Posts Tagged ‘Jackson’

Mom’s Advantage: Child Custody Myths Debunked

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Before I began my legal career in 2004 at Wilkins, Stephens, and Tipton, a large medical malpractice and pharmaceutical defense firm right here in Jackson, Mississippi, I was spared much of the knowledge and agony that regularly face domestic lawyers. Although the task of family attorneys can be very rewarding, it also presents the emotional rollercoaster that so many of us, lawyers included, seek to avoid on a daily basis. Practicing domestic law presents some certainties and a whole lot of grey area. A client’s ability to accept the human element and subjectivity that come along with family conflict are immeasurable to not only their own well-being, but that of their children.

There still exists a strong perception that mom has a significant advantage in a dispute with dad over the custody of children, particularly in the Southeast U.S.. We have time and again written on the Albright vs. Albright factors and their seminal importance in child custody litigation. They are extensively detailed in our prior blog posts. We began a series in January, 2018 that adequately outlines each of the factors that a court considers in child custody cases. The articles are written on an early college level so that readers are able to focus on substance over form and legalese.

I highly recommend to any litigant that they gain as much knowledge as possible to advance their cause. Knowledge IS power. Simply put, the Albright case outlines the criteria that a Chancery Court must consider in their deliberation as to the best interests of a minor child’s physical custody. Simple answers to child-custody cases do not exist, period. Years before I began practicing domestic law, Mississippi Chancery Courts were able to confer a modest legal advantage unto mom in child custody proceedings. Those times are essentially forgotten history.

The general rule of thumb prior to the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling in Albright was that a child was better served during their “tender years” by mom having physical custody. That is no longer the case. If I were advising a mother in a custody dispute, which I have hundreds of times, I would offer one simple tip: breastfeed as long as possible. Although breast-feeding alone is not an Albright factor, continuity of care is a factor, and Mississippi chancery court judges will always give great pause before even considering removing a child from the biological nurturing mom can provide. Score one for mom.

Do not believe the hype: Outside of the lone fact previously discussed, mom does not have any measurable advantage over dad in a custody proceeding. Partly due to the equal protection clause, a portion of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the changing dynamics in family structures, the law no longer favors a mother over dad in custody suits. It is crucial to any child-custody litigant to have recognition of the power vested in chancery judges. They not only interpret law, they find fact as in the role that a jury would in damages cases.

It is amazing that so many people with no legal training will continue to speak as if they are seasoned attorneys. They are not able to offer any appreciable wisdom to a custody litigant. It’s one more thing better left for the true experts such as myself. Ignore your friends attempts to be constitutional scholars, no matter how well-intended.

If you are going through a custody or visitation case, you already are aware of the stress and complexity they usually present. I am not only a single father, I have seen those battles from the front line likely as much as any single litigator around. I deeply understand the challenges that child custody cases present. We look forward to assisting you in your time of great need.

Matthew Poole is a seasoned Jackson, Mississippi domestic lawyer who has evaluated in excess of 6,000 domestic legal proceedings. His sole area of practice is family law.

Communication and Consideration: No-Fault Divorce Revisited

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Everyone wants a cheap and stress-free divorce when they are ready to move on. Who can blame them when their marital circumstances are beyond repair? No one wants the agony and cost of fighting in a court of law over assets, child custody, or the myriad other factors associated with divorce litigation. Unfortunately, no-fault divorce isn’t easily achieved without some degree of tension in most cases. Again, there aren’t easy answers to complex issues, but the more that can be disputed likely will be, and costs often soar as a result. So what is the best solution?

As in marriage, divorce presents many challenges that lack a simple solution, particularly when children are involved. I cannot speak directly to the exact price other local lawyers charge for irreconcilable differences divorces (or “I.D.” as they are often referred to), but I can say that they will always be far less expensive than fault-based divorce, which often requires multiple open-court hearings and dozens of hours of attorney fees. The stress and turmoil of a legal battle are also not easy to avoid on some level, at least.

Even at a relatively modest rate of, let’s say $225 per hour and an optimistic time for resolution of, for instance 35 hours, the math gets scary quickly (225 x 35 = $7,875). When adding in court costs and other fees such as service of process and investigative fees, it is easy to see why the national average cost of divorce in 2017 was $15,500. We presented the relevant statistics in detail in our April 28, 2018 blog article and reference to a Nolo Legal study evaluating divorce costs. I highly recommend reading that in combination with this posting.

When recognizing that no-fault/irreconcilable difference divorce is usually less than $1,200, it is hard not to see the appeal. However, the appeal and low-cost of I.D. divorce has one danger that is often ignored by clients: If you don’t have 1. Communication, and 2. Consideration for fairness to both parties involved, you are most likely wasting your time and hard-earned money. It’s absolutely paramount that clients understand that Mississippi is not a “true no-fault state” at this time. In other words, you either both must agree to all terms of divorce, such as child custody and visitation, insurance issues, asset division, even alimony in some cases–or you must litigate. And therein lies the rub.

Our neighbor to the west, Louisiana, permits that a no-fault divorce be granted after 365 days of separation whether there is an agreement to divorce or not. While this seems an easy solution to a complex problem, it isn’t quite as appealing when we realize that issues such as child custody and financial matters still will require contested hearings unless the parties agree. Often this means that the cost won’t be any less than in Mississippi.

In 14 years of practicing domestic law, I can say that, despite making very clear to my clients that they may waste their money on attempting I.D. divorce, approximately one-third of them did exactly that because of overly-optimistic enthusiasm. I don’t blame any one of them one iota for trying the cheap route to divorce, but it is not without its downfalls. There are myriad factors that can derail what should be a simple divorce. It’s very easy to throw your money away because of optimism. As a former associate of mine used to say, “Haste makes waste”.

So, what is my advice? First of all, cooler heads usually prevail. The level of emotion and the amount one spends on domestic legal fees are strongly correlated. Therefore, 1. Make a checklist of all issues that require attention before contacting an attorney. 2. Have a calm, frank discussion with your spouse, and 3. Give your spouse appropriate consideration on all of the issues that need to be addressed–remember, you both start with equal marital rights. If you can do these three simple things, you will likely have saved yourself and your children a lot of emotional turmoil and cold, hard cash.

If we can give you assistance in determining the best path toward the dissolution of your marriage, please feel free to give us a call. I have 14 years of focused domestic law experience– we do not practice in any other area– and take great pride in helping find my clients the easiest and least expensive way out of tough spots. Even if a no-fault divorce is not an option, where there is a will, there is always a way.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family law attorney who specializes in domestic case evaluation and marital conflict resolution.

Child Custody Devils-Always in the Detail

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

First, I would like to pay a short tribute to my Associate Attorney, Honorable Kenneth Davis, Esq., whom I have had the pleasure of mentoring for the past 3 years. He is moving on to a new venture today, and his steady hand and careful deliberation at the helm in the treacherous waters of domestic litigation will be deeply missed. We wish him great success and happiness and will always hold him in high regard. God bless, Attorney Davis.

Now, forward we move into a new era of life and law as a family attorney with a new addition to my staff, Ms. Linda Wilson, a 42 year veteran stenographer (court reporter) and former assistant to a retired Chancery Judge in Madison and Yazoo County, Mississippi. She is very knowledgeable and we look forward to her addition to my office.

But I digress, and feel compelled to relay a brief story about the vast importance of detail in custody related legal proceedings. And this particular tale is rooted in a basic mistake made by opposing counsel in a custody modification case. Buckle up, this story proves that truth really is stranger than fiction.

About 8 years ago, I had a very interesting case where I represented the mother of the 4 year old girl and was seeking relief from the courts on an emergent basis because the father of the child was caught shoplifting donuts from a Walmart in South Mississippi. One of the most bizarre things about this case is that the father had a relatively high paying job but appeared to have a proclivity for stealing for the sheer thrill of it. Sad, but true. The little girl was not only present with dad during the heist, but also during the 110 mile per hour police chase that ensued. Yes, these things really do happen

When I took the deposition of the father I asked him a question regarding whether or not he was under the influence of an illicit drug or alcohol during this scandalous escapade. When I asked the question, he said simply, “Well, I was–”, and his lawyer stopped him to interpose an objection of some sort….and this is where the details ended up sinking my opponents case in one fell swoop. (Not to break my arm patting myself on the back, but I appropriately moved along to another subject at that point altogether instead of arguing the merits of the lawyer’s objection).

Now, this is where it turned into a particularly lovely case for my client. When we got into Rankin County Chancery Court, I did what lawyers do-exploited any weakness of my opponent to the advantage of my client. Even though it is true that the case would have likely been won even without the interesting deposition testimony, I jumped on what appeared to be a terribly destructive admission by the donut-theiving daddy, and the judge ate it up.

If my opposing counsel had done is job correctly, he would have had the opportunity to correct that damaging apparent admission with follow-up questions however he neglected to do so. And so, as the saying goes, sometimes it’s the little things that kill. As you already guessed, my client got a very favorable result.

Citing my second favorite basketball player of all time (behind Michael Jordan, of course), Kareem Abdul-Jabar, it’s usually the smallest of things that make the difference between winning and losing. And win, we did.

If I can help you do the little things right in your divorce or custody case well and to pay attention to the detail, please give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic relations attorney with 14 years of experience in family law. He was admitted to practice in 2004 and lives in North Jackson with his son, Lucas.

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.

Great, One More Lawyer: Guardians ad Litem

Monday, July 9th, 2018

It’s an age-old joke that the more lawyers are involved, the more confusing (not to mention expensive) a situation tends to become. Whether well-founded or not, there are many situations that having lawyers involved is simply a foregone conclusion. One of the most prevalent of these examples is a case involving the well-being of a child. In many of those cases, a separate attorney will be added to the case to act as a guardian ad litem (“GAL”, literally guardian at law) to represent the best interests of the child or children involved. While of course many parents have the best interests of the child in mind during litigation over custody, such an emotional type of litigation can make it difficult for the child to remain at the forefront of concern.

A Mississippi court will appoint a GAL when there is a claim of abuse or neglect of the child by one or both parents. This could be physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect such as failing to provide the child with proper shelter and food. Other situations where the appointment of a GAL is mandatory in Mississippi include:

If DHS seeks protective services for a vulnerable adult and that person lacks capacity to waive the right to counsel;

In eminent domain and condemnation proceedings for parties who are minors or otherwise incompetent and are without a general guardian;

In a divorce proceeding based upon incurable insanity, if the defendant otherwise has no legal guardian;

If the mother dies while a paternity case is pending;

In a guardianship action where an interested party wishes to establish an estate plan, and it is determined the ward will remain incompetent during their lifetime;

Termination of parental rights;

Contested adoptions; and

If an individual convicted of felony child abuse wants visitation the child.

This is not an exhaustive list, and therefore it is evident that in almost any situation where the possibility of the child playing second fiddle to an issue in a case, Mississippi courts will appoint a GAL. This is an attempt to ensure that the child is treated fairly, and, above all, not taken advantage of or used as a pawn in litigation. Unfortunately, the nefarious use of a child’s presence in a case to get the upper hand is not evident at the outset of the case to either the lawyers, judges, or even the parties themselves.

Mississippi attorneys who serve as guardians ad litem must undergo training in juvenile justice provided or approved by the Mississippi Judicial College, and must renew that certification every year. The appointment of a GAL is an important step in litigation, and parties to suits in Mississippi should feel comforted in knowing that the attorneys serving in that role are required to refresh their memory of how to properly serve as a GAL. It can be intimidating to feel as though a party has one more person to impress or convince during litigation, on top of the judge, their lawyer, their friends and family, and their child or children. However, a GAL is involved in the case to represent the child, and their involvement should be welcomed and their input appropriately considered. Their work truly is selfless.

Child custody cases are some of the most time-consuming, expensive, and stressful cases that come through our office. It is our primary practice area. While many times the events during litigation seem petty and trite, the outcome is one that will shape the course of the relationship with the parties and the child(ren) for years. Therefore, the presence of a well-respected guardian ad litem is a large boost in the confidence that the best result will be reached for the child. While many times it is true that the mere presence of lawyers will breathe life into a conflict, suits impacting children are ones that a better result can be reached by having another attorney join the fray. If you or someone you know has a question about child custody litigation and the role that a guardian ad litem plays in litigation, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the experience and knowledge to answer almost any question you may have about this process, and the benefits that come along with the appointment of a GAL.

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.

 

On the Home Front: Military Deployment and Child Custody

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines! According to the Defense Manpower Data Center (under the Office of the Secretary of Defense), the United States currently has approximately 200,000 active-duty troops deployed across 170 countries. It is no secret that many of these soldiers are battling the harshest mental, emotional, and physical conditions of their lives, journeying from their homes to the world’s most dangerous warzones in order to defend our freedom for months (or possibly even years) at a time. Much less frequently discussed, though, are the infinite difficulties faced by the loved ones that they leave behind. As the daughter and granddaughter of veterans, I fully understand how military families “serve with” their soldiers during deployment. However, I can only imagine how much more arduous these absences must be for the children of single-parent households or those whose parents are deployed simultaneously. Who takes care of them, and what happens when the deployment ends?

The Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA) was designed to resolve child custody and visitation issues that military families may face during a soldier’s deployment, temporary duty, or mobilization. The UDPCVA is divided into five articles, with the first of these defining the foundational terms for the rest. Most importantly, Article 1 states that a parent’s “residence” is not changed during deployment and that deployment cannot be considered in deciding what is in “the best interest of the child.” Article 2 discourages litigation on child custody and visitation issues by outlining procedural protections for simple agreements between parties. This act also assists the UCCJEA* in preventing the issuance of competing orders via Article 3, which covers court procedures and includes the use of electronic testimony and the expedition of hearings. In addition, this article allows for the designation of visitation rights to a nonparent where the court finds that doing so would be in the best interest of the child and Article 4 explains the termination process for these rights following deployment. Finally, Article 5 summarizes the information within each article.

Mississippi Code § 93-5-34 states that “Custody and visitation procedure upon parental temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization” follows the guideline provisions of the UDPCVA on these issues and answers my earlier hypothetical question regarding who would take care of the children similarly to Article 3. It states that “(4) If the parent with visitation rights receives military temporary duty, deployment or mobilization orders that involve moving a substantial distance from the parent’s residence or otherwise have a material effect on the parent’s ability to exercise rights, the court otherwise may delegate the parent’s visitation rights, or a portion thereof, to a family member with a close and substantial relationship to the service member’s minor child for the duration of the parent’s absence, if delegating visitation rights is in the child’s best interest.” Our law also explains that the court will hold expedited hearings or submit electronic testimony when deployment, temporary duty, or mobilization may affect a soldier’s ability to appear in person at a scheduled hearing.

To answer the second question regarding the end of deployment, the same section of Mississippi Code contains a provision like Article 4 of the UDPCVA, stating that “(3) When a parent who has custody, or has joint custody with primary physical custody, receives temporary duty, deployment or mobilization orders from the military that involve moving a substantial distance from the parent’s residence having a material effect on the parent’s ability to exercise custody responsibilities:

(a) Any temporary custody order for the child during the parent’s absence shall end no later than ten (10) days after the parent returns, but shall not impair the discretion of the court to conduct a hearing for emergency custody upon return of the parent and within ten (10) days of the filing of a verified motion for emergency custody alleging an immediate danger of irreparable harm to the child; and

(b) The temporary duty, mobilization or deployment of the service member and the temporary disruption to the child’s schedule shall not be factors in a determination of change of circumstances if a motion is filed to transfer custody from the service member.

(c) Any order entered under this section shall require that:

(i) The non-deployed parent shall make the child or children reasonably available to the deployed parent when the latter parent has leave;

(ii) The non-deployed parent shall facilitate opportunities for telephonic, “webcam,” and electronic mail contact between the deployed parent and the child or children during deployment; and

(iii) The deployed parent shall provide timely information regarding the parent’s leave schedule to the non-deployed parent.”

If you are a member of the United States military and would like to learn more about the UDPCVA then please contact the law office of Matthew S. Poole. We would be more than happy to assist with your child custody or visitation arrangements in lieu of deployment, temporary duty, mobilization, or for any other reason.

Thank you for your service.

*Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Information about the UCCJEA and a summary of its application can be found in our previous article “The Jurisdiction Determination in Child Custody Cases.”

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