Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

New Custody Rules…And Similar Advice

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Child custody cases are never easy. Oftentimes they require a year or more of litigation and many, many thousands of dollars. There have been several recent developments in Mississippi law that will affect each and every child custody case in this state, some are meaningful and will make a major impact, others will not. Custody matters are never straightforward and and those who believe they are simple likely need a straight-jacket and some serious psycho-therapy. And this is the reality when child custody is front and center in your life.

Easy advice is not readily available for those who are seeking simple solutions. There are a few recent changes to both statute and common law that will impact any child custody case in our state, although they rarely make outcomes differ. The basic paradigm is still in place…the best interests of the children will always be paramount. We have a piece of advice that is entirely obvious and commonly ignored…follow the existing court order precisely, do all you can for your kids, and never, ever fail to exercise visitation when it is availed to you. Be as involved with the kids as possible, help with homework, and do not let a new romantic relationship impact your little ones in a negative manner.

Chancery court is the sole arbiter of who wins child custody. Chancellors are the ultimate guardians of all children in their respective jurisdictions. Even though finances are of concern as well in every divorce, the clients we have the most compassion for are those who will fight to have their kids with them as much as possible. As a single dad, I share their raw emotion. It makes the job all the better to represent like minds.

Some recent legal changes that impact custody cases in our state include changes to the alimony laws which now present previously unforeseen obstacles, the judicial decision that marijuana use is a ground for divorce under the existing statutes and now considered tantamount to opiate use, and that habitual cruelty is now more easy to prove and encompasses more bad conduct as grounds for divorce. Child custody law has also been affected by these changes to cases that also apply to childless divorces. I want to be clear that all legal decisions regarding child placement are highly subjective and dependant on a myriad of factors.

Based on existing law and the subtle changes to Mississippi custody and divorce law, I have a few simple observations and a small piece of advice. My previous article the pointed to the absolute importance of continuing care of your child is a must-read. I also would like to point to the importance of moral fitness in any custody matter. Although it is often said that only God can judge, try telling that to your local chancery judge.

Law has and always will change. Your custody case will also have a changing life of its own. Being a little behind on your child support and then asking for a modification of custody as a defense is a very precarious scenario for any litigant. Never forget that one must possess “clean hands” in order to ask to court to intervene in their domestic case. At the end of the day, two wrongs never equal a right. That never needs to be forgotten.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.

A Day Late and Dollar Short: The Huge Custody Hurdle

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

We spend much of our time talking about all of the factors that impact court custody decisions and there are certainly plenty. The Albright factors dominate much of the information we provide to prospective clients, as they should. They permeate every aspect of custody outcomes. If you look at the search bar on our site and place the word “custody” within it, it will become clear how permeating these factors are in custody law, and that they are the cornerstone of domestic litigation involving children. Is there one factor that rises above the terrain in terms of its power of influencing outcomes? My answer is…..yes.

The most important factor (aside from some extremely horrible parenting which rises to the level of abuse/neglect) is continuity of care. As an example, I have multiple times encountered a prospective client that may very well be a better parent than the alternative parent. We just received a call from a gentleman that appeared to deeply care for his 6 year old daughter and also to be a loving, concerned dad. He is responsible, has a great job and stable home. According to him, mom was not as good a parent as he. That may well be the truth. However, he waited, and waited, and waited……..6 YEARS to call an attorney and attempt taking custody from her. Big mistake. His window of opportunity has shrunk to the point of being nearly non-existent.

I must say bluntly that if you are truly the better parent, then you must act quickly and decisively. The most difficult argument for any attorney, which is entirely nonsensical (even somewhat comical) on its face, is to say to a judge, “Your Honor, my client will be demonstrated to be the better parent, although he/she left the children with the worse parent for half a decade”. Good luck selling that to any court in Mississippi. Keep in mind that the old saying “The law aids the vigilant” could not be more applicable than in child custody cases. There is a natural proclivity for any judge not to disrupt the usual routine unless an exceptional danger to the child exists.

Some may ask, “But what if I can prove that I am more capable as a parent, that I have a better home, school district, morals, etc.?”, and that is a fair question. It is a very good question and rightfully in play. If I may respond, my retort would be that the child needs stability also…….changing custody can and usually will be traumatic for them. Although a parent may well be “better”, they are unlikely to overcome the huge obstacle of not having been sufficiently “present”. Be careful about sitting on the sideline, being a day late and a buck short will be one tough hill to climb. Better parents frequently lose custody cases for this simple reason. It is most often a loss that could have been easily avoided.

In short, my simple advice is that if you are the better parent, demonstrate that fact by not leaving your child with the lesser parent. Actions truly speak louder than words, especially in Mississippi Chancery Courts.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi family attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition at the University of Mississippi, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will speak to members of the Mississippi Bar on behalf of The National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure. The seminar is certified for 6 hours of legal continuing education credit.

Facebook: The Great Divorce Equalizer

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Most of you who are reading this post remember simpler days, those pre-ancient times even prior to “Myspace”, and possibly from the era where cellular phones were reserved for the elite upper classes and the size of a half-loaf of bread. Gone are the days of simple social interaction. Once upon a time in the 1990’s, when I was a teenager, my peers and I had to actually call a young woman at her home if we wanted to see her outside of school. On an actual “landline”. Usually we expected to be fully screened by her mom or dad before speaking to her. It was all in due course and expected. Then in the late 1990’s came the internet. Communication with potential mates became plentiful, if not burdensome. God help marriage. Times have certainly changed.

Although most have realized some benefit of the wide-open communication brought by Facebook and Instagram in connecting with old friends, the perils are laid bare in the context of our most sacred social institution…..marriage. In 2005, I opened a practice focused on domestic litigation, and not necessarily by pure choice. Many of my closest friends had difficulties early in marriage and kids in tow as well. They saw no easy out and no way to salvage their sanity and their childrens’ well-being. Complex problems require complex solutions and plain will to fight for what is fair.

When social media became entrenched within our everyday lives, our cultural landscape became forever altered. When people are more easily accessed, spoken to, and available for picking their brains or for plain run-of-the mill conversation, we open a new paradigm…..some good, some dangerous. I have to dig deep to recall a single divorce case in the past decade that did not require subpoena to a social media provider. At this point, the legal teams at Facebook and Instagram have me on speed dial. The results of the subpoena power demonstrate that so many married people essentially live a double life. It is all too easy to hide behind a keyboard and away from the reality of normal married life.

My posts often lack advice (sadly it is not easy to come by, nor do I possess the ability to solve complex relationship issues), some are purely observation. I hope that anyone can derive at least a few helpful words from each of my posts. I truly appreciate my readers. So many of you inspire me to maintain my desire to speak about the unspeakable.

My sole tidbit of information that may well be beneficial when faced with divorce is that 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. It is all fair game in the process of legal discovery, and although some attorneys are too inept (or lazy) to do so, make sure that you recognize the possible reality…..facing hard, cold facts that impact your divorce.

Social media is a proverbial gold mine for domestic attorneys like myself, and the best of us know that a small investment in a subpoena for document production can and often does pay huge dividends for our clients. Issuing a well-placed subpoena “duces tecum” (for document production) can be a major asset for a client, especially in today’s age of hyper-social interaction. Do not assume that you are operating in a private realm if online. That assumption is not only dangerous in the context of divorce and child custody, it is just plain dumb.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Custody and Divorce Attorney. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 at the Marriott, Pearl MS on divorce procedure and practice. Multiple continuing education credits will be granted for both government and private institutions. Access further information at their website.

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).

Are Judge Ideologies Reflective of District?

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

The short answer is not just yes, but without question. Now, let’s speak to a couple of different issues that frequently come up during domestic and family related court cases. I will pick a few of the most common to best exemplify that no two chancellors are created equally. Some can rule totally ant-opposite each other on the exact same issues and facts. It can be a frustrating scenario for lawyer and client alike.

The Morality Clause

This issue comes up in virtually every case I have ever managed. The difference in results can be, well, astonishing. In some of the more left-leaning counties, chancellors are inclined to determine that there is no harm done to a child by having a non-married romantic partner stay the night or even cohabitate outright. No harm no foul, at least in their view. Try arguing that the sleep over with the new love is harmless in Rankin or Madison county and you will get laughed out of the room unless there is a VERY plausible reason. They almost do not exist.

Alimony awards

An award of alimony is more generous and easily obtained in liberal counties of Mississippi. Some of the old-school, conservative chancellors will award alimony, but the amounts tend to smaller. Be it periodic, lump-sum, reimbursement, or rehabilitative alimony, they are usually more conservative in their awards. Not surprising, right? I will say there is some variance in the awards of alimony vs. no alimony, but not as great as the variance in the bare amount of award. The variations, in my experience, can vary even as much as threefold depending on venue. The difference in even $2,000 a month makes a big difference in most people’s bottom line.

Attorneys fees

This one can be tricky, although there is always a best way to argue that you are entitled to attorneys fees. However, they are far from a guarantee. They are predominately based on ability to pay your lawyer vs. your opponent’s ability to pay theirs. This is where some significant discrepancy comes about in the courts method of interpretation. I have seen some conservative chancellors vanish a wife her lawyer fees request because, even though she made less than she spent, she recently bought a new car and took excessive vacations. This was the result even though husband made about five-fold her income. In a more liberal venue, the result would clearly have been different. A large award would be most likely the outcome.

Standard vs. Liberal Visitation

There are some chancellors, most of them older and somewhat old-fashioned (not that being so is a bad thing), who are strictly inclined to only award standard, every other weekend type visitation to the non-custodial parent (n.c.p.) Usually being the dad, but not always, the n.c.p. gets a very short end of the custody stick. Conversely, some of the younger and progressive counties elect judges who are willing to award either liberal visits for the n.c.p. or even outright joint custody.

In sum, lawyers will never be able to pull out the proverbial crystal ball and tell you precisely what to expect. Ask them what ideology your chancellor brings to the courthouse. It makes so much difference even in what may appear a simple case.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi domestic attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Trial Competition, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will be speaking to members of the Mississippi Bar in July, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure.

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.

Beware of the Third Adult

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Divorce is never easy. This could be the “Captain Obvious” statement of the year. No one ever gets married thinking “the divorce from this person will be painless.” Of course not-people don’t get married with the thought going into it that divorce is inevitable. In fact, there are several clients at the Matthew S. Poole law firm that have declared Pre-Nuptial agreement was not contemplated prior to marriage because the dissolution of the marriage was unthinkable. “No way will we ever be divorced!” Sound familiar? Of course it does. You and I either are those people or we know people who come to mind immediately. And so I will repeat myself: Divorce is never easy.

No matter the reason for the divorce, there is always a recovery period for each party. Often times an ex-husband busies himself with his work, or an ex-wife occupies her time with the kids, perhaps one moves away to be closer to their family, or takes a new job. Personal feelings change and may also stay stagnant as life moves on ever so constantly. Everything is fine…until that fateful day that the ex meets that new someone else. I’ll call them the “third adult”.

As the title of this article suggests, I am not a proponent of the third adult in terms of the impact on children. I am also not a big fan of the forth adult. They are the people who make a family lawyer’s practice thrive. They are the new love, the new “voice of reason”, at least hopefully. The third and forth adults in this equation are the new people that one meets and begin a new and, hopefully, lasting relationship with. And they always have a different agenda than yours of just a few short years ago. That is, the new love interest comes into your life and, more importantly, the lives of your children, with a new and different set of priorities. BEWARE.

Beware does not mean steer-clear forever, but proceeding with caution. Beware from this writer’s point of view does not mean that meeting someone new and falling in love and starting fresh is inherently bad. Beware means please keep in mind the best interests of your children, as the new person in your life may not have adhere to these same priorities. All of a sudden there are yours, mine, ours, his, theirs, etc…. the already disjointed family dynamic takes on a whole new twist. Invariably what may have been an uncomfortable, awkward and time consuming holiday transfer of the children can become an all-out “battle royale” to determine at whose house Santa actually comes. Summer vacations become a contest instead of a relaxing time.

Your new significant other may not appreciate your child support obligation as a legal mandate. They may want to spend that “wasted money” on a new car. Your budget may not allow for all things that everyone wants and needs, and it’s always easier to appease the voice that is closest to your ear. Don’t fall into this trap! Not only is it the beginning of the next round of Contempt filings in Court, but it is not fair to your kids. Be cognizant of your children, their needs, and your legal and moral obligations to them. Also, your ex is the parent of you children and, in most cases, is not your enemy. Your divorce notwithstanding, you have a common goal: to raise your children to be happy (as happy as they can be)…to become well adjusted adults who thrive in their own lives, despite your own shortcomings. Don’t allow the new person in your life to negatively impact your role.

Let me now take a bit of the sting off of the harsh realities presented here. So far, all that I have stated is that the new person in your life is no good, all bad, not welcomed. Please understand that I am not at all suggesting that people who are divorced should not seek to find love and happiness in their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Happiness is (or should be) the ultimate goal for all of us. In fact, my children would both readily tell you that my only wish for them in their lives is for them to be happy. (Full disclosure: I am thrilled that my daughter is happy living in Denver, Colorado, despite the fact that it makes me quite unhappy that she lives so far away and I only get to see her twice a year…the fact is that her happiness is not contingent on my happiness.) I am, therefore, urging you parents of broken families to simply consider your children, and their happiness, before you put your own wants and needs, and especially the wants and needs of your new love intetests, at the forefront.

This article is meant to warn you against placing new priorities, because of new people in your life, where they are not proper. The theme of this article is consistent with my other offerings: keep the welfare, best interests and overall protection of your children as your top priorities, no matter in what new situation you find yourself. To do otherwise is, by definition, contrary to the best interests of your children. The law always values and encourages parental involvement and the bonds that come from interpersonal ties, as it should.

I will make clear to include more subtle points of law in my next addition and I hope you will read as I expound on this subject: Child Custody Modification.

Michael Louvier: B.S. University of New Orleans (1988), J.D. Mississippi College School of Law (1994)

Custody/Divorce Mediation Pro’s and Con’s

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Mediating a domestic case can often provide significant benefits to everyone involved–with the right mediator, that is. First, let us briefly discuss what mediation is, and is not. Mediation is defined (by Black’s Law Dictionary) as “a private, informal dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party, the mediator, helps disputing parties to reach an agreement”. In essence, it is simply a facilitator of communication and compromise between those in conflict. A cooler head is so often needed in the emotional turmoil of custody and divorce law.

The sole downside to mediation is that it is not binding on the parties and not enforced as would be a judgment in court. The local sheriff will not help in effectuating a mediator’s judgment, because frankly there is no judgment at all. Mediation is still a highly effective tool, and I will lay bare the reasons that I strongly believe it more often helps than hurts.

  • Court dockets are slow, mediation can resolve dispute quickly. A good mediator knows how to lean on both parties and seek middle ground within weeks, not months and even years. Time is precious and domestic court cases are not sensitive to how much of it you will spend.
  • Mediation is private. Do you want harmful allegations and bare emotion made a part of public record? It does not take much for anyone who looks to see all of the details of a nasty court case, whereas mediation is confidential and private.
  • Mediation can (not always, but most often) save you attorney fees and protracted litigation, multiple court appearances, and the stress that accompanies them.

I would like to state unequivocally that a good mediator be neutral yet decisive and be able to exert pressure on each party to compromise. One of the best domestic mediators is going to be John Grant III, a recently retired Rankin County Chancery Court judge. He now works for the Shows Law Firm in Flowood, Mississippi and embodies all of the qualities an effective mediator requires. I am not being compensated in any way for this opinion, and want to be clear that my thoughts are a result of having practiced in front of him for well over a decade. He is thoughtful, neutral, and will push to resolve domestic disputes confidentially and in fairness to all.

Matthew Poole Speaking at National Business Institute Seminar on Divorce Practice and Procedure

I want to briefly mention that I will be speaking on divorce practice and procedural issues at the National Business Institute Continuing Education Seminar on July 18, 2019 at the Marriott Hotel, downtown Jackson, Mississippi. I am joining 5 other lecturers for the “Family Law A-Z” seminar and look forward to (hopefully) making some sense of the steps in simplifying a path to a clean, stressless divorce which can save your clients, or you, time money. I hope to make this as fun, yet informative as possible. My fellow lecturers and I will surely have some insight that is useful and practical for domestic practitioners.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney and nationally recognized expert in the area of custody and divorce law. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 2004 and is located in northeast Jackson.

Child Custody Challenges Equal Danger + Opportunity

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Happy 2019 to everyone reading this post. I am truly amazed that thousands of people read them every month, in large part thanks to Google and its reach. That is truly humbling to know and I thank you all for spending the time– it truly makes writing rewarding. Now, on to one of our very favorite topics…..legal realities.

Anyone who is familiar with our blog knows that we enjoy debunking myths. I am certain that most people that contact us in a disputed divorce that is also coupled with disagreement about child custody, be it joint or primary custody, visitation with their kids, and so forth, are looking for easy answers. Some even think that we sneaky lawyers have a form you can fill out and submit it to the court to obtain custody. Some feel we are holding back for profit. I assure you, that is far from legal reality.

H.L. Mencken (for those of you not familiar with the now deceased journalist, look him up on Wiki…he was controversial and improper at times, but often right) once noted that “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong”. Americans, especially litigants, love simple solutions and immediate gratification. We are all made that way to some extent or another, myself included.

If I had to guess, over 90 percent of people seeking child custody advice are looking for a quick, cheap solution. Dealing with the rights and protection of children and what is best for them is never that simple. Children obviously bring a new dynamic to parent lives and therein lies the rub. All hope is not lost though; you may, and likely do have opportunity to better your children through the rough sea of custody litigation.

Although there has been significant debate about the interpretation of the Chinese word for “crisis”, often interpreted as “danger and opportunity”, the concept holds basically true in the narrower context of child custody litigation. So, you are probably asking yourself “what is the best advice for the parent fighting for custody, Matthew?”

My tip is a simple one: spend your energy not looking for a simple solution, look for the best solution for you and your kids. And remember, it is a whole lot easier, cheaper, and less stressful to get professional legal advice and do it the right way the first time. Going back and trying to undo what has been done is always the tougher path.

Think of it like this: It is far easier to build a home on a piece of cleared land than to go demolish an old house, clean all the debris and then start from scratch. Trust your instincts about the legal advice you get. And if you sense a lawyer is simply trying to get paid and push you into a prolonged battle, do not walk away, run. The opportunity to get it right may only happen once.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi domestic attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Trial Competition, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar.

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.