Posts Tagged ‘child custody’

Married and Mourning? Consider This First

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Sociologist Linda J. Waite and several contributing authors wrote a peer-reviewed study looking at several assumptions about happiness before and after dissolution of marriages that were deemed to be unhappy by the study participants…both women and men. It is 44 pages long and exhaustively looks at a variety of issues anyone contemplating divorce should consider. It is published by the American Institute of Family Values and can be downloaded from their site as a pdf. file. The article title is “Does Divorce Make People Happy?”. Googling the title and author will be worth your time if you are considering a divorce. It is the best in terms of both randomization and completion that I have seen to date for a variety of reasons.

One narrative that has been often floated in modern society and media is that women tend to be happier than men after divorce and tend to be more likely to remarry. There is some related information published by authors of smaller case studies than the Linda Waite study I reviewed over the weekend. The case in point looks at over 10,000 divorces…by far the most I have seen examined and followed up upon yet. Many of the other surveys utilized much smaller statistical samples, some even less than 800 couples.

I am no statistical genius, but I do know that larger randomized samples are more reliable. Of course, the manner in which the questions are asked also creates some interesting disparity and issues regarding the quality of random samples. For instance, if we pulled a sample from only New York City, the study is flawed and so are the conclusions. That is not a representation of all marriage…the geography imparts social values that are unique by law and culture. Statisticians consider this need for actual randomization crucial to the Z Factor and other measures of the strength of a correlation.

I suppose many would argue that imparting a person’s gender into this conversation is irrelevant, but I disagree. I firmly believe that men and women most often bring very different mindsets into the divorce process. Their results often vary based upon child-rearing and income as well. Although no two cases are exactly alike, the theory that women are happier and that their ex-husbands are more likely to be miserable seems a bit suspect. Both tend to suffer at a nearly equal rate after divorce in my experience.

After looking at Ms. Waite’s extensive work in detail, it is more clear to me that two conclusions can be drawn.

Conclusion 1

Very few people of either sex are extremely happy with their decision to divorce. Most often there is some degree of second-guessing that occurs and the level of doubt truly runs the gamut. Happiness is not easily attained by divorce alone. Constrained finances, increase in cost of living, and, as a truism, two really can live cheaper than one are in play. Also, sharing the kids and the associated expense is not exactly an easy task.

Conclusion 2

There is little difference, if any, related to gender. In other words, the narrative that women move on more easily is not well-substantiated by this enormous study.

I wish I had a clear answer as to why the differences in the data are often so glaring. It seems to me that some of the studies which are not reviewed by peers are questionable. Some even seem to encourage divorce for women. I have yet to find any similar studies finding that men move on more easily. It is truly puzzling. Although I am not sure that the studies indicating women happiness after marriage are what Trump would call “fake news”, there are certainly some yellow (maybe even red) flags to recognize.

In the end, it seems to me that divorce is far too personal and complex to allow people who do not know you intimately give their opinions without scrutiny. If an article/study seems to have an agenda, be cautious. If an attorney appears willing to push you in the direction of divorce, trust your instincts first. It is always easy to seek support and comfort in this difficult time, but do not forget that you are still most likely vulnerable and open to suggestion more than you are in a calm state of mind.

Encouraging or glorifying divorce is almost never the right way forward. Sometimes it is simply a last resort to protect the happiness of both you and your children. The best, most reliable social science has only one agenda…not having an agenda at all.

How Chancery Judges Decide Your Fate

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Reflecting on 16 years of practice in Mississippi Chancery Courts has led me to an understanding of what it takes to win a close case.  Chancery judges are not always an easy read, but there are certainly some common themes that play out when seeking a positive result.  Child custody and divorce are not simple matters and require a great deal of preparation in order to walk out of the courthouse with a victory.  It always amazes me that some believe there is a simple solution to a very complex problem.  Simply put, there are a lot of moving parts and angles to approach.  So, what are the common denominators?  Some may not be exactly what you would expect.

Years ago, I had a particular judge in the northern part of our state that I could not seem to get to see my point of view…ever.  It was a frustrating experience.  Although most litigation is on a razor’s edge (a close call, or it would have been settled), even the calls that seemed to be clear I would get the shorter end of the stick. 

Toward the latter point in litigating a custody fight in front of this frustrating judge, a good friend gave me some advice that I will not ever forget.  Essentially, he said, “Matt, next time you go in front of this judge, act as if you think they are the best judge on the planet…that you have incredible respect for them and their decision-making ability.  It sounds silly, but it works”.  And it did work.  Suddenly I was winning the close calls.  My frustration was working against me the whole time, unbeknownst to me.  Law is more art than science.

It is so true that in many ways litigation is a replication of general, simple life principles.  Chancery judges are very quick to spot dishonesty and a vindictive persona.  It is important to remember that having a client that is hell-bent on destroying their spouse/ex is not an easy endeavor.  I cannot stress enough the importance of attitude.  If your client is calm, collected, even sad, those things resonate with the court.  When they walk in pounding on the table and angry, the lawyer had a much more challenging task.  People often forget that the judge has heard more fussing in a month than they have in their entire life.  Make them want to listen to you by being the cooler head in the room…it works.

As a final thought, it is absolutely imperative to ensure that you bring credible witnesses with you.  I cannot count the times that an opponent brought a convicted felon to testify for them, or even someone with several misdemeanors.  People who have lost custody of their kids do not exactly make great witnesses either.  It is amazing that some attorneys do not properly vet the witnesses they call to the stand.  I would even argue that bringing the wrong person to testify has not a neutral but a negative effect because it reflects poor judgment on the client…and the attorney who called the less than magnetic witness. 

There is an old saying…”Those who can see have the world in common”.  When you get to court, never forget that the judge is more reliant on common sense and intuition than law.  Although to some it may seem unfair, they are going to find a law to justify their decision, one way or another.  Don’t be a victim of your own emotion and you will come out with a fair result every time.  After all, law is more art than science.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Domestic Attorney and single father.  He has managed over 1,300 family law matters since 2004.

Battered Woman Syndrome…All Too Common

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

Battered woman syndrome (BWS) is a psychological condition and describes a pattern of dysfunctional behavior that develops in victims of domestic violence as a result of serious, extended abuse. BWS is dangerous in part because it can lead to what some psychologists often state is a “learned helplessness” — or psychological paralysis — wherein the victim becomes so very depressed, defeated, and also so passive that she believes that she is not capable of leaving the relationship without her own destruction.  While there is no question that claims of abuse are often manufactured, many women are legitimately abused at the hands of a bigger and stronger male companion, husband or otherwise.  What a shame.  As Voltaire once said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

What is a “syndrome”?  Is the term often used incorrectly?  How does it apply to an abused wife?  Let’s take a look at Merriam Webster’s definition and try to shed some light. 

Definition of syndrome

1: a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition

2: a set of concurrent things (such as emotions or actions) that usually form an identifiable pattern

The more I have dealt with abused women, it reminds me of the similarities between BWS and Stockholm Syndrome.  The human psyche is immersing and deep.  If you have ever read about people who are kidnapped, held against their will, you may be familiar with Stockholm Syndrome.  It is essentially a psychological defense mechanism that allows an abused, subjected person to cope with their present challenge.  Although it does appear sickening to an outsider, this defense mechanism is often the best route for the subjected, unfortunately. 

Stockholm syndrome is a condition which causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity.  These alliances result from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time together, but they are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System and Law Enforcement Bulletin indicate that approximately 8% of kidnapped victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.  It is not much different from the signs shown by a battered wife.

This term was first used in the media in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. These hostages defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against the suspects. Stockholm syndrome is quite paradoxical because the sympathetic feelings that captives feel towards their captors are the opposite of the disdain which an onlooker will feel towards the captors.  Again, the similarities with BWS are extraordinary.

One key point that always stands out to me about the psychological makeup of battered women is that the men they are with are always lacking core confidence.  Instead of loving and caring about their wives, they have no other medium than abuse, control, and bringing down the one they married or have an intimate relationship with.  There is simply no workable path in marriage that allows for abuse and control.  Confident men are a breed apart.  They will not resort to anything that harms the one that they married.

My advice to a battered woman is simple.  If in fact you are being abused, remember that victims act like they are abused.  Multiple occurrences of abuse that are swept under the proverbial rug are going to appear less than credible.  Even though the mindset of a true victim is difficult to fully comprehend to an onlooker, you must be aware that perception from the outside is very powerful.  The perception a chancery judge has regarding your credibility is even more so.  If you are being abused, find the strength to confide in those who care about you.  Find the will to get away, because there are always people who care…if you have the desire to look around you.

Battery of women is commonplace.  When you find the will to get far away from an abuser, know that you are better off without them, even if you stay single for the rest of your life.  Understand that a chancery judge will question the merits of your claims, and with some degree of skepticism.  For those who have never been true victims, it is difficult to understand why you stayed.

Mom Has the Advantage with the Young Ones

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Laws in Mississippi have certainly changed since the passage of Albright v. Albright (it is on our home page), but the reality is that mom almost always has a slight advantage when it comes to obtaining primary physical custody of a young child.  We have often looked at the doctrine that was front and center in custody cases prior to the Albright case, which was referred to as the “tender years” policy.  Although it has been deviated from, based upon the preference for Albright analysis, many of the same approaches are still employed when litigating a custody case.  After seeing this play out first hand–hundreds of times, mom usually does carry a slight advantage…unless she screws it up by cheating, drug use, alcohol abuse and, well you get the point.

The “tender age doctrine” has been undergoing a re-evaluation in the past decades, and rightfully so.  Times have changed in many ways, but so much remains the same.  Two states have essentially upended the notion that mom is better with having custody of a young child, and their courts have held that the maternal presumption favoring mothers in custody cases violates state as well as United States Constitutional guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Some of the challenges to the tender years (or tender-aged) statutes have also been based in the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.  See Watts v. Watts, 77 Misc.2d 178, 350 N.Y.S.2d 285 (1973). The tender years presumption has also at times been held unconstitutional as a gender-based classification which discriminates between fathers and mothers in child custody cases solely on basis of their sex. Devine v. Devine, 398 So.2d 686 ( Ala. 1981).  However, state statutes generally control unless appealed to a federal court.  Few can afford to do so.

So, where does Mississippi stand?  Is there truth that dad doesn’t have a chance?  Not necessarily, but he usually has a taller hill to climb to obtain custody of a young child than mom does, and that’s not written law, it is likely cultural more than anything else.  The Albright analysis does afford some advantage to mom, particularly because of the continuity of care when dad is at work. 

I fully appreciate that dad often gets punished in this sense for earning and supporting his family.  If mom is also at work and their child is being equally cared for by both parents, this advantage can easily disappear.  However, due to the commonality of mom staying home, receiving some maternity leave, continuity of care usually will favor her.  Some states do require employers to mandate paternity leave, but not Mississippi.  See our other articles wherein we discuss the power and importance of being the primary caregiver, because they are particularly front and center in this conversation.  It truly is the most likely predictor of who wins custody.

In sum, dad has a relatively equal shot at obtaining custody but for the fact that they are likely not an equal caregiver…especially if mom stays home.  If the father of a child truly wants to increase the possibility of obtaining child custody, he needs to find a way to, at the very least, be an equal participant in child-rearing.  Even though it is difficult to afford for many, hiring help is usually his best shot so that mom can return to work.  That way, at least he can argue that mom who does not stay at home is not advantaged by his daily absence.  Make no mistake, I understand full-well how unfair this may seem to all of the dads out there.

If you have a child custody issue and are seeking primary custody, give us a call and we can give you unfiltered advice in obtaining the best result for your kids.  As a single dad, I appreciate your devotion to your children, but more importantly, so do they.

Paying Support = Custody Rights?…Nope

Friday, October 11th, 2019

One of the most common calls we receive is a father who is paying child support, most often through the Mississippi Department of Human Services (D.H.S.), and believes that somehow he has automatic visitation or custody or visitation rights.  He is terribly and fundamentally incorrect. As morally wrong as it may seem, paying child support does not afford the payor to have any custodial rights at all …only an obligation to pay. Make no mistake, the state is merely a collection agency, nothing more.  They cannot, by law, be involved in when and where you get to see your little ones. Seems unfair, right? We will touch on that shortly, so stay with me.

Years ago, the state of Mississippi had a program administered by D.H.S. that promoted access for a paying parent to their child.  That is no longer the case. In fact, D.H.S. is so overwhelmed with deadbeat dads (and occasionally moms) that they have suspended the access/visitation program outright.  They simply lack the funding to continue what are deemed “non-essential” administrative duties required by statute. So what is a dad to do? Unfortunately they have no option other than hiring an attorney to pursue any rights at all.  Again, this seems to be unfair, but it is a reality that has to be faced sooner or later.

As I have said many times, if every person were reasonable, I wouldn’t be a domestic attorney.  Oftentimes, mothers are reluctant to allow their child to go with dad without a court order that requires a certain return time or other specifics that delineate their rights…and they should have that concern.  That belief is well-justified. Fathers generally are reluctant to pay an attorney to garner clear rights to the when, what, and hows that are front and center in any parenting scenario. The predicament that exists is a literal catch 22…both mom and dad have genuine concern and merit to their concerns, as they should.  

So what is the best answer?  It was said to me by a former client that “the only way to prevent a misunderstanding is to have a clear understanding”.  Well said. Couple that thought with the fact that Mississippi requires a court order on anything pertaining to child custody, support, and visitation and the best recipe is clear…the court must issue an order addressing all of these issues, or mom and dad both suffer…so does the child.  Even though dad is the likely recipient of a legal bill, the court’s involvement is paramount, mandatory for the child having a steady and peaceful, even predictable life and schedule. Kids benefit from that predictability in more ways than we, as adults, often realize.  

When you call an attorney and ask for advice, there are a few key ways to simplify your path forward. First, know that most of the callers to family attorneys have little or no communication with the person they created a child with, be it husband, wife, or an ex they never married.  Obviously, that is a shame. The best way to help yourself (and your child) is to make all efforts to keep an open line of communication with you ex…and I know this is easier said than done. If you are able to communicate, drop the hate that may exist, forget the past wrongs that may have been done, and your child will be the first benefactor. After all, their best interests are sacrosanct with yours.  Forgiving and forgetting are powerful tools when your child’s happiness is at stake.  

In the end, what matters is that you thrive for the sake of you and your children.  It is easy to relive old memories of being hurt, rejected, cheated on, or betrayed. However, your child deserves the benefit of a clear understanding, a court order, to thrive and have predictability, peace, and happiness.  Don’t do it for you, do so for them.

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.

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.

Advice to Women: How to Spot a Bad Dad

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

One of the most powerful drivers of domestic litigation, mom filing suit against dad or vice-versa, is the desire by both parents to receive or avoid child support obligations.  The typical, let’s say father, will usually bend over backwards to avoid paying child-support, because it is a 21 year obligation not easily dispatched. Sometimes, and more often than not, these dads look for creative ways to thwart that obligation by seeking joint custody of their child.  Do they really want to spend close to half of the time with the little one? Doubtful, at best. Their answer? “I want joint custody”. For a seasoned lawyer, we all see through this veil of nonsense.  

It is clear that Mississippi law prefers parents to agree to custodial arrangements, in large part to take a hefty load off of the backs of our strained judicial system.  Although the consequence is not intentional, many domestic lawyers get paid large sums to fight for “joint” custody for a parent who simply wants to avoid child support obligations.  So, let’s explore the impact of one child on an average man’s balance sheet, monthly.  

Per capita income in Mississippi for a single man is about $33,000.  After mandatory deductions, that number shrinks to about approximately $26,600.  That is only a little over $2,200. per month. Now, if said average income man has a child and owes support, he will owe 14% of that $2,200 in support, or about $320 per month.  Ouch to him. This figure does not include extracurricular activities, day-care, or medical and dental costs. Kids are not, and never have been cheap. If you thought that having a dog was expensive, you were wrong.  

Why are so many men pushing the narrative of “joint” custody?  Are they really concerned about being heavily involved in their childrens’ lives?  Most often they are not, but there are the rare few great men who are not as concerned about paying child support as they are about being involved in child-rearing.  These men are uncommon, but they do exist. My experience allows me to spot the fake “great dads” rather quickly. It is always about the money for them, not concern for their children and their rearing.  

Standard visitation is almost always going to be par for the course.  Judges are not usually willing, absent unusual circumstances, to rule for joint physical custody of children, and the reason is patently clear.  Chancery court judges want finality, they do not want litigants coming back every time someone moves or changes school district. Who can blame them?  They seek an efficient system no more or less than anyone else would. Joint physical child custody is about as difficult to manage as two people sharing a car.  It doesn’t work, at least not well.  

My advice is simple.  If you are the more engaged, loving, capable parent, fight for your children.  Be there to raise them in your light. Do not be intimidated by threats of “joint custody”, it is often just a scheme to avoid child support.  Trust your God-given instincts. If he truly does care enough, joint physical custody is always a consideration. If he is looking to save a few bucks, fight at every corner for your little ones.  (Sorry guys, but this is the way it plays out 90+ percent of the time, and I am one of you). In the end, good will always defeat bad intention, but you have to muster the will to fight for what is right.


Matthew Poole is a 2015 and 2018 N.F.L.A. Mississippi top ten domestic attorney, 2019 Birdeye Top Mississippi Famliy Lawyer, and 2004 Steen Reynolds Trial Competition Finalist.  He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.