Posts Tagged ‘custody’

Importance of a Father in the Home

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Maintaining the family unit should be the number one goal of any mother and father. Even when going through a divorce, it is essential that both parents are just as involved in their child’s life as they possible can be. However, with divorce ever on the rise in the United States, an all too common consequence of parent’s separating can be an absence of the father in the home. This can mean a great deal of adversity for the children later on in life. Be it an increased risk of poverty or a higher chance of incarceration, living without a father puts a child’s life squarely at risk for all manner of difficulty.

Since 1960, the percentage of children living in two-parent homes has decreased dramatically from 88% down to 66%. This drop has been caused by many factors, but the most prevalent one is the rise in divorce. Across the nation, married couples are calling it quits and their children are stuck in the middle. Unfortunately, this increase in divorce has made some dads pack up permanently, leaving their ex-wife with the kids, and their kids without a father-figure. This can have an indescribable effect on the life of a child.

According to the Census Bureau, there are 24 million children in the United States, and one out of three of them live without their biological father in the home. Compared to children who live with both parents, these children are four times more likely to live in poverty, and two times more likely to drop out of high school. Combine these statistics with the poverty income level in the U.S. only being $12,140.00 a year, a child living in a single parent, fatherless home has to escape becoming another statistic just to overcome the odds already stacked against them.

Risks of poverty and lack of education aside, there is a darker and more horrifying concern of growing up without a father. One of the more striking statistics provided by the Census Bureau shows that 63% of youth suicides in the United States are performed by children of single-parent homes. This is an astonishing number. To put this data a different way, one of the only single identifying metrics that connects two thirds of all children from around the country that commit suicide is the fact that they are raised in a single-parent home. This alone shows the importance of why maintaining a two-parent household is integral in a child’s life.

Going through a divorce can be the toughest thing someone has to go through. Although most everyone would rather not split up their own family, it is often not that simple. When mom and dad cannot work it out, or even refuse to work it out, the child suffers. Custody battles can be the same way. When one parent refuses to let mom or dad be a part of their kid’s lives, it hurts the child most of all. If you want to be a part of their child’s life, but are struggling because of divorce, custody, or your spouse is refusing your rights as a parent, please do not hesitate to call us. The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole is well-seasoned to handle these types of situations and we would be happy to help.

Written by J. Tyler Cox, J.D., Class of 2018

Parental Alienation: Why You Should Act Fast

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Pretty regularly at our office, we unfortunately have child custody cases where one parent continually makes derogatory remarks about the other parent in front of their child. This is one of the worst things a parent can do when wanting to obtain custody, especially when the child is not old enough to legally have a preference with which parent he/she would rather live with. What many parents do not realize is that a parent has an inherent duty to foster and facilitate the relationship between their child and that child’s other parent. Disparaging the other parent can not only hurt their case in the eyes of a chancellor, but it can also adversely affect the child. From a chancellor’s perspective, belittling the other parent in an effort to negatively impact the child’s relationship with them is wholly improper and unacceptable.

When the “brainwashing” of a child by one parent gets so bad that it manipulates the child into disliking or not wanting a relationship with the other parent, there is more than likely a case of parental alienation. Parental alienation is a term used by child custody lawyers and child psychologists alike to describe what happens in situations where a parent has made conscious efforts, by negative words or actions, to upset their child’s relationship with the other parent. An example of this would be where a mother has spoken badly about a father, made derogatory remarks about him, or even lied about him to the child, all in order to alter that child’s feelings towards his dad, so that the child would not want to live with him.

Other examples of behaviors that can cause parental alienation include one parent discussing details of the parent’s relationship, scheduling the child’s activities during the other parent’s visitation time, not informing the other parent the times of those activities in order for them not to attend, denying the other parent important school and medical records, and giving the child ultimatums encouraging them to pick one parent over the other. This type of behavior has major consequences, and if not addressed as soon as possible, can permanently destroy a child’s relationship with their parent. A child’s mind is very susceptible, especially to a person that they instinctively trust – as they would a parent. Prolonged exposure to this type of influence deteriorates little by little any chance of a relationship they might have had with one of their mother or father.

In years past, parental alienation issues could only be brought up when there was a non-disparagement clause in the custody order. This prevented parental alienation from being any more than a contempt issue. Now, however, chancellors in Mississippi consider disparagement through the parenting-skills factor under Albright. With disparagement now being a consideration in Albright, it constitutes a material change sufficient for modification of custody.

Isolating a parent from their child is serious, and in the end, it does more damage to the child than it does to the other parent. To put it plainly, parental alienation is a form of child abuse. Chancellors know this, that is why any hard evidence that a mother or father is molding their child’s emotions negatively toward the other is met with extreme prejudice. Absent neglect and endangerment, nothing can kill a parent’s chances of being awarded custody more than harmfully reshaping their child’s relationship with their mom or dad. If you believe that this is happening to you, or someone you may know, please give us a call. We have the expertise to handle parental alienation cases, and any of your child custody needs.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney who specializes in family litigation. He was admitted to practice in 2004.

Hire a Lawyer… Fast

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Getting served with legal papers is not a fun experience. There is really no other way to put it. It doesn’t help that these papers are often served on the person at work to avoid confrontation, which adds to the embarrassment and confusion. However, as stressful as being involved in a lawsuit is, swift action in hiring counsel is an extremely important step in addressing it.

One of the common scenarios given in my first year of Civil Procedure was that clients would be served with papers requiring an answer (30 days in Mississippi), would lay the papers on the counter, and forget about it for 26 days. They would then see the papers while cleaning up and realize that they needed to hire a lawyer. While it may be tempting to try and ignore the fact that you are being sued, you should take fast action to protect your rights to be heard.

In custody actions, the summons is different than one requiring a written answer, and provides the person served with a time and place certain to appear and defend themselves. That hearing is called a temporary hearing, because it outlines the Court’s order on what the parties are to do until trial. This temporary order includes the parameters of visitation with the child as well as the support obligation of the parent who is not exercising primary physical custody. Depending on the space of the court docket, these temporary hearings are usually not set for very far out from the service of the complaint, so that the party bringing the suit can get some temporary relief while awaiting trial.

When you are served with papers such as these, don’t lay them on the counter and forget about them! As Jimmy Two Times would say in the 1990 film Goodfellas, you need to go “get the papers, get the papers.” Get those papers and take them to a lawyer before that temporary hearing date so that you and your attorney can talk about what will be the most effective strategy from there. The sooner you hire a lawyer when you are served with papers, the better. If you are served with custody papers, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the skills and expertise to make sure the proper strategy is in place before the temporary hearing so as to get you the best result in your case.

Written by J. Tyler Cox, J.D. Candidate of Mississippi College School of Law, 2018.

Alimony as Punishment?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Probably the most common misconception about alimony is that it is a punishment for the person who has been ordered to pay it. Some believe that if their spouse has cheated on them, or has engaged in any type of misconduct, that they are entitled to alimony simply based on fault. This is simply not true. Basing alimony wholly on whether the other party is at fault would basically make alimony an award for punitive damages, which is a totally different beast altogether. Although fault is a factor when considering alimony, the main hurdle in any alimony dispute is need.

Punitive damages are damages that exceed simple compensation and are awarded to punish a defendant. Punitive damages do not take into account the need or income of the person being awarded those damages, but rather serve as a warning or discouraging measure to make sure that other people do not engage in similar behavior. For example, punitive damages are commonly used in torts cases where a court punishes a company for a misdeed in order to stop it from doing the misdeed again and to dissuade other parties from doing the same. Punitive damages are responsible for the TV commercials and billboards that speak of large awards won for clients.

The purpose of alimony is to offer support for a spouse who is financially-dependent on the other. Even though fault is a factor that a court will look at, a court will focus primarily on the need of the spouse seeking alimony. In other words, alimony can be awarded to a spouse if that spouse is in need of support because they are not equipped to maintain the level of lifestyle that they have grown accustomed to while being married. For example, if a wife never had a job while married and now is getting a divorce, a court may award her with alimony so that she may begin to get back on her feet since the main income earner in her household is no longer present.

There are four types of alimony:  (1) Periodic Alimony, the more traditional type, with no set termination date and allocated month to month based on need;  (2) Lump Sum Alimony, awarded as a fixed sum that can be paid all at once or in installments;  (3) Rehabilitative alimony, developed to assist a spouse when reentering the workforce after their marriage; and  (4) Reimbursement Alimony, awarded to a spouse who supported the other spouse through undergraduate, graduate, or professional school. A court may award just one type of alimony or a combination of the types.

While alimony and punitive damages may seem the same, they serve two totally different purposes. Punitive damages are a punishment payment made out to the other party, and while people who are ordered to pay alimony may see it as a punishment, alimony is actually just based on the need of the other party. There are two totally different criteria when awarding both punitive damages and alimony. Courts in Mississippi will in fact look at fault when awarding alimony, but only after an intense need-based analysis by the chancellor to determine how much and what type should and will be awarded. Confusing these two are very common among people who come into our office, and we are well equipped to answer any questions that may arise when dealing with these issues. Contact our office if you or anyone you know have any questions about alimony, awarding alimony, or any other questions please do not hesitate to ask.

Mississippi Child Custody Factors: Financial Situation of the Parents

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

One of the worst-kept secrets in the world is that kids are expensive. They break stuff, get sick, and outgrow clothes faster than you can buy them. In child custody cases, the court will take into consideration the finances of the individual parents, not because affluence counts higher in favor of custody, but that the ability to provide for that child is extremely important. This is not to say that the parent with the most money wins. It means that if one parent is totally broke, then they will have an uphill battle in showing the rest of the factors weigh in their favor.

Parents in a good financial situation will have an easier time showing that they can provide for the child, and possibly to spoil them to some extent. Spoiling does not mean turning the child into Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Spoiling means being able to buy the child a new bike, a baseball glove, and send them to college. A good financial situation also means that the parent can provide the child with a great place to live and can afford utilities without having to worry.

Courts may also look at the parents’ financial situations by seeing if the parents are responsible with money. Credit card debt, crazy investments, and buying clothes and jewelry beyond your means will lead a judge to believe that you have trouble limiting your spending, which can adversely affect the child. A parent who can show that they have their finances under control will have the upper hand regarding this factor of a child custody determination.

This factor is one that often confuses and scares clients that come into our office. Often, these are the parents who acted as a homemaker during the relationship or who never completed school because of childcare. The financial situation of the parents does not mean that the parent who makes more money will automatically win. It is simply one factor that can help a chancellor make their decision. Taking care of a child takes a responsible person, and one of the easiest ways to show your responsibility is to prove that your financial situation is a good one for the child to grow up in. If you have a question about your child custody case, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. We love helping people take care of what is important to them, and would love to help you too.

Mississippi Child Custody Factors: Stability of Parent’s Home and Employment

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Stability is one of the most important things in the raising of a child. Kids have it tough, and having a stable home gives them one less thing to worry about. As such, in custody cases the court will take into consideration the parents’ abilities to provide a solid place in which to raise a child. Kids are also expensive, so the stability of employment will also be examined, as stable employment means steady money coming in to support that child.

There are several indicators of stability of a home environment that can help a court make this determination. If one parent has lived in the same place for an extended period of time and the other has moved a high number of times, it would appear that the child would have stable, predictable housing. Stability can also come from routines within the household. If one parent can show that while in their care the child goes to bed at a reasonable hour, gets three squares, and brushes their teeth twice a day, that would show to a chancellor that the home is stable.

The stability of the home can also encompass other things, such as substance abuse or violence. A parent who has had issues with drugs, becomes intoxicated often in the presence of the child, or has frequent guests who do these things will have a tough time winning this factor in a child custody case. Violence toward others, especially to the child, will also give a judge concern with giving custody to that parent.

Firmness in the parent’s employment will also be examined in child custody cases. Much like when a boss is looking at an interviewee’s resume, a judge will be concerned if one parent has been terminated from several jobs recently. On the flip side, if one parent has held down the same job or has received promotions at work, that parent will be viewed as the more able to provide for the child.

Children have an absolute need for stability. They are going through life and learning along the way, and knowing their home environment will be the way it is gives them more ease. With stability, kids are free to devote their time and energy to doing things that kids should be doing. Firmness in the home and employment is one of the most important things you can show to a court in a child custody case. That shows that you can use your time and energy to being there emotionally for the child instead of having to worry about shelter or a paycheck. If you or someone you know has a question about your child custody case, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. We are knowledgeable about these cases, and will give you an honest answer.

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 Considerations (Albright Factors): Physical and Mental Health of the Parents

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

As many of our readers know, the foremost consideration in any custody decision is the best interest and welfare of the child. As a way for chancellors to navigate the interests and emotions involved in custody battles, courts created a list of factors to ensure that the chancellor considers all the relevant facts before making a decision, known as the Albright Factors. Many assume that no other factor is more contested than the consideration of each of the parents physical and mental health. However, this factor is most often found neutral, not favoring one parent over the other.

During child custody cases, parents’ physical and mental health information is made available via testimony of those parents. For example, a mother may testify as to her paranoia and suicidal feelings, in which the chancellor would take that into consideration when weighing that against a father with no record of mental or physical health problems. In cases like that, the chancellor could decide that the mother was the less mentally fit of the parents, thus awarding custody of the child to the father.

However, often the allegation of a physical or mental deficiency is made by one parent to the other. Clients who come into our office often suspect that something is making the other spouse act the way they are, which is usually decided to be a mental issue. Unless a chancellor finds factual support that one parent is suffering from mental health issues, a court will usually find that this factor favors neither parent. When a chancellor finds this factor neutral, the court will usually turn to other factors to decide the custody of the child.

The worry of physical disabilities impacting a custody decision is also something we encounter when speaking to clients. Health problems are no stranger in Mississippi, from diabetes to PTSD to cancer. These can surely be cause for concern when giving custody of a child to a parent, so it is important for parents with these conditions to either have it relatively under control so that they can devote more time to taking care of the child.

Often, concerns about this factor are based on a fear of “what the other parent will say.” However, absent a showing of a condition that causes the chancellor great concern, the mental and physical health of each parent is a neutral factor. Courts are aware of the adversarial nature of these cases, and therefore require proof of a condition that may impact the child negatively. If you or anyone you know has a question about this factor or any other Albright Factor, or any other law pertaining to custody, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office is pleased to assist you in this turbulent time. Please continue to keep following this series as we explore and discuss each of the Albright Factors.