Posts Tagged ‘custody’

Pt. One. Grandparent Visitation, the Legislative Mandate…Sometimes

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

Like just about any other legal matter governed by state statute, the legislature has carved out certain situations in which grandma and grandpa have a right to see their grandchildren. The right to do so is not without its limitations, nor should it be. The matter is governed by MS Code Annotated section 93-16-3 (2013), and reads as follows;

Section One:

Whenever a court of this state enters a decree or order awarding custody of a minor child to one (1) of the parents of the child or terminating the parental rights of one (1) of the parents of a minor child, or whenever one (1) of the parents of a minor child dies, either parent of the child’s parents may petition the court in which the decree or order was rendered or, in the case of the death of a parent, petition the chancery court in the county in which the child resides, and seek visitation rights with the child.

Section Two:

Any grandparent who is not authorized to petition for visitation rights pursuant to subsection (1) of this section may petition the chancery court and seek visitation rights with his or her grandchild, and the court may grant visitation rights to the grandparent, provided the court finds:

(a) That the grandparent of the child had established a viable relationship with the child and the parent or custodian of the child unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights with the child; and

(b) That visitation rights of the grandparent with the child would be in the best interests of the child.

Section Three:

For purposes of subsection (2) of this section, the term “viable relationship” means a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child, the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year, or the child has been cared for by the grandparents or either of them over a significant period of time during the time the parent has been in jail or on military duty that necessitates the absence of the parent from the home.

Section Four:

Any petition for visitation rights under subsection (2) of this section shall be filed in the county where an order of custody as to the child has previously been entered. If no custody order has been entered, then the grandparents’ petition shall be filed in the county where the child resides or may be found. The court shall on motion of the parent or parents direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to the parent or parents in advance and prior to any hearing, except in cases in which the court finds that no financial hardship will be imposed upon the parents. The court may also direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to the parent or parents of the child and court costs regardless of the outcome of the petition.

WOW…..talk about a mouthful of undecipherable legislative jargon. I want to cut through said jargon and simply point out a few key points that are applicable to the majority of those who are reading this article. No one cares to read legalise, sometimes not even the writer of this piece who, many moons ago, was not a lawyer. Let’s start by looking at the bones (basic structure) of the statute’s most commonly invoked provision.

The viability of the relationship is paramount to obtaining rights to see your grandkids. Other than the extreme scenarios mentioned in section one (1), which include death of a parent or the termination of their rights as a parent, viability is the cornerstone of the majority of grandparent litigation. As you can clearly see in section 2, the language is not entirely clear until we break down the fundamentals of the English language. The gist of it is that grandparents who have done the following are clearly entitled visitation rights:

1. Given 6 months of financial support to the child/children

2. Had a year of frequent visitation with some overnight visits as well

3. Cared for the child for a large amount of time because parents are not available due to military service or incarceration

The unusual thing that muddies the clarity of this section is that the word “or” only appears between prong 2 and prong 3…..which begs the question “do prongs one and two need to both be met? Or do they function separately?”. Even though less than clear, it appears that the legislature intended the latter…..they simply could have placed an “or” between all three prongs. Welcome to legislative lingual murkiness at its best. If you meet any one of the three prongs, you have demonstrated a viable relationship and your foot is in the door, so to speak. From there, you can begin the process of obtaining one of the most important familial rights available….time with the grandkids.

If you need help with a grandparent related legal issue, I have 16 years of experience dealing with some of the most complex related cases. Telephone consultation is always free of charge.

Matthew Poole is a 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar and 2003 Finalist at the University of Mississippi School of Law annual Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition. He will speak to members of the bar for the National Business Institute on July 18 at the Pearl, MS Marriott.

Ever-Relevant…The World Wide Web

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

By: Michael Louvier

Does anyone even remember when we referred to the internet as the “World Wide Web”? That is where the “www” in the site addresses that we all visit daily originated. Back then we tried to be cool and called it “The Web”… That was back in 1990 something prior to Al Gore inventing the internet (rumored, yet to be proven).

Today the internet is as commonplace as travel by automobile. Google and Google Maps have completely replaced the phone book as the easiest and most used methods of finding a business. The computer that we all carry around in our pockets (commonly referred to as a smartphone) will deliver you the phone number, web address, ratings, directions to and almost any other information that you could possibly desire about a business. The Yellow Pages have gone the way of the buggy whip. If you don’t immediately what a buggy whip is (or was), that’s my point.

Immediate and almost unlimited access to information is what the internet delivers. Prior to the “immediate information age”, lawyers actually had to research the law in books. By using the correct search tools and key words, recent and relevant case law is literally at the lawyer’s fingertips after proper training. Today lawyers and law firms save untold amounts of money on books and paper, and they save even more time and money (client’s money, thankfully) by utilizing the internet for legal research and the online filing of pleadings, motions and other case related Court documents. A lawyer may now “e-file” a pleading in a case from his home or office laptop computer. Furthermore, he can accomplish this task at any time of the day or night, regardless of whether or not the Clerk of Court is open. Alas, the internet has made the modern law office much more streamlined and efficient.

Please do not interpret the phrase “streamlined and efficient” to mean that your divorce and/or custody case will now be “easier” or even “less complicated”. Quite the contrary, the internet has made the profession of law more complicated and more competitive than ever. The fact is, everyone has access to this information. Everyone has become more streamlined and efficient. Lawyers, litigants, Judges, and even the children caught up in a custody battle have more information at the ready than ever before. The onus is; therefore, on the lawyer to be well prepared to use this wealth of information or, if the facts gathered by the other side via the internet (Social media) are harmful, he/she must be somehow savvy enough to not allow it to burn his or her client.

As Matthew Poole has previously stated in his article “Facebook: The Great Divorce Equalizer” (posted April 14, 2019): “…a decent lawyer is only a subpoena away from obtaining every social media post and response thereto since the day you walked down that sacred aisle.” More to that point, a Subpoena Duces Tecum served on the wireless provider will provide data regarding texts and calls – that is: who texted or called whom, and when, and how long was the conversation, etc.

This information can, of course, be very damaging to the divorce litigant with that “special someone” waiting in the wings as they text love notes to each other at 2:00am. This data could certainly be used to show that a parent has no idea that the teenager at issue in the custody battle is also texting and calling and snapchatting at all hours of the night and day – during school hours and instead of studying. This could be used to demonstrate a lack of willingness to actually “parent” the child or, even worse, the lack of ability. The Albright Factors, by default, as discussed on this blog site many times, just got introduced to the digital age and the 21st century.

As the love interest in the movie “The Social Network” (2010) told Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook: “it’s the internet…its written in ink”. So be aware of your digital footprint, as it is very easy to use against you in Court, or in your favor if your lawyer is inclined to do the dirty work against your ex for your benefit.

Michael Louvier was born in 1965 in Metairie, LA, graduated from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans in 1983, received a B.A. from University of New Orleans (1988) and a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law (1994) and is a regular contributor to the blog tab on the world wide website of attorney Matthew S. Poole – www.mspoole.com. If you are reading this, then you obviously have access to the internet and are on the site. Odds are, you are no longer depending on a “dial-up” modem to support this visit. Please include this site into your favorites list and click onto this site often. And may the force be with you. (Sorry, I could not resist a 1970’s reference).

Michael Louvier is married 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).

TAGS: Family Law, Subpoena, Custody, Divorce, Social media, Albright factors

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.

Messy Divorces: A Few Tips and One BIG Key

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Most people seeking divorce are surprised at the complexity and cost associated, particularly when assets and child custody issues are hotly contested. One thing I have learned in 15 years and 1,300-ish domestic cases later is that clients will either be an asset for fair resolution or they will get in their own way to the extent of holding up a fair and final resolution for them and their children. My goal here is to help you the former and avoid being the later……even if the advice isn’t exactly what you wanted to hear.

Let’s start by starting some fairly obvious things you may need to be reminded of. First, never forget that marriage is a partnership, and our state begins any divorce with the notion that what is yours is his and vice versa. It is not to far different than a business partnership for the purposes of our discussion.

Secondly, Chancery Court judges do not value a litigant who comes across as angry, vindictive, or belligerent. To put it lightly, your testimony will be tainted as long as those attitudes persist. Coming across as the nice person you hopefully are will go further than you might think. A courtroom will never be a sparring match where overt aggression is effective, although there is a time and place for heavy-handed techniques. Trust your lawyer and avoid being the bad cop.

Third, do not assume that the court is familiar with every facet of your case. Specific evidence, be it documentation, witness testimony, an object, even your own diary need to be presented in a clean, thorough and articulate manner or expect that they are unknown to the judge. Keep in mind, hundreds of cases are on their docket at any given time.

Now the biggest and best for last. This tip is so important and also the most overlooked, largely because it is so very counter intuitive on its face. This tip is rooted deeply in basic human psychology, difficult to carry out, and may even require a degree of acting on your part.

So here it is after much adieu……..NEVER, EVER let your spouse know how badly you want out. They will expect you to give up more and take less. They will smell blood in the water and become a shark. Avoid this trap and you won’t have to “buy” your way out of an unhappy marriage. This is tough to execute, but trust me, it works.

Matthew Poole General Biography, 2019

Matthew has lived in the Jackson area since 1989 and is an honors graduate of Jackson Preparatory School, Millsaps College Political Science Department as the recipient of the Second Century Scholarship, and the University of Mississippi School of Law. At Ole Miss, he was named Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition in 2003.

He began his legal career at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office in 2004 after graduating from Ole Miss Law and served in the executive division as a policy advisor to Jim Hood and assisted in formulating Department of Human Services practices and procedure as well as administrative procedures in the areas of civil and insurance related litigation.

After leaving government service, he spent 2004 and 2005 serving as associate trial counsel at Wilkins, Stephen’s and Tipton and represented Medical Assurance Corporation, G.E. Medical Protective Corporation, Merck Pharmaceuticals, and GlaxoSmithKline Corporation.

Matthew opened his domestic litigation practice in 2005 and has taken over 300 domestic cases through final trial. He has been named a Top Ten Mississippi Domestic Attorney twice since 2014. He has been honored to serve as Justice at the Mississippi College School of Law’s annual Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Moot Court Competition on several occasions.

Matthew has a nine year old son, Lucas, and is particularly focused on custody matters and modifications as well as contempt issues that are associated with them. He is passionate in advocacy for single parents and children who are the victims of abuse and neglect.

OUR CHILD IS GOING TO COLLEGE! WAIT…WHO’S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Michael Louvier, J.D.

As of last week my son Nick is a student at Mississippi State and my wife and I, and our entire family for that matter, could not be more proud of him. It is a time that we have experienced before with my daughter, Amy, in 2012, and so maybe we have some perspective on this transition. The family dynamic has changed, of course, as our last child is now “living on his own”.

The family finances have, also, changed; what with another rent payment, new utility bills and the other costs that come with a child “living on his own”. Factor in the books, extra fuel associated with travel, food, lab fees, parking fees, fraternity or sorority dues, etc. etc. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the most important cost factor: TUITION. Suffice it to say that the tuition and all of the other expenses related to attendance at a four-year university is quite high.

This type of transition can be a very stressful and expensive time for all families. For parents of children whose families are divided by divorce or other circumstances, this new chapter in your life and, more importantly, the life of your child, will be exciting, stressful, and expensive, of course. And so the “million-dollar question is: Who pays for all of this? (It’s not quite a million dollars – it just feels that way).

Whether the parents are no longer married or were never married it should be obvious that a Court Order is best source for guidance on this issue. However, absent specific language in the judgment, this remains an unanswered question. This is not a simple “child-support” matter. Many divorces are settled out of court with the parties agreeing to matters of child custody and child support being contained in a Marital Dissolution Agreement a Property Settlement Agreement. Unfortunately, many of these Agreements do not speak to this issue within the “four corners” of the document. Still others include a generic mention that “non-custodial parent will pay for college” or some equally vanilla and non-descript language.

Perhaps the Agreement was prepared when the child was very young and college was not being contemplated yet. Or maybe it was simply assumed that the parents would “share” these costs and therefore no language about college was included. Whatever the case may be, a child’s decision to go to college may be considered “a material change in circumstances justifying child support modification.” See Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So2d 1376 (Miss. 1991). Another interesting and more recent case is Harris v. Porter decided by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2016. In Harris, a modification of child support was granted after a showing that the child “clearly showed aptitude for and the potential to benefit from college according to her high-school record” and the father was financially able to help with college expenses.

If you don’t yet know who has to pay, for whatever reason, you should do everything you can to completely identify how much and then try to reduce that amount.One very helpful organization is Get2college.org. There you will find useful information and specifics about the school that you are planning for and the availability of ACT prep courses and study materials. You will also find help with completing your FASFA (Free Application for Federal Aid). You will also want to visit studentaid.ed.gov. It is worth your time and effort to visit these sites in an effort to get any and all the help that is out there for your child.

Your student has some accountability in this also. The higher the GPA, the more scholarships and grants that you may qualify for. Also, a higher ACT score will not surprisingly increase these awards for your student. Remember that the Court in Harris v. Porter used the child’s high school record to determine her aptitude for college. Can we, therefore, assume that if the child had poor grades and a low ACT score that they would not have ordered the father to pay for the costs associated with college? Hard to say, but the Court’s decision was made easier by the high marks earned by the student.

Be happy for and proud of your child for wanting to go to college in spite of the financial burden. Educate yourself about the costs associated with this next step in your child’s life. And seek the guidance and assistance with aid, grants, and scholarships available. In this instance, knowledge truly is power.

Michael Louvier is a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law (1994). He has been married for 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick 20).

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.

Corporal Punishment vs. Child Abuse: A Thin Line

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Can your child be taken away because of a simple spanking? When I was elementary school at a public institution in Rankin County, Mississippi, I had the misfortune of enduring the school principal’s penchant for enforcing rules by use of a very large paddle, equipped with golf-ball sized holes in order to increase the velocity of each collision. In the early 1990’s, it was standard fare to expect a good old-fashioned whipping from school administration for playground roughhousing or any other number of youthful misdeeds. Boy, how times have changed.

In today’s world of political correctness and fear of legal liability, it seems that those days are long gone, and will likely never return. Parents have often asked our office whether or not a Youth Court or Chancery Court has the authority to take their children from their physical custody wherein there has been significant corporal punishment. Gone are the days of schools bruising the rear-end of a miscreant child (usually boys, alas).

Desoto County, Mississippi recently dealt with an appeal revolving around the question of distinguishing between reasonable discipline versus child abuse, and the line is very thin and broadly within the discretion of the trial court in civil matters. In this particular instance, the appellate court had to consider the sufficiency of evidence utilized by the trial court in removing four children from their father’s custody. At hand was a simple query, at least at first glance.

The appellate court first, and a matter of proper judicial due course, considered the bare language of the applicable Mississippi statute, section 43-21-105(m). In pertinent part, said statute provides that an abused child is one “whose parent….has caused or allowed to be caused, upon the child… emotional abuse, mental injury, non-accidental physical injury or other maltreatment”. Wow, talk about a broad definition, allowing wide discretion for the judge. However, the statute on point also states that “physical discipline, including spanking, performed on a child by a parent, guardian or custodian in a reasonable manner shall not be deemed abuse under this section”. Thanks for the semi-clarification, right?

It seems to me that the question of whether or not corporal punish ment of a child is violative of Mississippi law comes down to good old-fashioned common sense. While the criminal statutes regarding abuse of minors are relatively easy to interpret, the civil law remains open to broad interpretation. It is my hunch that any physical punishment that is accompanied by bruising or other visible signature will likely run afoul of the statute on point, but the margin for interpretation is razor-thin. Foremost, always remember that the court will have wide leeway in drawing the line between abuse and reasonable corporal punishment. No two judges are the same and may see the same thing differently. Reasonable minds may, and will often, disagree.

If you are dealing with allegations of abuse or neglect and need guidance and effective legal counsel, we will gladly be of assistance. Always trust your better judgment and recognize that any child punishment of a child must not be done out of anger. In the words of the American author and Unitarian minister Robert Fulgham, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. Well said.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family lawyer focused on case evaluation and domestic conflict management. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in July, 2004.

Expectation vs. Reality: My Lessons in Practicing Domestic Law

Friday, July 27th, 2018

My name is Kenneth Davis, and I have been working for Matthew for close to two years total now. When I first began working in domestic law, I fell victim to much of the overly optimistic enthusiasm that so many young lawyers encounter. Coming from a very close family that has never needed intervention to solve conflicts between us, I was rather naïve to just how petty people can be in litigation over family matters. Family is the most important thing in this world, and sadly that often gets lost in the maze that is a domestic lawsuit. I say this not to downplay people’s emotions or investments in their goals for their family, but rather to be up front with people on the things I see on a day-to-day basis.

Much like professional golf, a lawyer-client relationship is much more of a team than most people think. The client does not only sign a petition and then sit back and let the lawyer do the rest. Clients are their biggest advocate, and they know more about their case than anyone else. The lawyer’s job is to trigger the client’s mind for information they can use to prove their case, and to present that proof to the judge in an effective way. Like a golfer and their caddy, a client and their attorney must be on the same page every step of the way to achieve the best result possible.

When I tell people I practice domestic law, what follows is usually a form of “that must be dramatic.” It certainly is, as family law impacts people’s everyday lives and their relationships with their children. Most of the stories I tell are the really ridiculous ones, such as fighting over the most minor things. I then realized that while many litigants mean well with their lawsuit, sometimes they are mostly fueled by spite. That is most unfortunate, because often the client’s reasonable goals take a back seat to that anger toward the other party. That can add unnecessary baggage and stress to an already volatile situation, and it can put strain on the attorney-client relationship at the expense of the result.

Domestic law can be a challenging and stressful arena in which to practice, although for the most part it is satisfying. It brings me great pride to know that these clients have trusted me with their familial relationships, which are sacrosanct. As with any area of law, proper discipline and teamwork make a world of difference in the outcome of a domestic lawsuit. The most important thing in a domestic case is to never lose sight of what you are wanting to achieve. It can be easy to get lost in the trees and lose sight of the forest. This is truly the best advice I can give to anyone I meet, whether it be a litigant, another attorney, or anyone with a goal they want to achieve.

Through the Eyes of a Child; Divorce Life Lessons

Friday, July 20th, 2018

It is all too common that we forget the smallest things in life, sometimes to our detriment. More often than not, forgetting the simple is counter-productive. Going through a divorce, it is usually the best path forward to revert to the basic that you know with certainty. Attempting to preserve your marriage requires the same thinking.

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, arguably the best basketball player, if not athlete of all time, was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he spoke true words of wisdom. When asked by a nationally renowned reporter, “What made you so successful?”, the great said simply, “I just try to do the little things right. To most people it seems like small stuff, but it often makes the difference between winning and losing”. Well said.

We’ve written so many articles about the best approach to get a fair and just result when going through a divorce. We decided it would be refreshing to write on a related topic; a topic intended to assist people in preserving their marriage. This may have lifelong implications for children and is so important to our society. And yes, we are aware of the irony of the article as written by a divorce lawyer.

It is absolutely fundamental that we must work to recognize the concept that Robert Fulgham advanced in his famous book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. It is necessary to our happiness as well as the well-being of those we care about that we remember the lessons learned as children, and some of them are so simple that they are easily forgotten; be nice to others, don’t hit people, remember to pick up after yourself, work hard, pay attention, and the list goes on as such. These are such simple concepts that in our everyday lives their importance often gets lost in the clutter. That is a true tragedy.

So many adults could bring happiness to not only themselves but their spouse, who is a reflection of themself, and also most importantly to their children by simply remembering the lessons we learned so many years ago.

My office regularly receives calls from prospective divorcees seeking information as to how to obtain a divorce. It is amazing to me that so many people will have failed to even have a discussion with their spouse about whether or not a divorce is a good idea for either spouse. It is my firm belief that this world would be such a better place if we considered others’ feelings, our childrens’ well-being, and the happiness of the one we married as a paramount concern. They are too easily forgotten and brushed aside.

If I may leave you with a simple piece of modest wisdom, ask yourself if you have fulfilled your marital vows, if you have considered your children’s future thoroughly before even contemplating severing the bonds you made in matrimony. Ask yourself through the eyes of a child. If you have truly exhausted all possibilities and are still unhappy in your marriage, you may have very well earned your way out of a bad place. If my office can help you receive justice and fairness as a last resort in the severance of your marriage, give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family attorney who is focused on the preservation of fairness and justice and the best interests of children. He was admitted to practice in 2004.

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.