recently bought a new car and took excessive vacations. This was the result even though husband made about five-fold her income. In a more liberal venue, the result would clearly have been different. A large award would be most likely the outcome.

Standard vs. Liberal Visitation

There are some chancellors, most of them older and somewhat old-fashioned (not that being so is a bad thing), who are strictly inclined to only award standard, every other weekend type visitation to the non-custodial parent (n.c.p.) Usually being the dad, but not always, the n.c.p. gets a very short end of the custody stick. Conversely, some of the younger and progressive counties elect judges who are willing to award either liberal visits for the n.c.p. or even outright joint custody.

In sum, lawyers will never be able to pull out the proverbial crystal ball and tell you precisely what to expect. Ask them what ideology your chancellor brings to the courthouse. It makes so much difference even in what may appear a simple case.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi domestic attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Trial Competition, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will be speaking to members of the Mississippi Bar in July, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure.

Communication and Consideration: No-Fault Divorce Revisited

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Everyone wants a cheap and stress-free divorce when they are ready to move on. Who can blame them when their marital circumstances are beyond repair? No one wants the agony and cost of fighting in a court of law over assets, child custody, or the myriad other factors associated with divorce litigation. Unfortunately, no-fault divorce isn’t easily achieved without some degree of tension in most cases. Again, there aren’t easy answers to complex issues, but the more that can be disputed likely will be, and costs often soar as a result. So what is the best solution?

As in marriage, divorce presents many challenges that lack a simple solution, particularly when children are involved. I cannot speak directly to the exact price other local lawyers charge for irreconcilable differences divorces (or “I.D.” as they are often referred to), but I can say that they will always be far less expensive than fault-based divorce, which often requires multiple open-court hearings and dozens of hours of attorney fees. The stress and turmoil of a legal battle are also not easy to avoid on some level, at least.

Even at a relatively modest rate of, let’s say $225 per hour and an optimistic time for resolution of, for instance 35 hours, the math gets scary quickly (225 x 35 = $7,875). When adding in court costs and other fees such as service of process and investigative fees, it is easy to see why the national average cost of divorce in 2017 was $15,500. We presented the relevant statistics in detail in our April 28, 2018 blog article and reference to a Nolo Legal study evaluating divorce costs. I highly recommend reading that in combination with this posting.

When recognizing that no-fault/irreconcilable difference divorce is usually less than $1,200, it is hard not to see the appeal. However, the appeal and low-cost of I.D. divorce has one danger that is often ignored by clients: If you don’t have 1. Communication, and 2. Consideration for fairness to both parties involved, you are most likely wasting your time and hard-earned money. It’s absolutely paramount that clients understand that Mississippi is not a “true no-fault state” at this time. In other words, you either both must agree to all terms of divorce, such as child custody and visitation, insurance issues, asset division, even alimony in some cases–or you must litigate. And therein lies the rub.

Our neighbor to the west, Louisiana, permits that a no-fault divorce be granted after 365 days of separation whether there is an agreement to divorce or not. While this seems an easy solution to a complex problem, it isn’t quite as appealing when we realize that issues such as child custody and financial matters still will require contested hearings unless the parties agree. Often this means that the cost won’t be any less than in Mississippi.

In 14 years of practicing domestic law, I can say that, despite making very clear to my clients that they may waste their money on attempting I.D. divorce, approximately one-third of them did exactly that because of overly-optimistic enthusiasm. I don’t blame any one of them one iota for trying the cheap route to divorce, but it is not without its downfalls. There are myriad factors that can derail what should be a simple divorce. It’s very easy to throw your money away because of optimism. As a former associate of mine used to say, “Haste makes waste”.

So, what is my advice? First of all, cooler heads usually prevail. The level of emotion and the amount one spends on domestic legal fees are strongly correlated. Therefore, 1. Make a checklist of all issues that require attention before contacting an attorney. 2. Have a calm, frank discussion with your spouse, and 3. Give your spouse appropriate consideration on all of the issues that need to be addressed–remember, you both start with equal marital rights. If you can do these three simple things, you will likely have saved yourself and your children a lot of emotional turmoil and cold, hard cash.

If we can give you assistance in determining the best path toward the dissolution of your marriage, please feel free to give us a call. I have 14 years of focused domestic law experience– we do not practice in any other area– and take great pride in helping find my clients the easiest and least expensive way out of tough spots. Even if a no-fault divorce is not an option, where there is a will, there is always a way.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family law attorney who specializes in domestic case evaluation and marital conflict resolution.