Posts Tagged ‘attorney’

Cyber Civics: Children and Online Ethics

Monday, September 30th, 2019

It is estimated that children are online more often than they are in school.  Some studies have found that the average teenager is on the internet for in excess of 10 hours per day.  The interactions that we all have online are a gigantic part of who we are.  Our interactions frame us and we will be judged by them not differently than we are judged by our appearance and profession. 

Safe and civil interaction online is fundamental for children.  They often have little idea about how to navigate the bullying and anonymity that goes with it.  Now, schools have begun experimenting with civics classes focused on childrens’ online interactions.  After looking at this issue, it seems at first glance to be the right course when we are increasingly becoming digital citizens.

The introductory phase in these “cyber civics” classes is generally focused on bullying.  Interestingly, it appears that most studies link cyber-bullying predominantly to making fun of one’s appearance.  While there is always online hatred based upon a child who does not fit into a prototypical gender group or traditional sexual orientation, appearance is by far the most common target for online bullies based upon randomized studies.  There are not simple answers, but the focus on bullying seems a logical place to start for the new curriculums being offered.

Cyber civics is also, in a typical curriculum, secondarily focus on being able to identify “fake news” versus true and factual journalism.  Years ago, it was often said that the first tenet of journalism was objectivity.  The only agenda being that no particular agenda was appropriate is the primary goal.  We have come a long way from that basic principle.  If you read either the conservative or liberal media it is all too clear.  No middle ground seems to exist anymore.  True journalism may not even exist anymore.  That’s a shame.

The core values of our society are generally agreed upon.  We must be kind, respectful, and honest.  Although cultures may vary somewhat as to the way they apply these ideals, it is clear that very few would disagree with this basic premise.  Children are essentially being placed into a broader culture when they have access to the internet.  The odds of a child seeing something inappropriate online are extremely high.  Parents are the only filter for their kids.  The internet, as helpful as it can be used as a teaching tool, is also a double-edged sword.

Although cyber civics as an academic study is a relatively new concept, its focus is not altogether different from social science concepts that are well-established tradition.  Whether we call it cyber civics, social media consciousness, or plain old common decency, the concept remains essentially the same.  Unfortunately, the average person should already be familiar with the importance of decency and honesty but may have eluded that long ago.  When online, some take advantage of avoiding this should-be common ground. 

Anonymity plays a huge role in online interactions, and children are particularly vulnerable.  As such, a new era of digital coach is becoming common.  They now exist in public junior high schools in New Hampshire and Vermont.  Many courses are also offered online as a non-mandatory supplemental option.  Go to Google and search for “cyber civics course” and there are a ton of results.  Whether they are useful is still up for debate.  It seems that much offered is simply a reiteration of common decency.

In sum, it seems that the goal of online decency is a noble one, although somewhat arbitrary when distinguished from simple human interaction and courtesy.  Children are at a great risk of depression and suicide from being harassed, intimidated, and otherwise abused online.  The root cause is that we, as a society, seem to have sheltered and protected online interactions that would run afoul of the laws we have already created regarding defamation and harassment.  Until politicians recognize that anonymous bullies are a significant driver of teen and adolescent suicide and depression, nothing is likely to change. 

It’s time that we identify the real problem…poor public policy.  The legislature could solve much of the problem.  We have to let them, as our elected representatives, know that anonymous online harassment needs to end, once and for all.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney.  He was admitted to the state bar and the federal district courts in 2004.

Do Chancery Judges Have a Sixth Sense?

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Before getting into the nitty-gritty details of my experiences with Mississippi Chancellors, I must say that we have a unique system to determine divorce and custody matters in our state.  Only 5 states in the U.S. have chancery court systems. They are based on English common-law and principles of equity (fairness). Without a doubt, the big difference between chancery and other courts is that a chancellor is not only the final interpreter of law on point, but also the ultimate fact-finder.  This requires playing somewhat of a “dual role” in making determinations that affect not only a divorcing couple, but their children and extended families. So, after 1,300+ domestic cases, do I believe that chancellors have a heightened ability to sense what is not directly in front of them? Yes, and it is largely because they have significant experience in detecting the motivations of those who appear in their courtrooms.  

When in court, attorneys are commonly making points based upon evidence that can be seen and heard.  Most of the proof that we present on a daily basis consists of not only the testimony of witnesses, but video, photographs, documents, and audio recording.  While these are what I would call “empirical” evidence, they are not the only consideration for a fact finder. For instance, let us take a brief look at criminal jury trials.  They are a contrast to chancery proceedings in many ways. The judge has a singular role: interpreter of law. The jury has one role as well: find the facts. That fact-finding is not exactly an exact science.  It is highly nuanced…subjective as all get-out. Reasonable minds can disagree and often do. After hearing testimony and seeing all of the evidence, we can and will come to different, often ant-opposite of conclusions.  That is simple human nature.

Chancellors are the equivalent of both the judge and jury.  Not only do they interpret law, they are the sole fact-finder in divorce and custody actions.  They have to rely on their God-given instincts in close cases. Having seen the inner-workings of the chancery system in Mississippi, I can without question say that chancery judges tend to have a heightened intuition.  It is necessary when determining who is truthful and who is not. That gut instinct decides the outcome of so many close cases. Most of them are close, or they tend to settle prior to trial. Think of all the times you likely disagreed with a jury.  Without pointing to any specific cases, you can surely name a few of your own.

Most divorces and child custody matters are close calls.  Many lack any concrete proof at all. There are almost never any smoking guns or red hands to be caught.  The proof is almost always what I would call luke-warm…even circumstantial. The best approach in any chancery court is to build credibility by telling the truth.  Consistency goes a long way, as it should. Chancellors are pretty good human lie detectors.  

My advice to anyone going through a difficult custody case, divorce, or visitation issue is to be cool-headed and calm.  Be consistent and voice your concern for your children. Do not worry about shaming your spouse, your ex. It will not build credibility with the judge.  Your testimony will be weaker than it could have been when the focus is taken off of your kids. It is always better not to voice the raw emotion that a breakup causes.  The children are what matters now, and the judge could care less how much you may dislike your ex. They hear all too much of it on a daily basis. It gets tiresome, and quickly.

If you end up in court over a disagreement about your kids, your finances, do yourself a favor and relax.  Chancery judges love nothing more than a reasonable, calm litigant who is able to have a laser focus on what matters and ignore what does not.  Kids need structure and stability to thrive. They need a routine that is predictable and not jolted by emotion. If you are able to tap into this thinking, you just increased your odds of obtaining a positive outcome in a tough life moment.

Matthew Poole is a Single Father and Jackson Mississippi Family Lawyer, Recipient of the National Family Lawyer Association Top 10 Award in 2015 and 2018 and Finalist of the Steen Reynolds and Dalehite Trial Competition.  He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 2004.

Modification Mayhem; How to Steer Clear

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Child custody modification cases are always challenging for a variety of reasons.  First, it is important to recognize that Chancellors are inclined not to “rock the boat” by making drastic decisions about child placement without very good reasons.  They, as they should, need a parent seeking modification to present overwhelming reasons for a sudden change that affects every aspect of a child’s life.  Haphazard, swift decisions regarding children are frowned upon and avoided at all costs. 

I want to focus on a common scenario which occurs and attempt to illustrate the divergent paths it presents.  Quite often, a child turns 12 and is able to voice a preference to the court about where they want to live.  Although they do not get to “choose” (a common misconception), their voice plays a critical role in triggering and potentially effectuating a child-custody claim.  Although the maturity level of the child is not a technical factor in the weight of their preference, it will always play a critical role in the outcome of the modification claim.

I want to share with you a custody horror story, at least from the perspective of a former client.  Often the best lessons are had by failure, not success.  Many years ago, I was hired to prosecute a child custody claim in Rankin County, Mississippi on behalf of a mom whose son had recently turned 12.  We all met at my office and the child was quite clear about the strength of his desire to live with his mom.  I did not question his sincerity for a moment. 

Fast forward several months and we finally have our day in court at a final hearing (trial).  I called the young man to the stand and he performed as I expected.  When my opposing counsel had his shot at making his case, the child fell apart.  It went something like this:  “Young man, why is it that you want to live with your mom all of the sudden?”.  A fair question, right?  The boy then said, more or less, “My dad makes me go to bed at 10 o’clock and eat grilled chicken and vegetables.  I hate vegetables.  When I am with my mom she lets me do pretty much whatever I want.  I can have as much pizza as I want and I can play video games while she’s busy doing other stuff.  My dad is just too strict.”  Whew.  I heard the sound of my case deflate right in front of me.  The odds of winning were nil.  My client was upset and so was I, but he was just a kid after all.

I have seen first-hand how children will attempt to please both parents.  I have had clients hire me on modifications of custody only to realize later that their child was telling their ex that they wanted to stay with them.  Kids have a natural defense mechanism to make both parents happy.  They will tell both that they want to be with them.  It borders on dishonesty, but for the love of God, they are only kids and do not understand adult problems.  This is the way that they cope.  It is frustrating and can cost a client several wasted dollars, but nonetheless I understand the plight of the children torn between two parents that they dearly love.  We must, as the adults in the room, understand how to avoid this mayhem in the first place.  Our children deserve it. 

My advice is simple.  The mature children are going to be far more likely to stay with the parent they prefer.  I doubt many of them are 12.  Once a child has consistently voiced a mature, rational desire to stay with you, consider speaking to a lawyer about a change of custody.  Chancellors are privy to the fact that children are not always able to decide what is best for them.  You can avoid wasting thousands on a failed modification claim by allowing your child to come to their own conclusion. Be patient and kind.  Remember that they are feeling pressure from every direction.  And in the end, respect them and their innocence.  One day they will face adult problems.  It is your job, as a parent, to make it later than sooner.

Matthew Poole is a single father and Jackson, Mississippi Custody and Divorce Attorney with 16 years of experience.  He has managed over 1,300 domestic cases.

DIVORCE RATES DIVING?

Saturday, August 31st, 2019

I know what you are thinking, and I can already say that this trend occurs likely not for the reasons you may imagine. Unless you are a sociologist or simply very in-tune with social trends, it may surprise you that the real reasons, or at least the primary drivers of this trend, are not so obvious until we look at ourselves, our friends, and our families.

So many of the younger generation suffered through their parents’ divorces. They witnessed first-hand the turmoil and confusion that impacts everyone involved. They were often more victimized by their parents’ tit-for-tat than the parents themselves. Divorce is significantly stressful for kids. They become front and center in the turmoil. It should come as no surprise that they are more apt to wait before tying the knot. We certainly cannot blame them.

There is also a second driver of divorce rates diving. Millenials are not as financially well-off as their parents were at the same age. Although incomes may be similar (adjusted for inflation), costs of living are much higher. They are purchasing homes much later, have less money in the bank, and upward trending daily expenses. When you hear about inflation in our country hovering between 2 and 3 percent, ask yourself if things you buy on a daily basis (consumer goods) do not seem to have skyrocketed in price in the past decade. It sure feels that way to me.

Another factor lesser discussed has driven the divorce rate down. Here it is: People simply aren’t getting married at the rate they did in the past. I ran a simple Google search of “marriage and divorce rates U.S.”, and the results were surprisingly dramatic. If you click on “images” at the top results bar, you can visualize the strong trend in several telling graphs and charts. It seems to me that after World War II, young men returning home in droves altered our societal landscape. They were eager to start lives and have families. Their children were generally born in the mid 1950’s until the early 1970’s. Those former children are now in their fifties and even late sixties. Time sure does fly. Many (most) of you reading this are their kids. Theirs was a great generation in a very different time.

I also see the impact of social media, a term unknown to our dad, mom, aunts and uncles. They did not know that it would ever dominate our society the way it does today. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so many others consume our daily lives. I believe they are great tools when used for the right reasons, but our communication with others we hardly know can also interfere with our most personal relationships.

We, as a country, have pushed the limits of change in so many ways. Time spent with family is too easily frittered away. Bank accounts are stretched to their limits. Daily pressures are at an all time high, and memories of being a child trapped in the eye of a stormy divorce still linger.

In the end, the best ways to avoid a divorce are more obvious than you realize. Sometimes we simply need to be reminded of what we already know.

Matthew Poole is a single father and Jackson, Mississippi Family Attorney. He was admitted to practice in 2004.

Avoiding Disaster: Divorce and Mortgages

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Are you preparing for a divorce and have a mortgage on a home or other property?  Valuing these assets is fundamental in order to ensure that you receive a fair shake in severing your marriage.  What common issues need to be clear moving forward on a path to becoming single again? There are several, but the mortgage holder is almost always the key to knowing who should stay in the home and who goes.  Unless you want to be roommates with your ex for the foreseeable future, follow this advice.  

A retired Chancellor from Rankin County, Honorable John Grant, used to say repeatedly that “Two can live cheaper than one”. The reason that credit bureaus will ding your score for a divorce is quite clear:  unless your income increases substantially, a divorce will always negatively impact your overall financial health. When two people own a home in a community property state such as Mississippi, they have essentially formed a joint business venture.  When the home is mortgaged in both parties’ names, both incomes are considered by the bank in determining whether or not to grant the loan application and provide credit. They are not particularly keen on allowing an otherwise responsible obligor (or “customer” in bankspeak) off of the hook.  Why should they be? They have a responsibility to their shareholders to ensure investment in mortgage assets are repaid at as high a rate as possible.

Very many divorced people ask me after the fact why it is that they cannot repurchase another home.  Unfortunately they have almost always suffered from poor lawyering and improper preplanning for severing marital ties.  The gist of their now major disaster is that their attorney did not make adequate provision in the dissolution agreement for the marital home.  They simply stated that one party, we will just say the wife for example, keeps use and possession of the home. Frequently a wife with children will stay in the home if she can afford it.  So the story usually goes as follows…Husband is on the mortgage. Husband assumes that he is off the hook for liability with the bank. Husband applies for a loan, only to be rejected due to a poor-debt to income ratio.  This all could have been very easily avoided.

A simple provision that stated, for instance, “Wife agrees to obtain separate financing for the marital home within 60 days or to list the home for sale at or below current appraisal value” would have done the trick.  Sale price and who decides upon that price can also, and should be laid out clearly prior to divorce. It still amazes me that some lesser experienced lawyers get their clients stuck in a hellish quagmire such as this.  It can and should be avoided with some degree of foresight. Fixing this issue can cost far more than doing it correctly the first time around. I have seen people that have unfortunately spent fifty of more hours in attorney time to clean up this type of mess.  

In the end, be sure that your attorney has discussed with you the best path to rectify any outstanding financial obligations, especially your mortgage.  Ensure that no assumptions are made moving forward. Ask your lawyer every question related to protecting your future and that of your kids. And after the emotional haze of divorce clears, never forget that two really can live cheaper than one.


Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Ms custody and divorce lawyer and a 2015 and 2018 N.F.L.A. top ten domestic lawyer, 2019 Birdeye top family attorney, and 2003 finalist of the Steen Reynolds trial competition at the University of Mississippi School of Law.  He was a Second-Century Scholar at Millsaps College in 2001.

Do This, Not That…Common Custody Mistakes

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

“Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas”.

Eleanor Roosevelt

We receive about 4,500 phone calls a year, plus or minus. In 16 years of practice, my assistants and I have received prospective client intakes from more people than the population of a medium-sized city. Almost all of the calls have a common denominator; an inability to communicate with the “other” parent. It can be easily avoided…here is a basic blueprint. I hope it is helpful.

Every life struggle needs a hero. Why should it not be you? As a single parent, I have seen these challenges first hand. As a domestic lawyer, I have fought these battles for my clients just the same. So here are my thoughts and impressions about how to proceed when child custody is front and center in your life…and your kids’ lives even more importantly. So here is the entree’; what to do and what to avoid. If you follow this advice, parenting still won’t be easy, but life will be better for your children.

DO- Keep open communication with the other parent about childrens’ activities and progress.

DO NOT- Cut off your kids ability to talk to dad/mom or keep them in the dark. Children build self-esteem through belief that they have great parents…two of them.

DO- Remember that children are innocent.

DO NOT- Believe they understand adult problems, emotions, or opinions.

DO- Remember that your child is one-half of you, one-half of another.

DO NOT- Think that your child isn’t hurting because their other parent is not around…even if it is by their own bad choice.

DO- Realize that kids need love, even if the person loving them has serious flaws.

DO NOT- Require perfection from your ex…we all have flaws, but loving of our children is what matters most, your relationship may have been a simple moment in time, after all.

DO- Make sure to tell your kids that you love them, so does dad…or mom…and grandma.

DO NOT- Tell them that they were abandoned, that you are the hero, that you saved them from misery and suffering.

DO- Ask your children what they need from your ex, be it a new toy, a way to communicate, or a simple showing of affection.

DO NOT- Tell your children how you feel about the person who may have broken your heart, damaged your soul.

DO- Make sure your children enjoy being a child…it is a precious thing we all remember dearly.

DO NOT- Let them feel the real life burdens all adults feel every day.

Last thought…if all else fails, always take pride that you did your best and never gave up on the children brought into an imperfect, but beautiful world. Any judge will see you for your strengths first. That is the way it should be. In a custody battle, nice guys and gals finish first.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, MS family lawyer specializing in custody and custody modification matters. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 2004.

Grandparent Visitation…How to Get MORE

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Last summer, we wrote an article about how deployment in a military capacity is quite specifically addressed by our state laws. I am going to republish it in part (it has some minor redactions) below because it is very telling as to the affect of a parent being unavailable to exercise visitation under certain circumstances upon grandparent rights. After the bulk of this somewhat technical article, I will briefly discuss other parent unavailability issues, primarily incarceration of a parent. So, here we go……(this is long, but bear with me, it will be worth it!)

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center (under the Office of the Secretary of Defense), the United States currently has approximately 200,000 active-duty troops deployed across 170 countries.

The Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA) was designed to resolve child custody and visitation issues that military families may face during a soldier’s deployment, temporary duty, or mobilization.

The UDPCVA is divided into five articles, with the first of these defining the foundational terms for the rest. Most importantly, Article 1 states that a parent’s “residence” is not changed during deployment and that deployment cannot be considered in deciding what is in “the best interest of the child.”

Article 2 discourages litigation on child custody and visitation issues by outlining procedural protections for simple agreements between parties.

This act also assists the UCCJEA* in preventing the issuance of competing orders via Article 3, which covers court procedures and includes the use of electronic testimony and the expedition of hearings.

In addition, this article allows for the designation of visitation rights to a nonparent where the court finds that doing so would be in the best interest of the child and Article 4 explains the termination process for these rights following deployment. Finally, Article 5 summarizes the information within each article.

Mississippi Code § 93-5-34 states that “Custody and visitation procedure upon parental temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization” follows the guideline provisions of the UDPCVA on these issues and answers my earlier hypothetical question regarding who would take care of the children similarly to Article 3. It states that “(4) If the parent with visitation rights receives military temporary duty, deployment or mobilization orders that involve moving a substantial distance from the parent’s residence or otherwise have a material effect on the parent’s ability to exercise rights, the court otherwise may delegate the parent’s visitation rights, or a portion thereof, to a family member with a close and substantial relationship to the service member’s minor child for the duration of the parent’s absence, if delegating visitation rights is in the child’s best interest.”

To answer the second question regarding the end of deployment, the same section of Mississippi Code contains a provision like Article 4 of the UDPCVA, stating that “(3) When a parent who has custody, or has joint custody with primary physical custody, receives temporary duty, deployment or mobilization orders from the military that involve moving a substantial distance from the parent’s residence having a material effect on the parent’s ability to exercise custody responsibilities:

(a) Any temporary custody order for the child during the parent’s absence shall end no later than ten (10) days after the parent returns, but shall not impair the discretion of the court to conduct a hearing for emergency custody upon return of the parent and within ten (10) days of the filing of a verified motion for emergency custody alleging an immediate danger of irreparable harm to the child; and

(b) The temporary duty, mobilization or deployment of the service member and the temporary disruption to the child’s schedule shall not be factors in a determination of change of circumstances if a motion is filed to transfer custody from the service member.

(c) Any order entered under this section shall require that:

(i) The non-deployed parent shall make the child or children reasonably available to the deployed parent when the latter parent has leave;

(ii) The non-deployed parent shall facilitate opportunities for telephonic, “webcam,” and electronic mail contact between the deployed parent and the child or children during deployment; and

(iii) The deployed parent shall provide timely information regarding the parent’s leave schedule.

Ok, so what effect would incarceration have on grandparent visitation in our state? What about if a parent or both are in a mental institution? What if they are, in a coma, God forbid? There is little case law wherein other unavailability issues have been hashed out by our appellate courts, although based on my experience courts are willing to bolster grandma and grandpa’s time for any of the above reasons even though no statute exists as it does for military deployments. My advice is to raise this issue with your attorney, it is a solid argument almost every time.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Domestic Attorney with 16 years of trial experience. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019.

*For more information about this statute, go to our search bar on the home page of our site.

Child Custody Challenges Equal Danger + Opportunity

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Happy 2019 to everyone reading this post. I am truly amazed that thousands of people read them every month, in large part thanks to Google and its reach. That is truly humbling to know and I thank you all for spending the time– it truly makes writing rewarding. Now, on to one of our very favorite topics…..legal realities.

Anyone who is familiar with our blog knows that we enjoy debunking myths. I am certain that most people that contact us in a disputed divorce that is also coupled with disagreement about child custody, be it joint or primary custody, visitation with their kids, and so forth, are looking for easy answers. Some even think that we sneaky lawyers have a form you can fill out and submit it to the court to obtain custody. Some feel we are holding back for profit. I assure you, that is far from legal reality.

H.L. Mencken (for those of you not familiar with the now deceased journalist, look him up on Wiki…he was controversial and improper at times, but often right) once noted that “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong”. Americans, especially litigants, love simple solutions and immediate gratification. We are all made that way to some extent or another, myself included.

If I had to guess, over 90 percent of people seeking child custody advice are looking for a quick, cheap solution. Dealing with the rights and protection of children and what is best for them is never that simple. Children obviously bring a new dynamic to parent lives and therein lies the rub. All hope is not lost though; you may, and likely do have opportunity to better your children through the rough sea of custody litigation.

Although there has been significant debate about the interpretation of the Chinese word for “crisis”, often interpreted as “danger and opportunity”, the concept holds basically true in the narrower context of child custody litigation. So, you are probably asking yourself “what is the best advice for the parent fighting for custody, Matthew?”

My tip is a simple one: spend your energy not looking for a simple solution, look for the best solution for you and your kids. And remember, it is a whole lot easier, cheaper, and less stressful to get professional legal advice and do it the right way the first time. Going back and trying to undo what has been done is always the tougher path.

Think of it like this: It is far easier to build a home on a piece of cleared land than to go demolish an old house, clean all the debris and then start from scratch. Trust your instincts about the legal advice you get. And if you sense a lawyer is simply trying to get paid and push you into a prolonged battle, do not walk away, run. The opportunity to get it right may only happen once.

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.

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.

Child Custody Devils-Always in the Detail

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

First, I would like to pay a short tribute to my Associate Attorney, Honorable Kenneth Davis, Esq., whom I have had the pleasure of mentoring for the past 3 years. He is moving on to a new venture today, and his steady hand and careful deliberation at the helm in the treacherous waters of domestic litigation will be deeply missed. We wish him great success and happiness and will always hold him in high regard. God bless, Attorney Davis.

Now, forward we move into a new era of life and law as a family attorney with a new addition to my staff, Ms. Linda Wilson, a 42 year veteran stenographer (court reporter) and former assistant to a retired Chancery Judge in Madison and Yazoo County, Mississippi. She is very knowledgeable and we look forward to her addition to my office.

But I digress, and feel compelled to relay a brief story about the vast importance of detail in custody related legal proceedings. And this particular tale is rooted in a basic mistake made by opposing counsel in a custody modification case. Buckle up, this story proves that truth really is stranger than fiction.

About 8 years ago, I had a very interesting case where I represented the mother of the 4 year old girl and was seeking relief from the courts on an emergent basis because the father of the child was caught shoplifting donuts from a Walmart in South Mississippi. One of the most bizarre things about this case is that the father had a relatively high paying job but appeared to have a proclivity for stealing for the sheer thrill of it. Sad, but true. The little girl was not only present with dad during the heist, but also during the 110 mile per hour police chase that ensued. Yes, these things really do happen

When I took the deposition of the father I asked him a question regarding whether or not he was under the influence of an illicit drug or alcohol during this scandalous escapade. When I asked the question, he said simply, “Well, I was–”, and his lawyer stopped him to interpose an objection of some sort….and this is where the details ended up sinking my opponents case in one fell swoop. (Not to break my arm patting myself on the back, but I appropriately moved along to another subject at that point altogether instead of arguing the merits of the lawyer’s objection).

Now, this is where it turned into a particularly lovely case for my client. When we got into Rankin County Chancery Court, I did what lawyers do-exploited any weakness of my opponent to the advantage of my client. Even though it is true that the case would have likely been won even without the interesting deposition testimony, I jumped on what appeared to be a terribly destructive admission by the donut-theiving daddy, and the judge ate it up.

If my opposing counsel had done is job correctly, he would have had the opportunity to correct that damaging apparent admission with follow-up questions however he neglected to do so. And so, as the saying goes, sometimes it’s the little things that kill. As you already guessed, my client got a very favorable result.

Citing my second favorite basketball player of all time (behind Michael Jordan, of course), Kareem Abdul-Jabar, it’s usually the smallest of things that make the difference between winning and losing. And win, we did.

If I can help you do the little things right in your divorce or custody case well and to pay attention to the detail, please give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic relations attorney with 14 years of experience in family law. He was admitted to practice in 2004 and lives in North Jackson with his son, Lucas.