Posts Tagged ‘joint custody’

Parental Alienation…a Syndrome, or Plain Old Contempt?

Monday, July 1st, 2019

This question and conversation comes up quite frequently in domestic cases where parents simply cannot agree…on much of anything. Spending excessive legal fees and lost sleep simply may not be worth it if you plan on “firing the first shot”. The battle that ensues often exacerbates the problem, not curing it or the underlying issues…the “root cause”, as it were. Animosity, and expense (even the cheap lawyers are not cheap by most folk’s standards), grows the more DISagreeable you two are willing to be. In the end, some level of compromise is needed…by both …unless you are realllllllly wealthy, even if so I always prefer some level of agreeability, even if on some minor issues.

I would like to point out that there is a strong and decidedly clear legal distinction between what can and cannot be construed as a “syndrome”, and the advice I have may surprise you. Much relates to the simple mistake of overstating your case. Often the softer approach yields stronger benefits …in the long run at least. After 1,300 domestic cases I have learned that this matters from my own prior overzealousness, a mistake many rookie lawyers learn from, quickly.

The term syndrome has been intertwined with alienation of a parent, but there is likely a better way to advance your case without using medical and psychiatric terminology……that being reducing costs by playing the hand you are dealt in a more clever, less physiologically complex format. Syndromes are well defined and often hard to pinpoint (and prove)…..we will get to that later. What is easy to show is mom or dad disparaging the other to the little ones…regardless of the court ordered language (the judgment), it is always intrinsically terrible in the eyes of a Mississippi Chancery Judge without very good reason. Emphasis on VERY.

So here we are, on the life battlefield, somewhat even because of our own decision making flaws. The kids matter so much, we have to see that we are their only guide to a wonderful life, education, and happiness. It can be accomplished. With that said, let’s outline the next blog on this subject, which is slated for 3 weeks away, just after we finish our series on grandparent rights.

The long and short of it is simple …we will explore 2 courses of action and attempt to decipher which fits a particular pattern of facts best. One course requires a ton of medical testimony, the other most likely will not. We will examine what can be done preemptively to avoid the most expensive and stressful path. Stay tuned and we appreciate you very much.

I hope you will check back soon if these issues pertain to your difficult situation…..I can shed a little light, hopefully more. I will start by charting a relatively simple path toward resolution that will not break the bank. A little information is never a bad place to begin any challenge, and God bless our children.

Matthew is a 16 year practitioner of domestic law. He is a single father and is passionate about the role parents play in their children’s outcomes. He speaks at National Business Institute on July 18.

New Custody Rules…And Similar Advice

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Re-Examine Joint Custody Arrangements? National Parent’s Organization Says So

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Note: This post is not an endorsement or critique of the National Parent’s Organization, merely an observation and analysis of their position as to the impact of standard (limited) visitation on young lives.

The bulk of Mississippi Chancery Court judges are what practicing attorneys deem “standard visitation judges”. What, in fact, does this term refer to? To state it very bluntly, it signifies that one parent involved in a custody dispute is going to get the short end (very short) of the stick: time to spend with their own children. Although it is not common that separated parents live closely to one another to equally “split the baby”– sometimes this is the case, but one parent (dad, most frequently) is cut out of the bulk of involvement with their own kids. Does this make sense for everyone? Is this reliance on “standard visitation” truly in the best interests of the children who are impacted? The research on point seems to indicate that children suffer from such limitations in sharing near equivalent time with both mom and dad.

Although I confess that The National Parent’s Organization was, until running across the research in question, foreign to me, I will say that they make a valid point insofar that children actually do benefit from what more closely resembles joint custody. In Mississippi, joint custody is presumably in the best interests of children only when parents agree to it. Very seldom, if ever, have I seen a Chancery judge award close to “equal time” with both parents. Is this due to an antiquated thinking, steeped in the belief that children need consistency above all else? It is certainly subject to debate, if nothing more.

In a recent article that appeared on Foxnews.com, a professor Emeritus from Ohio State University, Donald Hubin, Ph.D, postulated that children are disrupted by standard visitation arrangements, which for all practical purposes are in fact, limited visitation schedules. Without expressing my humble opinion too frankly, some of the opinions Mr. Hubin presents are deserving of consideration.

Citing a recent study by the National Parents Organization, Hubin asserts that “The best research on the well-being of children when parents live apart shows that children typically do best when they enjoy substantially equal time in the care of each of their parents”. Further, he states that they do “much better” than children raised in sole-custody situations. Definitely food for thought.

In essence, the thrust of Mr. Hubin’s position is that children are better-suited to have involvement of both parents in their day-to-day activities; doing homework, getting ready for school, extracurricular functions, and the list goes on as such. His conclusion, based upon the “parenting plans” implemented in Ohio’s 88 counties, is that the courts are failing to adequately consider the value of co-parenting on a nearly equal basis. (The article title pretty well sums up his position, “Divorce is hard enough on children–why are our courts making it worse?). The last line of the article simply states, “Our children deserve better”. It is difficult to ignore the power in this simplicity.

In closing, it is clear that some of the thinking that drives child-custody judicial policy needs careful consideration and the ability to strip away preconceived notions that are rooted in tradition more so than logic and reason. While there are never simple answers to complex domestic issues involving children, it remains clear that putting self-interest to the side is often the key to a child’s ability to thrive. Hurt feelings are a given after a tough break-up. I would suggest that anyone going through a custody dispute fully consider shelving all animosity that they have toward the other parent. Even though they may deserve your scorn, your children do not. Consider co-parenting for the sake of your children. They will thank you for it later in life.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 8 year old son, Lucas.

How do Mississippi Courts View Joint Physical Custody Arrangements?

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Very commonly our office receives inquiry from parents seeking to obtain joint physical custody of a minor child or children. It is first important to recognize the distinction between legal and physical custody, which topic has been discussed in several of our previous posts, but I digress. The basic logic that is employed by the majority of Chancery Court judges in Mississippi is that it is preferable for a minor to have a primary physical residence, i.e., a soft place to land on a consistent basis without excessive “switching” of residences. Also, consider that most public school districts require proof of primary residence (as in one primary “home”) in order to meet admission criteria.

It is notable that statute in Mississippi mandates, with rare exception, that courts must approve of joint physical custody agreements. Therein is the rub: rarely are former lovers able to form an agreement that both can live with due to the highly emotional nature of child custody litigation whether in a divorce or otherwise.

There is no question that most commonly chancery judges prefer to award primary physical custody to the person deemed to be the better parent (based upon the best interests of the child) and to grant only standard visitation to the other. Standard visitation will be discussed at length in an upcoming entry, but basically consists of every other weekend, 10 days during the Christmas Holidays, alternating major holidays/birthdays, and two 2-week periods of summer visitation.

There are several judges we deal with on a regular visitation that local domestic attorneys refer to as “standard visitation” judges. They are not often inclined to deviate much, if at all, from standard visitation. That being said, there are others who will more creatively craft a schedule which is in excess of that contemplated by the statutes that clarify the meaning of standard visitation.

Many factors are at play, but for the purpose of this article we will exclude the chancellors who are not inclined to deviate from the basic fundamentals of standard visitation. This is not to say that many chancery judges cannot be convinced to award joint physical custody in spite of an inclination otherwise. Again, it is absolutely crucial that we are discussing this basic principle within the context of matters where a custody agreement cannot be reached by the parents.

In short, it should always be the first order of business to attempt to forge a joint custody agreement with your child’s other parent. If you are reading this, you have likely already recognized that it is much easier said than done. Only after you have turned over every stone to work together without success should you consider filing a contested custody matter.

When litigating child custody matters, always remember that joint physical custody of your minor children becomes more difficult the further away you live from the other parent. If you do in fact live relatively closely to your child’s other parent and you have a relatively healthy relationship with them and are able to communicate without significant friction, particularly regarding your child’s well-being, your odds of the court awarding joint physical custody increase a great deal.

It is always a partial victory, even when denied equal custody, to be awarded additional time with your children beyond standard visitation. Chancellors have broad discretion in these matters and may craft a visitation schedule in any number of ways, so make sure your attorney has considered making the vast array of arguments that suit your unique set of facts. Do not forget that tax consequences of a minor’s residence are most commonly based upon their primary residence unless agreed to otherwise.

If you have been unable to reach an agreement with your child’s father or mother regarding joint custody or to obtain something in excess of standard visitation, we will utilize all existing case law, statute, as well as subjective factual argument to your advantage.

Matthew Poole, Esq.,

Jackson, Mississippi

601-573-7429