Posts Tagged ‘divorce lawyer’

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.

Can I do this by Myself?

Monday, April 1st, 2019

At the law office of Matthew S. Poole, we field a myriad of questions from callers and emailers about the vast subject of Family Law. Some questions are well-versed, imaginative and even thought provoking. Others are laced with raw emotions and these may take us some time to determine the real nature of the call. And then there are those calls that seem to take our collective breath away. Some silly, some sublime and far too often the inquiry is, even for us simply unbelievable. One such inquiry that seems to recur about twice a month now involves a party to a newly filed Divorce proceeding who wants us to direct him to the forms that he can use to represent himself through the legal battlefield. Read that again. Takes your breath away, right? I’ll let you in an a very poorly kept secret: There are no forms that you can use to prepare you for this legal matter.

Let me paint the picture for you, as follows:

You and your wife (or husband, but I will be gender specific just to represent the male in this article) have decided that this is “it” – the marriage is over and a divorce is eminent. And so you decide together that you will agree to save money and only hire one attorney. No worries, right? After all, we have agreed to a divorce….what could go wrong? In a word: Everything.

Be advised that an attorney can only represent ONE party in any adversarial proceeding. And I can hear you whispering under your breathe that this divorce is agreed to and is not “adversarial”. Wake up and understand this: all divorce proceedings are adversarial by definition. That is not to say that everyone must be opposed to the other person involved about every issue; however, a divorce is “you versus me”. Otherwise, why are you getting a divorce?

Now I hear you whispering that you are smarter than that “pencil neck” that your wife hired….And you might be correct , but unless you are an attorney, then you are outmatched. You may be thinking “There is no way can that hired gun can understand everything about my case and my family as well as I do. No way can I be outsmarted in my world by someone not in my world”. Makes sense to me. After all, everyone wants to play fair, right? Don’t kid yourself. That lawyer, pencil neck or not, does this for a living and he is NOT on your side. He cannot be on your side, as this is specifically prohibited by the Rules of Ethics. That’s right – the Rules dictate that he must represent his client against you with zeal. (Please refer to blog article of December 5, 2018 “Are you smarter than…”).

Perhaps there is absolutely nothing that you are prepared to fight about. The marriage is over, the kids are grown and gone and there is no value to anything that you have accumulated during the course of the marriage. She can have the furniture and the new blender and you get the lawnmower and the poodle pup. This situation, while not very common, does occur. Even in this instance, an attorney should be utilized to make sure the pleadings are correctly drafted and appropriately filed with the Court and, most importantly, that the Final Judgment of Divorce is presented to the Chancellor and entered. Can you imagine if you sought to save a few dollars and ended up doing it all wrong, only to find out years removed from the filing that your Divorce was never finalized? We have dealt with this exact occurrence and the conversation with the new fiancee’ explaining why the upcoming nuptials must be postponed was more than a little uncomfortable.

More often; however, there are minor children involved, assets and liabilities that must be divided and satisfied. The subject matter is a maze: a legal minefield chock-full of traps and pitfalls. The pleadings can be confusing and the Property Settlement Agreement is usually more than 20 pages in length. There are several ways that you can be confused, or misled, or worse – lied to. Can you spot all of the angles and complexities? Probably not.

A friend of mine who was going through a divorce in a neighboring State commented to me that he couldn’t afford to hire a divorce lawyer. He had 3 children all under the age of 11, a house with a hefty mortgage, some savings and other assets as well as some debts incurred by both he and his estranged wife. He said that they were going to work it all out and he was going to represent himself. Sound familiar? I gave him this same advice that I now give to you, my reader: You can’t afford NOT to hire a lawyer.

Michael Louvier received a B.A. from University of New Orleans (1988) and a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law (1994) and is currently the lead Law Clerk to attorney Matthew S. Poole. He is married 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).

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.

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.

What Should a No-Fault Divorce Cost?

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

For anyone faced with the daunting task of ending their marriage, the realization that legal obstacles can be more than expected is essentially inevitable. Divorce presents significant emotional turmoil for everyone involved, children no less. Often, we receive calls from prospective clients rightfully wanting an idea of the cost of severing marital bonds. The reality is that divorce costs hinge on a myriad of factors, including the extent that the husband and wife can agree on particular issues (visitation, alimony, custody, dissolving the marital estate, etc.), the jurisdiction, and the level of animosity between the parties. Succinctly put, there is no set price that applies to legal fees for a “generic” divorce. No such creature exists, however good advice does exist and that often will consist of attempting to place feelings to the side and compromise for the sake of yourself, your spouse, and the children of the marriage.

According to a 2016 publication by CBS News, Mississippi is the 5th cheapest state in the nation in which to obtain a divorce. CBS reported that Mississippi residents pay on average two-hundred and twelve ($212) per hour for divorce litigation, far less than the national average of two-hundred and ninety-four ($294) per hour. Although being one of the poorest states in the nation affords some relief to the prospective divorcee’, the lack of a true “no-fault” divorce mechanism can present serious obstacles where the parties are unable to agree on custody, support, property division, and the myriad issues attached to the financial obligations and abilities of the parties. We have opined as to the need for a true “no-fault” legal mechanism largely due to the frequency of a party holding a divorce hostage without a payout. We feel that this tactic is closely tantamount to extortion and therefore unfair, raising costs for all involved.

Nolo.com found in 2017 that the mean (most common as opposed to an average of all respondents) divorce litigant pays two-hundred and fifty ($250) per hour for divorce litigation. According to Nolo Legal, “A few people reported that they paid their attorney as little as $50 per hour, and a few reported paying as much as $400 to $650 per hour. But the vast majority paid between $150 and $350 per hour, with $250 per hour being the most commonly reported fee”. Furthermore, in the same study Nolo Legal determined that the average person paid fifteen-thousand five-hundred ($15,500) for divorce when factoring in both fault divorces (litigation) and agreed divorces (in Mississippi a.k.a. “No-Fault” divorce). Talk about sticker shock. This figure is brought down by the relatively low cost of Irreconcilable Differences Divorces (“No-Fault”). The average cost is certainly higher when the parties must litigate various issues due to an inability to compromise.

Where does this leave a divorcing spouse? In short, costs for an agreed/no-fault divorce are sufficiently lower than litigating the issues that affect the parties. In my experience, the average no-fault divorce will take between three (3) and ten (10) hours of attorney time. When the parties do not have children or own real-estate or a business, it is feasible to obtain a no-fault divorce for less than seven-hundred and fifty dollars ($750). Complexity and thus time/cost is directly related to the complexity and the willingness of both to agree to compromise. Do not waste a substantial amount litigating over emotion or vindication of right versus wrong. Often it is much easier to shelve any negativity toward your spouse in the interest of saving money. Any amount spent is better on the kids’ college fund or a much-needed vacation.

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