Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

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.

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.

Military Retirement: Who Gets It in A Divorce?

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Our nation’s troops endure conditions that most of us can only imagine, although sadly they are not immune to the challenges that marriage present. The stress of a career in our nation’s military can have a huge impact on the ability of relationships to last and thrive. When a service member is heading for divorce, a huge question in that process is the distribution of military retirement. This is a valid concern, as the non-military spouse may not be working so as to provide childcare or for any other number of reasons.

When retiring with at least 20 years of active service, a service member receives a retirement pension for the rest of their lives. That means if a person becomes an active military service member right out of high school, they will qualify for that pension around age 40, which is not an uncommon age for someone going through a divorce. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, passed in 1982, states that military pensions are to be treated as marital property when the time of marriage and service overlap. Under the USFSPA, the marriage must have lasted 10 years during which the military spouse performed 10 years of creditable service to be eligible for that retirement pension. This does not mean that the non-military spouse automatically receives half of the pension, rather it gives courts the authority to divide that pension in accordance with that court’s state property division laws. In Mississippi divorce cases, it has long been held that chancery courts have the authority to order a fair division of property acquired through the joint efforts of the parties. As aggravating as this may be for both litigants and advocates alike, chancellors in Mississippi are trained to make these decisions that are fair and equitable to both parties.

As with any divorce case, every military divorce case will be different in its own way, and there is no way to accurately guarantee a specific result. Even the courts say there is no formula! However, a military marriage is a two-way street of effort and sacrifice, and courts acknowledge that non-military spouses are as important to those marriage as our service members are to the military. Unfortunately, the stress of marriage and military life infiltrates military unions as easily as civilian ones. The most important part is finding an advocate that understands the plight at hand, and knows that courts will take steps to protect the service member’s interest in their hard-earned pension while attempting to ensure that the non-military spouse is adequately taken care of. If you or someone you know has a question about the role of a military pension in a divorce, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office holds the military in very high regard, and we will work to give you honest answers to any question you may have.

To Move or Not to Move; The Million-Dollar Question

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Our office frequently receives questions from both clients and curious would-be custody litigants as to whether moving from Mississippi will adversely impact their custody case and the corresponding rights they have to custody of their children. As expected, there is no simple answer to complex problems that life often presents parents and child custodians. However, a brief review of the applicable law does shed much-needed light into the darkness that accompanies ignorance of Mississippi custody law.

One can refer to the phenomenon as “home court advantage” or “home state preference”, but at the end of the day, the label is not what defines impact on parents’ and childrens’ lives. When a parent moves outside of Mississippi, the million-dollar question is always whether that move will trigger a potential modification of custody of the child/children. Our analysis and estimation of legal ramifications of moving must begin with the few things we can know with certainty. I will begin by stating with zero equivocation that I have recently seen a dramatic increase in litigation wherein the custodial parent moves far away from Mississippi.

The well-settled standard for modification of physical custody of a minor child (or multiple children) is relatively straightforward on its face: when custody has been awarded to one parent (by a court of competent jurisdiction) modification will be allowed ONLY upon a showing of:

1. A material change of circumstance—to be distinguished from a mere change which is not evocative of the well being of the children involved.

2. The material change in circumstance must demonstratively adversely affect the welfare of the child/children.

3. That a change in custody must be in the best interests of the child/children. {Polk v. Polk, 589 So.2d 123 (Miss. 1991), Pace v. Owens, 511 So. 2d 489 (Miss 1987)}. In Pace, the Supreme Court mandated that Chancellors make specific findings of fact in support of any decision to modify physical custody of children. All three prongs above must be addressed with specificity in the official court record.

It is notable that the standard for modification of custodial rights is applied in a different manner wherein the parents have joint physical custody and one parent makes a unilateral decision to leave Mississippi’s jurisdiction. The burden of the remaining parent is thereby reduced and there is no longer a requirement that proof demonstrate an adverse affect on the children, thereby prong #2 above would be null and void under these circumstances. McKree v. McKree, 486 So. 2d (Miss Ct. App. 1998).

So the answer to our query is well settled? Not so fast. It appears to myself and my clerk, the Honorable Kenneth Davis, Esq., that Chancellors across our great state have significant leeway and remarkable discretion in making determinations as to whether the “trigger” of modification of custody has been met, thus allowing a parent remaining in our state to initiate a well-founded claim for custody modification. Can the move of a custodial parent meet the threshold burden bestowed upon a non-custodial parent to achieve modification child custody? The best answer is probably, but not certainly. Most important is to recall that the POLESTAR (most important) consideration for any Chancellor is what is best for a child {Albight v. Albright, 437 So. 2d 1003. (Miss. 1983)}. See also Miss Code Ann. §93-5-24 (1972, as amended). The totality of circumstances will dictate the outcome in the vast majority of domestic litigation. It is reasonable and understandable that litigants want clarity and desire certainty. Finality is incredibly valuable. However, would-be litigants that are able to appreciate the big picture and viewpoint of Chancellors (who are the “super-guardian” of all children in their respective jurisdictions) and the subjective elements are most often successful in navigating treacherous child-custody matters.

I have 14 years of experience in domestic litigation and can say without shame that clear answers are often elusive. There is a best path forward in any family issue that you are facing, and my staff and I are dedicated to fight to vindicate your custodial rights. While there may be no simple answer, the path forward is always based in love for your children and a deep desire to impact their well-being in a meaningful and permanent way. It can be done. Where there is a will, THERE IS A WAY.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic relations attorney with 14 years of determined focus in family law and domestic litigation with an emphasis on case evaluation and analysis.