Posts Tagged ‘children’

True No-Fault Divorce States…Not Mississippi

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

It is always crucial to have a basic understanding of Mississippi custody and divorce laws before a domestic battle, or even a bare negotiation that impacts your future tremendously. Even though our state presents some unique challenges due to the fact that we are not considered to be, nor should be, a “no-fault” state, the reality is that we have laws that are protective of the sanctity of marriage and are not conducive to an easy divorce. What do I mean? You either have to agree on ALL divorce terms, or litigate by proving grounds until a final resolution is met. This is crucial because certain steps can reduce complexity and help you to save the time, money, and stress that accompany any divorce.

Mississippi differs greatly from our western neighbor, Louisiana. In that particular state, people are permitted a divorce after a sufficient time of being separated (365 days as I recall, but I am not licensed there and this should be noted), and Mississippi is not anywhere close to following that rule of law. As a matter of fact, Mississippi residents, even though not entitled to a divorce after any length of separation, are generally not any worse off than our westerly neighbors unless they have no kids or significant property holdings. Simply put, you either prove grounds for divorce or must agree to all terms……custody, child support, division of all property, insurance, alimony……you get the point.

I cannot state how many people contact me for a “no-fault” divorce without realizing that, although inexpensive, requires total and complete agreement. Frankly, that dynamic can be quite frustrating for any domestic lawyer. My advice to you is to at least make a short list of the things you can agree on prior to separation so that your case can be made more simple, and thus less expensive. At the very least, it will assist your lawyer in forming a solid game plan for successful resolution.

In our state, do not forget that there is not much leeway in negotiating the child support aspect of you case if you are not the primary custodian. If you have 1 child with the spouse, you will pay 14% of gross “adjusted” income, 20% of same for 2 children, and 22% for three, for instance. This begs the question of what the “adjusted” portion means, and that is an excellent question. Without boring you to sleep with a tremendous amount of legal jargon, it will generally consist of post-tax income but adding back to that retirement withholdings and other non-mandatory items that are not required by law. That is about as clear as I can make that point so that non-lawyers have a general idea of what to expect from a custody proceeding.

My advice is as follows: Have the conversation about your post-divorce life plan with your spouse before calling an attorney, particularly when kids are involved. Produce all financial documents to your husband or wife so that there are not accusations of untruthfulness. Consider insurance, college, and future expense thoroughly. And last, but certainly not least, never hold a grudge, it simply prolongs your own pain and expense through one of the toughest times in your life.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson Ms. family lawyer with 16 years of experience.

Great, One More Lawyer: Guardians ad Litem

Monday, July 9th, 2018

It’s an age-old joke that the more lawyers are involved, the more confusing (not to mention expensive) a situation tends to become. Whether well-founded or not, there are many situations that having lawyers involved is simply a foregone conclusion. One of the most prevalent of these examples is a case involving the well-being of a child. In many of those cases, a separate attorney will be added to the case to act as a guardian ad litem (“GAL”, literally guardian at law) to represent the best interests of the child or children involved. While of course many parents have the best interests of the child in mind during litigation over custody, such an emotional type of litigation can make it difficult for the child to remain at the forefront of concern.

A Mississippi court will appoint a GAL when there is a claim of abuse or neglect of the child by one or both parents. This could be physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect such as failing to provide the child with proper shelter and food. Other situations where the appointment of a GAL is mandatory in Mississippi include:

If DHS seeks protective services for a vulnerable adult and that person lacks capacity to waive the right to counsel;

In eminent domain and condemnation proceedings for parties who are minors or otherwise incompetent and are without a general guardian;

In a divorce proceeding based upon incurable insanity, if the defendant otherwise has no legal guardian;

If the mother dies while a paternity case is pending;

In a guardianship action where an interested party wishes to establish an estate plan, and it is determined the ward will remain incompetent during their lifetime;

Termination of parental rights;

Contested adoptions; and

If an individual convicted of felony child abuse wants visitation the child.

This is not an exhaustive list, and therefore it is evident that in almost any situation where the possibility of the child playing second fiddle to an issue in a case, Mississippi courts will appoint a GAL. This is an attempt to ensure that the child is treated fairly, and, above all, not taken advantage of or used as a pawn in litigation. Unfortunately, the nefarious use of a child’s presence in a case to get the upper hand is not evident at the outset of the case to either the lawyers, judges, or even the parties themselves.

Mississippi attorneys who serve as guardians ad litem must undergo training in juvenile justice provided or approved by the Mississippi Judicial College, and must renew that certification every year. The appointment of a GAL is an important step in litigation, and parties to suits in Mississippi should feel comforted in knowing that the attorneys serving in that role are required to refresh their memory of how to properly serve as a GAL. It can be intimidating to feel as though a party has one more person to impress or convince during litigation, on top of the judge, their lawyer, their friends and family, and their child or children. However, a GAL is involved in the case to represent the child, and their involvement should be welcomed and their input appropriately considered. Their work truly is selfless.

Child custody cases are some of the most time-consuming, expensive, and stressful cases that come through our office. It is our primary practice area. While many times the events during litigation seem petty and trite, the outcome is one that will shape the course of the relationship with the parties and the child(ren) for years. Therefore, the presence of a well-respected guardian ad litem is a large boost in the confidence that the best result will be reached for the child. While many times it is true that the mere presence of lawyers will breathe life into a conflict, suits impacting children are ones that a better result can be reached by having another attorney join the fray. If you or someone you know has a question about child custody litigation and the role that a guardian ad litem plays in litigation, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the experience and knowledge to answer almost any question you may have about this process, and the benefits that come along with the appointment of a GAL.

Gas Fumes and Perfumes: Modifications of Custody Involving Teenagers

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

While in court recently on a child custody modification, a chancellor was remarking on how difficult teenagers can be when they are smelling “both gas fumes and perfumes.” While also an attempt to break the tension in the room and to help the parties relax, the judge’s words evidenced how tough implementing a visitation schedule on a headstrong teenager with a driver’s license can be. In this particular case, the question posed to one of the parties was “what happens when the child doesn’t listen?”

This was an interesting question that different chancellors will approach in their own ways. A judge stated to me once that if a child did not want to attend a visitation with their parents, the judge would take their cell phone. Cell phones are life to many teenagers, and this judge found taking them away to be an extremely effective way to promote obedience of a court order.

What happens when a teenager really does not care about their phone? In the “gas fumes and perfumes” case, the child there was a lover of the outdoors who spent his time with 4-H and fishing, and did not really care if they had a cell phone or not. The judge in that case recognized this and posed the question of “what then?” Do we hogtie him and take him to the visitation? Throw him in jail? Hard labor? These questions become more difficult to answer when dealing with a teenager who is entering an exciting and confusing time of their lives.

Teenagers are notorious for doing the exact opposite of what they are told to do. It is simply in their nature. However, court orders are still court orders. They should be followed by whatever parties bound and should have consequences if not followed. The difficulty with teenagers is finding some way to punish them that will actually work. People of that age often do not have the funds to pay a fine, and if we threw every disobedient teenager into jail, we would have to build a million jails!

The biggest way to help facilitate teenage obedience of court orders regarding visitation seems to be communication. As a parent, the best thing to do is to talk about these visitation times with a teenager. Make them feel like it is something they want to do, rather than must do. Make them feel as though they are going to a second home and not a vacation. Teenagers want to have their concerns fall on ears that are listening. Striking a balance between parent and friend will help facilitate a teenager’s obedience with a court order, and to make sure that they won’t get in the car and drive off every time they want to act counter to that order.

Written by Kenneth B. Davis, Associate Attorney at the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole.

Mississippi Child Custody Considerations: Preference of the Child

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Perhaps one of the more daunting and trying considerations for parents involved in a child custody dispute is the preference of the child. Parents contesting child custody are often nervous that their child’s preference will not be favorable to them because of a number of different reasons manipulating that child’s decision making. Sadly, this could even include the other parent’s influence. However, the preference of the child is but one of many considerations that chancellor’s weigh in their analysis of the Albright Factors to decide the best interests of the child.

By statute, the preference of the child will not be considered by a chancellor unless the child is 12 years old or older. After the sufficient age of 12, a child in a child custody case could be allowed by the court to express their preference as to which parent they would prefer to live with. A chancellor, however, is not required to honor the wishes of a child as to whom he/she would prefer to live with, but will only make that decision based on whether the best interests of the child is served by allowing them to express a preference.

This consideration is considered dismaying by some because of a parent’s ability to manipulate the feelings of a child in regards to the other parent. For example, there unfortunately are parents that will promise their children a later curfew, a new phone, or even a new car, just to manipulate the child into wanting to live with that parent. Although offering favors to their child may sway that child to their side momentarily, ultimately, a chancellor deciding the case will see that for what it is and take that into consideration when making his final decision.

Even though there are parents who attempt to essentially “bribe” their own children to make them want to live with them, a court will not make a decision based on the child’s preference if their preference is not in their best interest. It is understandable that this factor can cause a sense of uneasiness and worry in parents when dealing with a child custody dispute. Our office handles child custody disputes every day, and can help ease those worries. If you have any worries or concerns involving your custody disputes, or just have any questions at all involving your custody related issues, please contact our office. Thank you for following this series and please continue to follow along each week as we explore the Albright Factors.

Mississippi Child Custody Considerations: Home, School, and Community Records

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

A child’s home, school and community environment will have a huge impact on that child’s development as a person, and will likely shape them for the rest of their journey through life. This is where they will form bonds of friendship, get involved in the community, and get an education that will help them meet the challenges of adulthood. One of the most common misconceptions regarding this factor is that a court will only look to whether a change in custody will result in the child being “uprooted” from their community or school. While this is certainly a potential aspect in a chancellor’s analysis of this consideration, a chancellor will ultimately focus more on each of the parent’s ability to take their children to and from school on time and the children’s absences from school while in each parent’s custody. The courts primarily focus on whether the child(ren) are in a stable environment and if awarding custody to another parent would improve or provide that stability.

Courts have regularly weighed this factor unfavorably against a parent if/when a parent relies on others to drop off and pick up their children from school. For example, the Court of Appeals in Mississippi has found in recent cases that when one parent habitually struggles getting their child to school on time, that is weighed negatively against them in favor for the other parent, even if the other parent would need to “uproot” their children in order to be awarded custody.

When considering this Albright factor, the court also focuses on the child’s attendance in school when in the custody of each parent. If the child has an abundance of absences from school while in the care of the mother, that fact would be weighed unfavorably against her in the determination of custody. Also, for instance, if while the father had custody the family moved frequently and the children were forced to change schools and communities often, a chancellor would certainly weigh that fact against the father, especially if the mother has maintained stable household.

We talk to many people who have questions about this factor and many who come into our office have concerns about how their child’s school and community record will affect their case. The home, school, and community record of the child is but one factor among many in a chancellor’s Albright analysis when determining child custody. If you, or anyone you may know, have any questions about how this factor or others may impact your case, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the insight to the application of these factors to answer any and all questions you may have. We are glad to help you in this uneasy time. Please continue to follow our website’s series on the Mississippi child custody factors.

Mississippi Custody Considerations (Albright Factors: Moral Fitness of Parents)

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Here in Mississippi, it is well settled that the best interest of the child must be the polestar consideration in all custody decisions. In deciding the best interest of the child in custody cases, it is the chancellor’s duty to consider that the relationship of parent and child is for the benefit of the child, not the parent. To determine where the child’s best interest lies, the court must weigh a slew of factors when deciding custody. Among these factors one of the most critical consideration is the moral fitness of the parents. Especially here in Mississippi, deep in the Bible belt, this factor is perhaps taken into consideration more than any other factor.

When weighing this factor, the chancellor will make a judgment on who he or she finds to be morally fit to receive custody of the child. The chancellor will question both parents’ morals to find who should be awarded custody based on the best interest of the child. For example, a court will take into consideration whether either parent had an affair or has a drinking problem.

When it comes to the moral fitness of the parents, how those morals impact the children is key. For instance, if a mother’s paramour had constant exposure to the child and was in the home for extended periods of time with the child, the court would perhaps weigh that negatively against the mother. Bad behavior on one of the parent’s part is essential to the court’s analysis, however it is whether that bad behavior is exposed to the child that will cause the court to weigh in favor of the other parent.

As with the factor of the emotional bond between the parent and the child, a guardian ad litem (GAL) will play a large role in determining which parent possesses the better moral fitness to raise the child. The GAL will use home visits to make this determination, often with a prescheduled home visit, and possibly with an unannounced visit. This helps the GAL determine whether the scheduled visit (which often goes well) was the real deal, and not just a gilded image of everyday life in that home.

Many of our clients have questions about this factor because it is such an influential consideration in the eyes of the courts of Mississippi. Although this factor is important to the courts analysis in child custody cases, it is but one factor among many that a chancellor weighs in awarding custody. If you or anyone you know has any concerns or is unsure about the moral fitness consideration, or any other considerations, please contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office is pleased to assist you and answer any questions you may have.

Mississippi Custody Factor 4: Employment of the Parent

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

In tune with our last post, Mississippi Courts rightfully use many factors in determining the custody of a minor child. The employment of the parent is a crucial factor in the Albright analysis that a chancellor will weigh in determining which parent will be awarded custody, and will also play a part in the creation of a visitation schedule between the parent and child(ren). This factor may seem as though the court looks just to which parent has the higher-paying job or career. The court’s analysis, however, dives deeper into the responsibilities of each of the parents’ employment.

Standard visitation is every other weekend, 4 weeks in the summer, and 10 days at Christmas time, with other holiday visitation scattered throughout the year. Obviously, careers such as offshore workers, nurses, military, and others that demand large blocks of time will most likely not allow this schedule to be workable. Understandably, this is a concern we often hear in our office, as many Mississippians are employed in professions such as these. The client hears “since you don’t have time to exercise your visitation, you don’t get it at all.” This is absolutely not the case, as any chancellor in Mississippi would be gravely mistaken to not consider that work schedule regarding visitation.

Many people also think that the parent with the higher-paying career is perceived to be better suited to provide for the child, however this concern is ill-placed, as support is only one facet of this factor. Many times, the court looks to the parents’ work schedule and time at work to determine whether their work life is conducive to being involved with the child’s school and social life. Often, a parent whose employment schedule and responsibilities align with the child’s school and social schedule will weigh more favorably than just a job with a higher income. For example, a parent with a job that starts at 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., who has time to drop off and pick up their child at school, may be considered more beneficial to that child than a parent with earlier hours and higher pay.

Although the nature of a parents’ employment and the responsibilities of that employment is an important factor for a chancellor to consider, it is but one factor among many that the court must weigh in awarding custody. Though not dispositive, a parents’ work hours and schedule weighs in favor of that parent when that schedule best cooperates with the needs of the child.

This factor of a child custody decision is one that clients often have the most questions about, because their employment usually relates to support issues. However, the employment of a parent is also a huge factor in custody and visitation. A lot of professions have schedules that simply do not allow standard visitation to work, and parents will not be punished for having a schedule like that. If you have any questions about your employment in relation to a child custody case or know anyone who may have questions about a child custody case, please call the law offices of Matthew S. Poole. We are pleased to assist you in this turbulent time. Feel free to keep following this series on the Albright factors.

Mississippi Custody Factor 3: Parenting Skills

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Considered by some to be the “smoking gun” in child custody cases, the determination of which parent has the better parenting skills is pivotal in a chancellor’s decision in awarding custody. Before entering our office, many clients feel anxious about the weight of this particular factor because they feel as though they may be singled out as not being able to raise and nurture their child. However, while the determination of which parent has the better parenting skills seems like the most important element in a child custody case, it is only one factor that a chancellor weighs in making their decision, and a factor that could wind up favoring both parents equally.

When weighing this factor, courts look to which parent has the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care. This can include being a stay-at-home mother, being actively involved in the child’s schooling, and acting as the primary disciplinarian. Courts may also look to see which parent contributes more to the child’s social needs, such as driving them to and from sport’s practices. If one parent is unwilling or unable to provide this type of care for the child, then the court will not weigh this factor in their favor. This can obviously result from a number of aspects about a parent’s life, most notably employment demands.

One misconception that many people read into this factor is that it will always clearly favor one parent over the other. Many times, courts find that this factor favors neither parent, because both express a desire and willingness to provide for their child. In this situation, a court would turn to other factors to decide the custody of the child. Another worry that clients seem to have about this factor is the strength of the words “ability” and “willingness.” Being deemed to not have the ability or willingness to raise child will surely have a profound effect on a parent, however all is not lost when this occurs.

Many incorrectly believe that this factor is the main decision regarding a chancellor’s judgment of who the better parent is to raise the child or children involved. It is not. Although an important factor, the determination of which (if either) parent has the best parenting skills is just one of several factors that the court weighs in a custody case. If you or any one you may know has a question, or is unsure about the law pertaining to custody, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office can answer any question that arises about these factors that you may have, and can help you through this unpleasant time. Please continue to follow this series as we explore and explain more of the Albright factors.

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.

Three Common Mistakes When Dealing with the Guardian Ad Litem Assigned to Your Mississippi Child Custody Case

Friday, November 18th, 2016

First of all, it’s important to understand the basic role of a guardian ad litem in a child custody matter (a.k.a. child custody lawsuit).  If a guardian ad litem has been appointed by a Mississippi Chancellor (often referred to as a Chancery Court Judge) to investigate facts that are relevant to your custody case and make a recommendation to the court as to what they believe is in the best interests of a child, there are three common mistakes that people can and will make that can adversely impact the result and report of the guardian ad litem.   It is important to know that guardian ad litem is a latin term for “guardian at law”.  These guardians are generally appointed by the court in order to perform a fact finding expedition and make a recommendation as to the placement of physical and legal custody of a minor child or children.  It is also crucial to note that the court does not have to follow the findings of the guardian ad litem, although deviations from the general recommendations of the guardian are rare and have to be supported by substantial evidence as presented to the court.

The most common mistakes we see in dealing with our client’s involvement with guardians ad litem are as follows; not sufficiently communicating with the guardian ad litem as to the issues that need to be investigated.  For instance, we have clients that have three or four (or sometimes half-a-dozen) issues that they wish to be investigated by the guardian ad litem, but they only communicate those to us—they expect all communication to go through their lawyer (which is not unreasonable, but impractical at best).  It is important that the client take an active role in speaking with the guardian in order to facilitate the investigation and keep costs down, and it is also important that the client be able to shine a light on all of the issues that they believe are relevant to the best interests of the minor child.  It is important to stay abreast of the guardian ad litem’s progress in their investigation and the various things (i.e. factual issues relevant to custody) that they are considering in making in a recommendation to the court.

It is also important, when possible, to communicate with the guardian ad litem in writing so that there will be a substantial, provable record as to the issues that you wish to be investigated.  It is crucial to know that the more issues and the more complex issues that exist, the guardian’s investigation will have to be more extensive and often this will require that you incur additional cost due to that additional work required in performing the investigation.  

Another very common mistake we see clients make is disparaging their spouse or ex to the guardian ad litem.  This is not well-founded, and we always advise against this ill-advised conduct.  Put simply, it does not cast the disparaging parent in a positive light.  If you have criticisms of your ex’s conduct as it relates to what is best for your child or children, then those issues need to be dealt with in a mature, rational way.

It is important though that the thrust of your argument doesn’t consist of disparaging or demeaning or name calling of your ex-spouse or your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend.  The child’s parent deserves respect regardless of the behaviors that you complain of.  But be objective, and make sure your focus is on what is best for your child or children, not winning the moral high ground.   Courts and domestic attorneys are very familiar in dealing with situations where the motive is not the protection of the child or children, but moral vindication—feeling that you “won”.  The long and short of dealing with your custody matter is essentially taking the objective approach; don’t be angry, don’t  be upset, don’t be overly emotional, just lay the bare groundwork  for the issues that you believe are important that the guardian ad litem consider in making in making their custody recommendation to Chancery Court.  Trust their expertise.  

The next common mistake that we see is failing to have a clear educational plan or path for your minor child or children.  You have to be engaged with your minor child in order to demonstrate to the guardian ad litem that you are the parent that is more involved in facilitating that child’s education and will continue to do so in the future.  It is not necessarily important that you have a college plan for a five year old, however it is important to actively monitor your child’s progress and address issues and short- comings where you are able to make a positive impact and help the child improve in their educational  performance.  It is also crucial to consider having a plan in place for children above seventh grade for their ultimate placement in college and potential course of study.  It is not say that you must have their entire future planned out, but addressing your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the classroom bit-by- bit is important, and will show the guardian ad litem demonstrably that you are the parent with the best ability to effectuate your child’s best interest and goals.  Most importantly, it shows that you care.

If you have a question about this article or would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to contact us at The Law Office of Matthew Poole (601) 573-7429 or matthewspoole@gmail.com.  We are best equipped to assess your situation and give you some practical advice on steps you can take to increase your odds on gaining custody of your child or children.