Posts Tagged ‘custody attorney’

The Truth About Costly Kids

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

I absolutely love helping parents who love their kids and to fight for what is best for them….it is the most fulfilling part of a difficult job. I can easily relate to their plights simply because I am one of the crowd. I have fought through child custody cases since 2004. When I became a father with sole custody of my son in 2009, I particularly realized that children are an incredible blessing and also an expensive addition to our lives, even for those fortunate to have better than average incomes. I began to directly relate to so many of my clients, the ones who desperately wanted to raise their children as the primary custodian. Also noted is that the raw financial data regarding child-rearing is not particularly encouraging for most folks and presents a harsh fiscal reality for most.

Are you truly prepared to be a parent? With the risk of appearing heartless, I must say many of the people who contact my office are not even able to afford a pet, and quite far from affording a child. Let alone, they often struggle to even afford themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of raising a child until age 18 is $233,610. Mind you, this does not include college or related expenses. The monthly expense far exceeds $1,200. As much as my heart hurts for the single mom of 2, 3, or 4 kids, I also see a society in meltdown because of the failure to acknowledge the basic expenses of our children. We simply cannot sustain a broken moral system where the government must fill the gap caused by poor decision-making of moms and dads alike.

Why do I point these matters out to my readers? I do not simply expect my advice will be heeded by most people after all. I hope that the truth will resonate for a few of you. Please consider another path or plain old abstinence before expecting a lawyer to fix your terrible financial plight due to the children you cannot afford. It is not only unfair to you, but to the innocent lives you brought to our world.

The last time I looked at the data, Department of Human Services in our state was chasing over a quarter-million (yes, over 250,000, almost ten percent of our entire state’s population) deadbeat parents for past-due child support. We are in terrible shape in this state if things do change. The government is simply overburdened and unable to fight for every innocent child effectively.

Now we should pivot slightly and look to college expenses and things get really scary. Obviously college costs have risen dramatically as of late and continue to do so. More than 19.9 million students are projected to attend colleges this fall. Fact: In 2019, the average annual cost of college education (room and board, tuition, fees) is approximately $21,000 at public schools and $47,000 annually at their private counterparts. That is some serious lifting for any parent, even with six-figure income.

Everyone can hopefully one day enjoy the experience of parenthood, but only if able to do so. Never forget that 14 percent of your child’s other parent’s (talking to you dad) adjusted income (usually around 10 percent of take-home pay) is not sufficient to raise a single child. The laws must be changed to hold those who create children sufficiently responsible for their outcomes. The choices we make ourselves must also be strongly considered.

In summation, Mississippi chancery courts exercise broad authority in determining all custody and support matters that come before them. Chancellors have broad discretion and will exercise them to the benefit of fairness for all, particularly your kids, but never forget that the law prefers those who help themselves first.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic lawyer who specializes in domestic conflict management. He is a single father and passionate about the best interests of children. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 at the Pearl, MS. Marriott.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE…ESPECIALLY GRANDPARENTS

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

As the year 2018 comes to an end, it is appropriate and perhaps customary to reflect on the events and happenings of the past twelve months and look forward to the New Year to come. This may be especially true of the members of families who have experienced the difficulties of a divorce and custody matter where children are divided between households.

In my previous article we explored some generic ways that we can make this time of year a bit more joyful for everyone with a specific focus on our children. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so soon, and if you have read it, we hope that you appreciate the common sense suggestion (and legal benefits that accompany these issues) of “Be Nice” that it promotes. For all our future blog entries, you may automatically infer and assume that “be nice” is a given. In this short work we will attempt to expound on “be nice”, but with a more specific focus on our parents: the grandparents of our beloved children. They are often the most valuable asset to young ones.

Pursuant to Section 96-16-3 of the Mississippi Code, a grandparent may be allowed visitation when the grandparent shows a viable relationship with his or her grandchild has been established, visitation with the grandchild has been unreasonably denied, AND visitation is in the grandchild’s best interest. (Emphasis provided). The AND in that sentence is not at all suggestive or subtle: it is a mandate that all 3 elements are proven. A grandparent must show to the Court that these three factors, cumulatively, exist in their case, else any legal action taken may be fatally flawed. As always, these elements are considered on case by case basis and the terms are subject to the interpretation, and significant weight given to each, is in the discretion of each individual Chancellor. That said, consider the following:

The Mississippi laws include provisions for grandparents to seek legal relief regarding child custody and/or visitation. In fact, calls and email inquiries involving Holiday visitation for grandparents are becoming more and more frequent. Of course the specifics are as diverse as the spread of individual dinner tables; of course, but the central and prevailing question is almost always the same: How can I get Grandparent’s rights so that I can see my grandchildren during the Holidays? It’s a fair question that usually would be easily solved if the adults in the children’s lives would all heed our prior advice repeated above. But not everyone can or will simply “be nice”. Those instances may require legal action, to-wit:

WHAT IS A VIABLE RELATIONSHIP?

A viable relationship is difficult to define, but it is something more than a Birthday card and a text every now and then to say “how is school?” and “I wish you would come see us sometime”. Those gestures are nice and I encourage this type of contact. If you have this relationship with your grandchild, keep it up and good for you! If not, then maybe you should seek to incubate and nurture a relationship. (Those words are chosen intentionally so that you will approach this with “baby steps”). You can’t be fake, it can’t be forced and it cannot be for reasons other than the love of the child. A viable relationship with a child, or anyone for that matter, is none of those things.

This generation of parents is unfortunately forced to rely on neighbors and friends and, thankfully, grandparents, in the day-to-day business of child rearing. Parents work, kids participate in school and after school activities. This is all healthy and normal, and time consuming. The grandparents that participate in this juggling act/struggle are more likely to fair well in their efforts to have meaningful time with the kids. And if they must press this matter to Court then their efforts will always be a factor and should be rewarded. That is not to say that a “score-card” is being kept, or that one should be kept. Do what you can when you can. Financial support and assistance for your grandchildren is also considered, but that alone will not convince the Chancellor that a viable relationship exists.

Some are more able to participate because of their job or transportation or schedule flexibility or what have you, and some simply cannot do it. They should not be punished, right? Yet some grandparents are able but maybe not so willing to help out when the parents are in a pinch. It’s not as easy to discern who can and who can’t. It’s much easier to figure out who will and who won’t. And so grandpa, ask yourself: when asked to pick up the kids from school or from soccer practice, are you the one in the carpool line? How flexible are you to host the kids for the weekend if asked? Do you offer to keep the scout fees current?

Suffice it to say that a “viable relationship” with your grandchildren is not formed overnight – it’s formed and developed and molded over many nights, months and years. A viable relationship is developed through the sacrifice of time on the part of the grandparent who attends the ballet recital and the baseball games. Are you this grandparent? Or are you too busy to develop a viable relationship with your grandchildren? The good news is that it’s never too late to start.

HAVE I BEEN UNREASONABLY DENIED VISITATION?

A grandparent who lives across the street, across town, or even across the State has a better chance of proving this element than does the one who lives across the country. But again, there is no easy “one size fits all” answer to this query.

Most grandparents would say that ANY denial of a request for visitation with the grandkids is in and of itself unreasonable. But we must assent to factors of the day such as school duties (homework, tests, etc) clubs and activities, or maybe a friend’s birthday party or a planned trip to the water park. In other words, are the requests for visitation interfering with some other important event? If it is, then perhaps the denial is not unreasonable after all. Furthermore, if the request for visitation includes extensive travel, it may simply be unreasonable to drive hundreds of miles for a few hours spent in front of the television with grandma. Perhaps a better question might be “Have I been unreasonably denied a reasonable request for visitation”? Whatever the situation and however geography, employment duties and other logistics play their parts, reasonable requests for visitation made by grandparents who have already formed a viable relationship should not be denied.

WHAT IS IN THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS?

This is the most important question for the Chancellor to ask and attempt to answer. I could (and very well may) write dozens of articles on this subject alone. This question is the polestar consideration for each and every case, as it should be. Ironically, we will spill the least amount of ink, as it were, on this third prong of the test after declaring it to be the most important.

Absent some extraordinary issues, we could all agree that time spent with the grandparents is consistent with our overall meaning of the phrase “best interests of the children”. To that end, parents reading this article should always want the best for their children and grandparents visitation, even if they are the parents of your ex, should be part of your routine whenever possible.

May God bless you and your family during this Holiday Season!!!

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi lawyer who specializes in family law and domestic relations conflict resolution. Matthew was admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association in 2004 and was named Top 10 Family Lawyer in the State by the National Association of Family Attorneys in 2018.

Merry Christmas To Everyone…Especially Our Children

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

My name is Michael Louvier, Law Clerk to Matthew Poole, Esq. At this time of the year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the past year, look forward to the New Year to come, 2019, and to be thankful for what we have today. I thank God everyday for my family, with whom He blesses me every day of my life. I thank God for the unconditional love that my wife and two children and I have for each other. I’m thankful for my parents, who have been married for 62 years, and who set the bar very high for my three siblings and I as parents and grandparents. I thank God for my sister and two brothers, all older than me, and all wiser, as it should be. Especially during this time of the year, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I thank God for the blessing of the multitude of children that He has brought into mine and my wife’s lives. So many children in our 32 years together, 28 years married and 25 years as parents. Nephew, nieces, and hundreds of children have enriched us as a family. They have all made us laugh, cry, celebrate, rejoice and pray, and our lives are much more complete knowing each child. We love them all and say those exact words to them anytime we can. Many are “all-grown-up” adults now, off of dad’s payroll, as it were. And some of these children are having children of their own. We are so proud to be invited to the Baptisms, birthday parties… I could go on and on and on, suffice it to say that my wife and I love children, all of them. And from that love came this article, to-wit

At this time of year it is also appropriate to try to keep the wants, needs and wishes of others in mind, especially our children. Gifts under the tree and good food, desserts and cider are always a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Gift giving, mistletoe and the like aside, making the Holiday Season better for you and yours is always a complicated matter. And so, regardless of your marital situation: married, separated, divorced, re-married, single parent…it really doesn’t matter. If you want to make this Season better for your family and your children more enjoyable and less stressful, I urge you to consider the following:

Whenever you are enjoying time with your family, especially your children, you should always be mindful of your alcohol consumption. If you are an everyday drinker, slow it down. No need to show everyone how much you can drink, it’s not a contest that you want to win anyway. If you are a social drinker, then be more social than drinker. If you rarely drink alcohol and the egg-nog is exceptional, then make sure you don’t overdo it. In short: Be responsible for yourself and be nice. It’s the Holiday Season so Be Sober and Be Nice.

For the split and co-mingled families that live apart and geography and logistics become a variable in this issue – one word of advice: COMMUNICATE. Without communication with your ex (or his mom or the new husband or his 19-year-old daughter, etc., this will be a problem. The more children involved the more difficult the logistics become and; therefore, the more vital COMMUNICATION becomes. Whomever you must coordinate with to make this a less than impossible task, make all plan for exchanges and travel and meeting places early. Attempt to agree on a “half-way point” that is well lit, has a bathroom and some refreshments and maybe even good food. Schedule an agreed to best time and place and stick to it. If you haven’t yet done this part and you are reading this, then you should be searching for the contact in your phone right now. And when you get them on the line, tell them to pull up this site and read this blog. (Do this now!) Travel for this purpose is stressful, potentially dangerous according to weather and other conditions, and potentially expensive. Remember to have the car gassed up and ready to go. Minimize the stress by being the clear voice of reason in the communication. Drive carefully always. If it’s an extended drive, make the ride more comfortable with pillows and blankets and a cooler of water and maybe some snacks and sandwiches. Don’t be in too much of a hurry, as accidents will never get you there sooner. Don’t allow your emotions and the overall vitriol for the “other family” to dictate the plan. Most of all remember that it’s all about the kids, not you. Let me repeat that: this whole plan is about your children, and not about you. Be Flexible, Be the adult….Be Nice.

School is out for everyone, and that is sometimes good news for the kids and the teachers (I thank God for our educators, too!), but not good news for working parents. During your extended Holiday visitation period, your child might have a friend that has some free time. Within your limits when factoring the job restraints, the financial realities and the geographical issues, you may want to ask your child if he would care to include a friend or two in some of your plans. And don’t simply pick them up and go back to your place for some riveting television watching. Go somewhere! Do things! Go to the mall, the movie, museum, Chinese buffet, burger joint, ice-cream shoppe. You get it? Good, now do it! No matter where you live, there is always something to do in your area that is fun and exciting and sometimes even free. If all else fails, order a pizza and rent a good movie. Just don’t be a dud, Dad.

There is a growing debate about limiting access to social media during visits. There is no easy answer except to suggest that your child should feel comfortable to be online, but that she, too, should be aware of your time and your plans, etc. Just because I suggest that it’s all about them is not to be misinterpreted as it’s ALL about them. Kids used to have to drive away in a car to be miles away from you, now they can be sitting next to you on the couch, iphone in hand, and be on a completely different planet than you. By the same token, they can be hundreds of miles away from you and you can be talking to each other as if you were in the same room. Use this Holiday time as an opportunity to enhance your relationship and let social media assist you instead of letting it be a point of contention.

Our previous blog entry “Are you smarter than a 5th grader” could suggest that the higher the grade your child is in, the least likely you are to have any clue about the math and foreign language and almost all other subjects that they take. Get involved in your child’s everyday academic life before they understand how much of it that you don’t understand. Ask your student to share their required reading with you (now you have something to read, mom!) and this will immediately become a topic of conversation between the two of you.

My point in this article is clear: Be good to your children, especially in this Holiday Season. This is the time of year that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

My prayer: Thank You, Lord, for blessing us with these many children in our lives. Let all those parents and others that read this article to gain some guidance from You, humbly, through me. Amen.


Michael Louvier, B.A. (University of New Orleans), J.D. (Mississippi College School of Law) is the primary clerk to Attorney Matthew Poole. He has two decades of legal experience and is the father of three.

2019 Child Custody and Divorce Prices and Discounts

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

In 2018, we offered several different discounts for specified time periods, and the results were exceptional for both our clients and ourselves. Law enforcement, military (including veterans), first responders, and teachers deserve to be rewarded for the tough work that they do in such brave and selfless ways. Therefore, it seems logical that we made the discounts more long-term. Seems logical, right? So, we are making strides to extend discounted domestic legal services for longer periods. Until March 31, 2019, we are cutting domestic legal fees by 15% to all:

  1. Law Enforcement and support staff.
  2. Military and veterans, including their direct family (excludes cousins and extended family).
  3. First response personnel to include firefighters, paramedics, and their support teams.
  4. Teachers at public institutions (excludes private school employees).

First I would like to emphasize in the most adamant way possible that costs for divorce will be SIGNIFICANTLY lower for those that can agree to terms, particularly child custody, support, visitation and division of assets and debts, if there are in fact marital debts. For instance, the price for agreed divorce in the Hinds, Rankin, and Madison county area is as follows (plus $93 filing fee–out of area is slightly higher).

  1. No children or property: $675.
  2. Children and no property: $775.
  3. Property and no children; $725
  4. Children and property: $875.

Please note that some additional fees may apply if a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (Q.D.R.O.) or property deed is needed to finalize the marital dissolution. These costs are significantly lower after any discount is applied.

Also, it is important to note that these fees require total unequivocal 100% agreement between the spouses.

Contested (not agreed to) divorce and custody prices vary between $3,000 and $5,000 retainer at $250/hour. It is obvious the value of trying to forge some agreement between yourself and the opposing parent. Child custody and divorce cases are time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. Although it is quite clear that parents often struggle to agree, it is quite worthwhile to attempt avoiding litigation if at all possible. After all, I often repeat that “if everyone were totally reasonable, I would have no job”. Sage wisdom is hard to find when attorneys put their own profits above your well-being. It is all too common, but a better way does exist.

In short, do yourself, your kids, and your spouse (or the opposing parent) a favor by seeking compromise so that you do not spend money on an attorney who simply wants to fuel the fire and line their own pockets with your hard-earned savings. It is always possible that you have no other option than to litigate, and if so we are fully up to the task. I have tried over 400 cases in 15 years and take great pride in winning the close ones. For your own sake, just be sure you have thoroughly explored other options before taking that path toward a prolonged legal battle. Unfortunately, not all lawyers will put ethics before profit. If you need help and advice in crafting an approach to a sane and reasonable custody or divorce matter, I will gladly help you, free of charge.

Matthew Poole is an award winning top 10 family lawyer and practices in Jackson, Mississippi. He has managed domestic cases in over 90% of the court districts in Mississippi over a 15 year period.

Back to Square One: Revisiting “Maxims of Equity”

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

What in the world is a “maxim” and how does this term relate to Mississippi chancery court proceedings? To put it simply, a maxim, within the context of custody and divorce law, is a truism that cannot be avoided. Maxims represent well-established principles of law and are deeply rooted in what the English legal system regards as law “agreeable to natural reason”. In other words, maxims are the highly regarded principles upon which chancery court finds its very core roots. Maxims are well-accepted as natural law, as opposed to law created by legislative proclamation or executive fiat.

The following is not a comprehensive list of the well-established maxims of equity have been utilized in each and every chancery proceeding, rather a short and palatable version of the ones seasoned chancery lawyers most often argue. Most apply in every case to some extent or another. They are, in no particular order, as follows;

  1. Chancery courts aid those who are vigilant. Those who rest on their rights and fail to act quickly to protect them are often barred by the doctrine of “laches”, which essentially curtails certain rights if they are sought after unreasonable delay. This concept is distinguishable from statutes of limitation and no specific numeric time period applies. The standard is highly subject to interpretation of what constitutes reasonable delay. Each court can interpret this concept much differently.
  1. One must have “clean hands”, or be relatively faultless in order to seek the intervention of the court. Although perfection is not required, those who have violated court orders and acted with virtual impunity are often shown the door-quickly. The court will not aid those who violate basic principles of fairness.
  1. The opportunity to be heard is not unique to divorce and custody proceedings, however, those fundamental rights elaborated by the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are given significant preference in terms of being chancery due process of law. Opportunity to be heard is soundly fundamental.
  1. Substance takes precedence over form. Although to a certain extent this shift in procedural dynamics has also been seen in damages/non-equity courts, the transition away from fact pleading and toward notice pleading is even more visible in courts of equity (chancery). Intent is more valuable than form of pleadings.
  1. All wrongs have a remedy, even if no statute prohibits specific conduct. Generally, and going back to 8th grade civics class, the legislature makes laws that are then interpreted by the judiciary. In equity courts, strict adherence to legislative proclamation takes a back seat to redressing all wrongs. A particularly pointed example of this function is when a party has failed to specifically make a claim that is within the general subject matter of the litigation but the opposing party is well-aware of the potential for liability. Often after a pleading is filed but prior to trial, facts and circumstances change. The court is not often inclined to hold you to a rigorous standard when this simple oversight occurs.

In summation, Mississippi chancery courts exercise broad authority in determining all matters that come before them. Chancellors have broad discretion and will exercise them to the benefit of fairness. Strict rules of pleading are not par for the chancery course. Although most litigants are willing to deal with the stress of domestic law, often a simple path remains elusive to those who are charged with excessive emotion. If you have a chancery court matter and need some fair advice from a seasoned litigator, feel free to give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic lawyer who specializes in domestic conflict management. He is a single father and extremely passionate about the best interests of children.

A Path to Simplify Custody/Divorce Disputes – 5 Tips

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

The vast majority of parents simply cannot afford to fight a custody battle all the way through trial. More than one-half of custody battles cost each litigant in excess of one-hundred hours of attorney time, and when adding expenses such as investigative fees and court costs, it is rare that a custody battle will not lead to fees similar to that of a major surgery. As I say, there are no simple solutions to complex problems. However it is quite clear that having a clear basis for discussion with your child/children’s other parent can assist in formulating a workable path forward.

When a prospective client calls my office, the first thing we often hear is that no conversation regarding custody, visitation, support, insurance, etc. has occurred regarding the children. This presents what I would call a “non-starter”. If the caller has vast financial resources, perhaps it may make sense to shirk what seems to be the obvious starting point of talking about a resolution with little conflict; conversation.

More often than not, parents can prevent a whole lot of cost and lost sleep by having a conversation with the other parent that maintains a linear path to resolution. Funds are better spent on college or other educational opportunities that children often lack. How can this be accomplished? Here is a simple blueprint that will hopefully advance your cause and save you money and stress that accompanies child custody litigation. Hopefully my clients have done everything under the sun to avoid costly litigation, however some legal “scholars” may have convinced them the fight and not be their own best diplomat.

The blueprint to successful low-cost resolution is as follows:

Offer visitation that is respectful of the other parent’s work schedule. Often, the hang-up in custody/visitation matters is that one parent had an irregular and unpredictable work schedule. There are many ways to accommodate these issues and a little bit of creativity often goes a long way.

Unless your ex is violent or a danger to your child, consider agreeing to joint legal custody. It is only a token victory for the opposition and will help to avoid future conflict. Legal custody rarely has significant impact and is a valuable tool in negotiation. It feels like a moral victory to those who tout their parenting abilities and want involvement with their little ones.

Consider initially seeking alimony only if your marriage has been over 8 years and there is significant disparity between your income and that of your spouse. Also, keep in mind that earning capacity is considered as much as actual earning history. If you are highly educated and do not have stay at home kids, the odds of receiving alimony are slender anyway.

Don’t worry about keeping the house, an equity payout is just as valuable. If you are unable to afford the mortgage payment, you are likely fighting a losing battle anyway.

Don’t seek attorney fees unless there is a true need. The old saying “don’t put good money before bad money” applies here. You will often spend more battling for fees than it is worth. Also, it is rare to see awards of more than 3-4 thousand dollars unless the payer makes more than six figures annually.

In short, people waste an awful lot of money to “win” a divorce or custody case because they are determined to be right. I respectfully suggest that more often than not, the price of moral vindication is too high to make sense. If a legal decision saves dollars, it also makes cents (get it?….my attempt at humor usually is not that funny). If you need help navigating a divorce or custody matter I will gladly put you on the best path to peaceful, inexpensive resolution.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, MS domestic attorney who specializes in family law conflict resolution. He was selected Top 10 Family Lawyer in the state in 2018 by the National Association of Family Attorneys. He is a 2001 Millsaps Second Century Merit Scholar and Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition. He was admitted to the Bar in 2004.

Free Custody Lawyers to be Legally Mandated Soon? Time Will Tell

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Interestingly, government has been increasingly involved in not only health care, but in matters normally centered in private markets such as law and legal rights. After the nationalization of healthcare, is it possible that the federal government will step into the legal realm and pay for an attorney when fundamental rights (like the right to be a parent) are involved? What evidence is there that we are heading in that direction? I would suggest that we are already taking baby steps toward a higher level of government fiscal involvement in domestic law. Here is a synopsis of my thoughts on point.

Law 101 makes clear that indigent criminal defendants have the right to free counsel if they are faced with penalty of a minimum of one year of incarceration. Indigency is defined by local rules but is largely derived from the precept of ability to pay an attorney, even if income is substantial. In what I would call a “quasi-criminal” area or domestic law, the government of the State of Mississippi provides a no-cost lawyer for those charged with abuse and/or neglect of a minor in their care during youth court proceedings. Interestingly, this dynamic is not entirely askew from a criminal scenario wherein the government both prosecutes and defends an indigent criminal defendant.

This recent development of providing a parent advocate to an indigent charged with abuse/neglect in youth court seems to signify a shift toward government-provided representation in matters that involve what would be deemed fundamental rights, such as the right to be a parent. Other fundamental rights would include those contained in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution (also known as the bill of rights), as well as rights which flow from the due process provisions included in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The youth court parent advocacy program and the provision for free representation in these matters begs another question altogether; why do we not provide a free attorney for a person who is alleged to have abused/neglected in a chancery court proceeding? Why the distinction just because of the forum? I must admit, there is no logical answer that I can fathom.

Shifting gears somewhat, I have also asked myself and my colleagues why we do not provide an indigent contempt defendant (usually someone far behind on support or alimony, or both) with free counsel. These defendants are nearly always thrown into jail until the entire delinquency is erased. Is this scenario not tantamount to the provisions in the criminal context allowing for the appointment of a no-cost public defender? It seems to me that this presents a distinction without any real difference. The lines are certainly blurry at best.

Without being too lucid about my underlying thoughts, it is very clear that we have set up some arbitrary, even capricious standards as to who gets a free attorney when, why, and how. We have taken some steps away from requiring litigants to follow the “American Rule” (yes it really is called that) wherein people must pay for their own attorneys, as opposed to the “English Rule” wherein the loser pays all legal costs. It may not happen during my career, but I expect that in the near future, the government will provide no-cost lawyers in matters that involve fundamental rights and even those such as contempt where incarceration is a real possibility.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family lawyer with 15 years of litigation experience. He has managed over 1,200 domestic matters since 2004.

Tips Hiring a Family Lawyer; a Psychological Approach

Friday, August 31st, 2018

Let me first begin by saying that I have had tremendous pleasure being a long-time member of the Mississippi Bar. Even though there are always a few bad apples, by and large our Mississippi legal community is exceptional in so many ways. Many passionate and hard-working members of our state bar are truly a blessing to Mississippi and our great citizens. Also true is that not all domestic attorneys are created equal. And I have been against the most seasoned, skilled ones as well as newbie recent graduates that we middle aged, slightly greying practitioners refer to as the “baby lawyers”.

Although not all of the baby lawyers were terribly bad, few are even close to average when considering the full gamut of family law practitioners. I would like to outline a few non-traditional and overlooked thoughts about my unique perspective after taking several hundred divorces and custody cases to trial.

I recently read an exceptional article in Forbes magazine by Mark Cohen, the CEO of Legal Mosaic, a legal consulting firm, that addressed on an interesting question which brought me to the inspiration to write this piece. I will echo the basic spirit of that article with a slight twist. So, here goes nothing, as we used to say as kids.

  1. People skills, which Mr. Cohen refers to as “emotional quotient”, are vital to the success of attorneys. A good lawyer recognizes pretty quickly that our job is simply to persuade judge and jury. Our task is far from mathematical. It is highly theatrical. And the most applicable science to lawyering is more language arts/social science than the chemistry, physics, and biology I so dreaded in high-school at Jackson Prep. Formulas toward achieving legal goals are few and far between.
  1. Expertise is crucial for arbiters of dispute. Whether it requires an appreciable command of the facts or grasp of their relevance when filtered through mountains of precedent, the best lawyers have robust recognition of the minutiae that can make or break their case. My recent article called “Child Custody, the Devil is Always in the Detail” focuses on that dynamic in a more expansive and illustrative way.
  1. The best lawyers are able to present to court an argument that is; a. Concise, b. Linear, and, c. Cohesive. So what does this perfect legal argument look like? Funny that you asked. A strong legal argument avoids barely relevant information and has, what I would call, fluidity. It does not dart here or there and everywhere. It cuts through the fat and to the meat of legal substance. It is easily understood, even powerfully self-evident.
  1. Being observant and the skill in reading another person, whether your own client or the opposition, is absolutely critical. Many, many cases are won and lost because of simple oversight. I’ve always told my associates and law clerks to keep their head on a swivel; miss nothing. The value of observation is highly underrated. Paying close attention is as important to good lawyering as it is to a kindergarten student.
  1. Intelligence is important, though not valuable by way of comparison the the first 4 factors we discussed above. Surely, having high intelligence does help at the margins, but the variation in attorney intelligence is relatively small, even less than one standard deviation from the mean on a traditional bell-curve. That translates that over ninety percent of attorneys are within 10-12 i.q. points– not a large margin. Some of the worst lawyers I have faced did not lack intelligence, the effect of smarts is fairly minimal.

In sum, properly vetting an attorney is far more art than hard science. Child custody and divorce cases demand a well-rounded arbiter of your legal dispute. Look for an attorney who is easy to connect with, who understands the power of artful persuasion, and who cares about your case. Trust your instincts, they are God-given, and far too often ignored.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney and 2001 Second Century Merit Scholar focused on child custody dispute resolution. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his eight-year old son, Lucas.

Mom’s Advantage: Child Custody Myths Debunked

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Before I began my legal career in 2004 at Wilkins, Stephens, and Tipton, a large medical malpractice and pharmaceutical defense firm right here in Jackson, Mississippi, I was spared much of the knowledge and agony that regularly face domestic lawyers. Although the task of family attorneys can be very rewarding, it also presents the emotional rollercoaster that so many of us, lawyers included, seek to avoid on a daily basis. Practicing domestic law presents some certainties and a whole lot of grey area. A client’s ability to accept the human element and subjectivity that come along with family conflict are immeasurable to not only their own well-being, but that of their children.

There still exists a strong perception that mom has a significant advantage in a dispute with dad over the custody of children, particularly in the Southeast U.S.. We have time and again written on the Albright vs. Albright factors and their seminal importance in child custody litigation. They are extensively detailed in our prior blog posts. We began a series in January, 2018 that adequately outlines each of the factors that a court considers in child custody cases. The articles are written on an early college level so that readers are able to focus on substance over form and legalese.

I highly recommend to any litigant that they gain as much knowledge as possible to advance their cause. Knowledge IS power. Simply put, the Albright case outlines the criteria that a Chancery Court must consider in their deliberation as to the best interests of a minor child’s physical custody. Simple answers to child-custody cases do not exist, period. Years before I began practicing domestic law, Mississippi Chancery Courts were able to confer a modest legal advantage unto mom in child custody proceedings. Those times are essentially forgotten history.

The general rule of thumb prior to the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling in Albright was that a child was better served during their “tender years” by mom having physical custody. That is no longer the case. If I were advising a mother in a custody dispute, which I have hundreds of times, I would offer one simple tip: breastfeed as long as possible. Although breast-feeding alone is not an Albright factor, continuity of care is a factor, and Mississippi chancery court judges will always give great pause before even considering removing a child from the biological nurturing mom can provide. Score one for mom.

Do not believe the hype: Outside of the lone fact previously discussed, mom does not have any measurable advantage over dad in a custody proceeding. Partly due to the equal protection clause, a portion of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the changing dynamics in family structures, the law no longer favors a mother over dad in custody suits. It is crucial to any child-custody litigant to have recognition of the power vested in chancery judges. They not only interpret law, they find fact as in the role that a jury would in damages cases.

It is amazing that so many people with no legal training will continue to speak as if they are seasoned attorneys. They are not able to offer any appreciable wisdom to a custody litigant. It’s one more thing better left for the true experts such as myself. Ignore your friends attempts to be constitutional scholars, no matter how well-intended.

If you are going through a custody or visitation case, you already are aware of the stress and complexity they usually present. I am not only a single father, I have seen those battles from the front line likely as much as any single litigator around. I deeply understand the challenges that child custody cases present. We look forward to assisting you in your time of great need.

Matthew Poole is a seasoned Jackson, Mississippi domestic lawyer who has evaluated in excess of 6,000 domestic legal proceedings. His sole area of practice is family law.

If It Isn’t Paradoxical, It’s Not True: Custody Myths Debunked

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Let me start by stating what is too often overlooked: there are not extremely obvious answers or simple solutions in child custody battles. In my experience having taken several hundred custody and visitation disputes to trial, I have learned a few things that could potentially help a litigant in these stressful cases.

My intention is simple today: to bring basic common sense into the murky water of domestic custody disputes. The myth is this: the worse I make the other parent/ex/spouse appear, the better I appear to the court. Not so fast, as we shall see.

Once upon a time I had a client who was probably, but not certainly, the better parent when compared to her husband, but she made a relatively simple custody victory elusive by getting in her own way….it often happens. When testifying about the parenting skills of her husband (who sought full physical and legal custody of a 6 year old little boy), she would instantly and consistently revert to name-calling and bashing the man she married years ago. Most of her testimony focused on his numerous affairs, not his skill in parenting. He was far more collected and even-tempered than she. He did in fact have several admitted extramarital affairs, and she clearly was not past any one of them. Her wounds were simply too fresh to focus on her child. To him, her insults were like water off of a duck’s back….and therein lies the rub.

Even though we did eventually secure a favorable result, our understandably angry client would likely have spent a fraction of her final invoice if she had bitten her tongue, if even every so often. She was clearly so upset with her husband that she lost all sight of the one thing the court cared about: what was best for her little boy. A case that could have been resolved in a couple of months instead required a couple of dozen hearings and far more too much wasted time.

Even though it is quite tempting to use a Chancery Court proceeding to tell the whole story about the downfall of a marriage/relationship, some things are much better left unsaid. Please realize that the court already knows you don’t have warm, fuzzy feelings about your ex/spouse, or you wouldn’t be there in the first place. It is already well-understood. Slinging mud at your ex often simply irritates the Chancellor hearing your case. Often the best thing to say in court is nothing at all, especially if it causes distraction.

The paradox lies in a simple misconception; that having more negative to say about your child’s other parent will score points, therefore you win. Not so fast; goodwill and maturity go a long way–Mississippi Chancellors appreciate calm reasoning and the desire to get along, particularly for the childrens’ benefit, if nothing less. Don’t ever think you are worse-off than the next custody litigant. Cooler heads most often, and likely should, prevail. Often the litigant who is emotionally-charged teters on the brink of appearing to alienate a child’s innocent affection of both mom and dad.

The attitude a child custody litigant brings with them to trial is overtly paramount to the success of their claim and the efficiency in obtaining a positive outcome. It is very easy to lose sight of what matters most to the court: the best interests of children. Emotionally-charged litigants often forget that their testimony will not only be judged on its believability, but on its responsibility and focus.

My best advice to anyone going through a custody fight (whether or not in a divorce or a custody/modification proceeding) is to remain calm and stay focused on your kids. Forget about the indiscretions, the lying, the cheating, or whatever else your ex did to bring you to disappointment UNLESS it has a direct bearing on your children. It’s usually water under the bridge. Don’t forget that Chancery Court judges are human too, and they hear bickering on a daily basis. It gets tiresome at the least. The myth is that mudslinging is effective; the truth is that it is not very productive.

If you are seeking an attorney who has a clear view of the big picture in a custody dispute, I will gladly lend my advice. Shaping your testimony and being in the right frame of mind are fundamental to winning child custody disputes. If you are prepared to consider viewing this type of litigation from a fresh, objective, and realistic perspective, give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family and Domestic Attorney with 14 years of focused experience in child custody litigation and divorce.