Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

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.

Best Quick Tips in a Contested Divorce

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

If you are going through a fault-based divorce, you already realize that it can be a cumbersome and frustrating process. In 14 years of practice, it never has ceased to amaze me that potential divorcees so often greatly underestimate the burden, stress level, and emotional turmoil that divorce causes, particularly when child custody is a hotly contested item. Gone are the days of simplicity in domestic separation. In our modern world, husbands are by far more likely to seek custody of children and raise fault grounds against their wives. Also, it is fundamental to understand the importance of shifting family dynamics. Now it is not uncommon to have a stay-at-home husband and a professional wife who has supplanted the traditional husband’s role. I have compiled a short list of simple advice that can save you time, legal fees, and stress that accompanies each and every contested divorce (particularly those that impact the innocent lives involved–your children).

Make sure you keep up with your witness’s phone numbers and addresses. Also, if you are aware of any social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.) or website information pertaining to your spouse, obtain as much information as possible. If you expect your lawyer to locate these for you, be prepared to see additional legal fees.

DO NOT throw away any bank, credit card, tax, investment, or retirement account information. It is easy to hide and can vastly increase the cost and burden of divorce.

If you are in a violent relationship, seek to record any conversations/events that will prove this to the court. Also, make sure you back them up in at least one other device.

Consider hiring a private investigator. Their hourly rates are often cheaper by far than even the least expensive attorney. If you need to access a good one, call me.

Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Fear, anger, disappointment, and grief are usually present to one extent or another in any divorce.

Don’t assume that you are not entitled to some form of alimony, be it lump-sum, reimbursement, periodic, or rehabilitative. Speak to an experienced attorney as to whether you have a valid claim.

Don’t discuss in any negative way your frustrations with your children; it will most likely bite you. Kids are innocent and have no place involved, no matter how tempting it may be.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss any custody, asset distribution, or alimony-related matter and rest assured we will turn over every stone, leaving none unturned, to your advantage. I have 14 years of experience of focused practice in domestic relations law and can help you determine the best path forward and through these stressful situations.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic relations attorney with 14 years of focused experience in family law with an emphasis on litigation and case assessment.

 

Why Women No Longer Want to be Wives

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Should a husband say: “this is my wife, Jessica” or “this is Jessica, my wife?” The debate over this question has largely become irrelevant, as it is now normal for people to say that they don’t want to get married or that they don’t know whether they do or not. In fact, studies from Pew Research Center show that one in four parents in the United States have kids outside of marriage. Considering the common knowledge that approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce, it is understandable that the thought of getting married would cause someone to fear a complicated and stressful separation in the future. Although the possible reasons are infinite, understanding why women initiate divorce more often than men may help to explain the recent avoidance of marriage in general.

According to a study conducted by Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, social scientists have proposed several theories to explain why women initiate divorce at a much higher rate than men. The primary theory is that women may be more attune to relationship difficulties and leave a partner when they believe the issues will require significant action to resolve. However, Rosenfeld argues this explanation is not sufficient according to his research as published by the American Sociological Association. Data taken from the national “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” survey from 2009 to 2015 shows that men and women initiate break-ups equally in non-marital relationships, but women initiate 69% of all divorces. Rosenfeld argues that if the sensitivity theory were true then studies would show women initiating break-ups in non-marital relationships as often as in marital relationships (being equally as dissatisfied), but his data proves this far from the case.

Another suggestion explaining why someone chooses to end a marital relationship is the power-differential theory, which states that the spouse with better prospects beyond the current relationship is more likely to file for divorce. This theory is actually counter-intuitive to the proven statistic that women initiate divorce more than men. Husbands are usually older and have traditionally higher incomes than their wives. Studies also show that single men become more attractive to others as they age, whereas single women decline in attractiveness to others as they age. Therefore, this theory suggests that men typically have the “power” in a marital relationship and better prospects following a divorce. If this theory were accurate, men should initiate the greater amount of divorces as time in a relationship passes. Some social scientists twist this theory to suggest that it is actually the lack of power to voice dissatisfaction with a marital relationship driving women to initiate more divorces. However, prior research on this failed to distinguish divorces initiated by the husband from those initiated by the wife. Although Rosenfeld does not believe the power-differential theory accurately describes why women initiate divorce at a higher rate than men, the lack of power suggestion is actually close to his proposition.

Rosenfeld advocates for the theory that the marital institution has been viewed by society as having incredibly asymmetric gender roles for so long that women now dislike the idea of marriage as a whole. The historic notion that a wife’s only purpose is to cook, clean, and take care of children may lead women to assume that their potential and value in a marital relationship is severely limited. Rosenfeld’s theory aligns with many feminists who suggest that these traditional roles still exist because heterosexual couples are especially likely to marry if the man has high earnings. Also, they call attention to the fact that women still adopt men’s surnames even though laws requiring this came to an end in the 1970’s. Regardless of your position on this controversial subject, it is not difficult to see the connection between women who believe that marriage is an oppressive institution and women who initiate divorce. This theory also helps to explain the general apprehension regarding marital commitments and the increased number of children born to unmarried couples.

These reasons women may initiate divorce much more often than men certainly do not account for every instance, but it definitely presents a challenging consideration regarding the fear of marriage. However, maintaining a healthy dose of caution when entering a marital commitment is probably smart in light of divorce statistics. It is also important to note that signing a “prenup” may help to alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding marriage. Although prenuptial agreements are often perceived to be “dooming” a marriage before it even begins, making this agreement may actually offset divorce fears and prevent stress from ruining your joyous occasion.

The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole is well-seasoned to handle divorce and other family law cases. If you have any questions or are in need of an attorney, please don’t hesitate to call us. We would love to help.

Written by Jessica Jasper, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2020, Mississippi College School of Law

“What’s Mine is Yours” (Unless it’s Mine)

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

One of the most common questions received by our office on a daily basis is whether someone will be able to keep real or personal property following a divorce, including assets and increases in valuation. The answer, like so many others regarding the law, is “it depends.” Many people mistakenly believe that having title to an asset automatically means their spouse will not be able to make a claim to ownership of that asset, but this is not a safe assumption in any community property state such as ours. Several states including Mississippi previously had a separate property system where all property was awarded to the titleholder in a divorce, but this system was fundamentally flawed with regard to common jurisprudence and recognition of spousal contribution. Today, division of property is instead governed by an equitable distribution system and both the legislative and judicial branches of government have made accommodations for the disregard of contributions made to property by a non-titleholding spouse. Although “equitable” sounds like “equal” or “50-50,” it actually means “fair.” A chancellor will determine what constitutes a fair distribution of property not by determining the titleholder, but by relying on eight factors that were provided in the case Ferguson v. Ferguson. 639 So. 2d 921, 928 (Miss. 1994). These factors are summarized as follows:

  • (1) Substantial contribution to the accumulation of the property
  • (2) The degree to which each spouse has expended, withdrawn, or otherwise disposed of marital assets
  • (3) The market value and the emotional value of the assets
  • (4) The value of assets not ordinarily subject to distribution
  • (5) Consequences of the distribution (like taxes or legal issues with third parties)
  • (6) The extent to which property division may be used to eliminate future friction between the parties
  • (7) The needs of the parties for financial security with regard to assets, income and earning capacity
  • (8) Any other factor which in equity should be considered

The only type of property that is subject to equitable distribution upon divorce is marital property. According to accepted interpretation as outlined in Hemsley v. Hemsley, 639 So. 2d 909, 915 (Miss. 1994), all assets earned or acquired during the course of the marriage are presumed to be marital property. The well-known exceptions to this presumption are assets acquired before or outside of the marriage such as gifts or inheritances. Unfortunately, there is one delineating factor: these assets must be brought into the marriage by only one party and kept separate throughout the entire marriage. Co-mingling of assets will defeat this exception to the presumption of community property within the confines of a marriage. Therefore, it is possible for the court to find that property is divisible as marital property if the family has been using it throughout the marriage or if the court cannot trace your separate interest in the property. Rhodes v. Rhodes, 52 So. 3d 430, 437 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011). This process is called “transmutation” and applies to both real and personal property. Interestingly, though, Mississippi is one of the only states that does not presume that property is marital for the purpose of equitable distribution where there is joint title. Pearson v. Pearson, 761 So. 2d 157, 163 (Miss. App. 2000).

Other exceptions to the presumption that property is marital and equitably distributable include personal injury or disability awards, pensions, or property designated as separate by agreement. Pensions and other employment benefits are considered marital property for the purpose of equitable distribution but are not divisible if the funds accumulated before the marriage. Similarly, personal injury awards are usually divisible if they were provided to compensate for a loss belonging to the family rather than just pain and suffering of the individual. Mississippi courts have not directly addressed the classification of workmen’s compensation or awards for disability, but they are likely to be indivisible from the marital estate to the extent those awards are compensable for loss of wages or wage earning capacity.

Another notable exception to the presumption that property is marital is the value of a professional degree. The Supreme Court of Mississippi held in Guy v. Guy, 736 So. 2d 1042 (Miss. 1999) that a professional degree obtained by a student spouse was not property for the purpose of dividing the martial estate. In that case, the court (citing an older case from the Supreme Court of Colorado) found that an educational degree is not “property” at all because it is not inheritable, transferrable, or valuable for sale on the open market. Therefore, intellectual enhancements acquired during a marriage are not considered to be marital property.

Although professional degrees are not distributable upon divorce, a supporting spouse may have the right to compensation (called reimbursement alimony) if he or she contributed to the education obtained during the marriage. This is because it is presumed that a contribution was made with the expectation of achieving a higher standard of living for the family since a higher education typically equates to a higher income. According to the court in Guy v. Guy, a supporting spouse would be “left with nothing more than the knowledge that they aided their now ex-spouse in increasing his or her future earning capacity” without this repayment. 736 So. 2d at 1044. Reimbursement alimony is granted on the actual amount of funds provided towards the education and is most common in the divorces of young couples who typically have few assets and little money.

Matthew S. Poole has 14 years of experience and a successful track record in divorce cases. If you have any questions about property distribution or divorce in general, please don’t hesitate to call our office.

Written by Jessica Jasper, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2020, Mississippi College School of Law

Social Media as Evidence: Your Posts Don’t Lie

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Advances in technology have now made the world’s wisdom accessible to pretty much anyone with a smart phone or computer. Arguably even more astounding than the efficiency and productiveness flowing from this kind of access is the level of connection achievable between people from different parts of the country… or different countries… or different continents. From texting and direct messaging to posting statuses, pictures, videos, and locations, social media has revolutionized the way society communicates. Every day more and more people are putting their lives online for everyone they want to share information with and truthfully some they probably don’t.

It is likely that at some point in time you have been told to consider the cost of hitting “send” or “post” on social media before doing it. For example, should that picture from 3 a.m. last Saturday really be available to everyone? What about that status raising cane against your careless uncle Joe for backing into your car? The reason for this instruction is to reiterate the broad accessibility and eternal permanency of sharing information through the Internet. Unfortunately, though, many people still fail to see the laundry list of unintended consequences that may result from even just one poorly thought-out post.

Many employers have openly begun monitoring current employee’s social media accounts or combing through posts of a potential employee before an interview. But even if you don’t “clean” your accounts well enough, the worst that can happen is losing a job… right? No. Actually, your social media accounts could end up being used as evidence against you in court. A survey from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2010 found that 81% of divorce attorneys had seen an increase in evidence taken from wireless devices and 66% cited Facebook as the source of this evidence. Social media can be used as evidence to prove a variety of things like your opinions or thoughts, the time and place of your actions, communications or interactions with others, and even your income or purchases.

According to Washington family attorney McKinley Irvin, one reason social media accounts create relationship problems is because of the amount of time spent on them. A study published in Computers in Human Behavior showed that a 20% increase in Facebook enrollment equated to a 2.18% to 4.32% increase in divorce rates. If you’ve ever looked around a crowded restaurant at lunchtime, this statistic should not come as a shock. The number of people staring at their phones instead of conversing with their present company is staggering. If the quality of conversation in a social setting this low, it is easy to see how the same behavior at home could quickly destroy emotional connections and ultimately derail a marriage.

Attorney Irvin states that social media also creates an easy outlet for jealousy or distrust to flourish in a relationship. In fact, one in five people claim that they question their relationship after finding something suspicious on their partner’s social media account. Unfortunately, sometimes suspicions of infidelity are well warranted. Approximately one in ten people admit to hiding messages or social media posts from their partner and 8% of people even admit to having secret social media accounts. With all of this on the table, it is not surprising that one in three divorces are actually instigated because of online communications or affairs.

It is important to remember that even if your social media accounts are private, you can still legally be required to provide information from them during a lawsuit. Deleting anything will usually violate a court order and is unlikely to be effective anyway. As previously stated, information is never really gone once it is online. If you’re in the middle of a lawsuit, the best advice is to deactivate your social media accounts until the matter is settled.

The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole has the expertise to handle many types of family law cases. If you or someone you know is looking for a divorce or child custody attorney, please don’t hesitate to call us. We would be happy to help you obtain justice as efficiently and inexpensively as possible regardless of whether you or your spouse has committed an online “faux-pas.”

Written by Jessica Jasper, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2020, Mississippi College School of Law