Posts Tagged ‘lawyer’

Modification Mayhem; How to Steer Clear

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Child custody modification cases are always challenging for a variety of reasons.  First, it is important to recognize that Chancellors are inclined not to “rock the boat” by making drastic decisions about child placement without very good reasons.  They, as they should, need a parent seeking modification to present overwhelming reasons for a sudden change that affects every aspect of a child’s life.  Haphazard, swift decisions regarding children are frowned upon and avoided at all costs. 

I want to focus on a common scenario which occurs and attempt to illustrate the divergent paths it presents.  Quite often, a child turns 12 and is able to voice a preference to the court about where they want to live.  Although they do not get to “choose” (a common misconception), their voice plays a critical role in triggering and potentially effectuating a child-custody claim.  Although the maturity level of the child is not a technical factor in the weight of their preference, it will always play a critical role in the outcome of the modification claim.

I want to share with you a custody horror story, at least from the perspective of a former client.  Often the best lessons are had by failure, not success.  Many years ago, I was hired to prosecute a child custody claim in Rankin County, Mississippi on behalf of a mom whose son had recently turned 12.  We all met at my office and the child was quite clear about the strength of his desire to live with his mom.  I did not question his sincerity for a moment. 

Fast forward several months and we finally have our day in court at a final hearing (trial).  I called the young man to the stand and he performed as I expected.  When my opposing counsel had his shot at making his case, the child fell apart.  It went something like this:  “Young man, why is it that you want to live with your mom all of the sudden?”.  A fair question, right?  The boy then said, more or less, “My dad makes me go to bed at 10 o’clock and eat grilled chicken and vegetables.  I hate vegetables.  When I am with my mom she lets me do pretty much whatever I want.  I can have as much pizza as I want and I can play video games while she’s busy doing other stuff.  My dad is just too strict.”  Whew.  I heard the sound of my case deflate right in front of me.  The odds of winning were nil.  My client was upset and so was I, but he was just a kid after all.

I have seen first-hand how children will attempt to please both parents.  I have had clients hire me on modifications of custody only to realize later that their child was telling their ex that they wanted to stay with them.  Kids have a natural defense mechanism to make both parents happy.  They will tell both that they want to be with them.  It borders on dishonesty, but for the love of God, they are only kids and do not understand adult problems.  This is the way that they cope.  It is frustrating and can cost a client several wasted dollars, but nonetheless I understand the plight of the children torn between two parents that they dearly love.  We must, as the adults in the room, understand how to avoid this mayhem in the first place.  Our children deserve it. 

My advice is simple.  The mature children are going to be far more likely to stay with the parent they prefer.  I doubt many of them are 12.  Once a child has consistently voiced a mature, rational desire to stay with you, consider speaking to a lawyer about a change of custody.  Chancellors are privy to the fact that children are not always able to decide what is best for them.  You can avoid wasting thousands on a failed modification claim by allowing your child to come to their own conclusion. Be patient and kind.  Remember that they are feeling pressure from every direction.  And in the end, respect them and their innocence.  One day they will face adult problems.  It is your job, as a parent, to make it later than sooner.

Matthew Poole is a single father and Jackson, Mississippi Custody and Divorce Attorney with 16 years of experience.  He has managed over 1,300 domestic cases.

DIVORCE RATES DIVING?

Saturday, August 31st, 2019

I know what you are thinking, and I can already say that this trend occurs likely not for the reasons you may imagine. Unless you are a sociologist or simply very in-tune with social trends, it may surprise you that the real reasons, or at least the primary drivers of this trend, are not so obvious until we look at ourselves, our friends, and our families.

So many of the younger generation suffered through their parents’ divorces. They witnessed first-hand the turmoil and confusion that impacts everyone involved. They were often more victimized by their parents’ tit-for-tat than the parents themselves. Divorce is significantly stressful for kids. They become front and center in the turmoil. It should come as no surprise that they are more apt to wait before tying the knot. We certainly cannot blame them.

There is also a second driver of divorce rates diving. Millenials are not as financially well-off as their parents were at the same age. Although incomes may be similar (adjusted for inflation), costs of living are much higher. They are purchasing homes much later, have less money in the bank, and upward trending daily expenses. When you hear about inflation in our country hovering between 2 and 3 percent, ask yourself if things you buy on a daily basis (consumer goods) do not seem to have skyrocketed in price in the past decade. It sure feels that way to me.

Another factor lesser discussed has driven the divorce rate down. Here it is: People simply aren’t getting married at the rate they did in the past. I ran a simple Google search of “marriage and divorce rates U.S.”, and the results were surprisingly dramatic. If you click on “images” at the top results bar, you can visualize the strong trend in several telling graphs and charts. It seems to me that after World War II, young men returning home in droves altered our societal landscape. They were eager to start lives and have families. Their children were generally born in the mid 1950’s until the early 1970’s. Those former children are now in their fifties and even late sixties. Time sure does fly. Many (most) of you reading this are their kids. Theirs was a great generation in a very different time.

I also see the impact of social media, a term unknown to our dad, mom, aunts and uncles. They did not know that it would ever dominate our society the way it does today. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so many others consume our daily lives. I believe they are great tools when used for the right reasons, but our communication with others we hardly know can also interfere with our most personal relationships.

We, as a country, have pushed the limits of change in so many ways. Time spent with family is too easily frittered away. Bank accounts are stretched to their limits. Daily pressures are at an all time high, and memories of being a child trapped in the eye of a stormy divorce still linger.

In the end, the best ways to avoid a divorce are more obvious than you realize. Sometimes we simply need to be reminded of what we already know.

Matthew Poole is a single father and Jackson, Mississippi Family Attorney. He was admitted to practice in 2004.

Grandparent Visitation…How to Get MORE

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Last summer, we wrote an article about how deployment in a military capacity is quite specifically addressed by our state laws. I am going to republish it in part (it has some minor redactions) below because it is very telling as to the affect of a parent being unavailable to exercise visitation under certain circumstances upon grandparent rights. After the bulk of this somewhat technical article, I will briefly discuss other parent unavailability issues, primarily incarceration of a parent. So, here we go……(this is long, but bear with me, it will be worth it!)

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.

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.”

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.

Ok, so what effect would incarceration have on grandparent visitation in our state? What about if a parent or both are in a mental institution? What if they are, in a coma, God forbid? There is little case law wherein other unavailability issues have been hashed out by our appellate courts, although based on my experience courts are willing to bolster grandma and grandpa’s time for any of the above reasons even though no statute exists as it does for military deployments. My advice is to raise this issue with your attorney, it is a solid argument almost every time.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Domestic Attorney with 16 years of trial experience. He will be speaking at the National Business Institute on July 18, 2019.

*For more information about this statute, go to our search bar on the home page of our site.

Child Custody Challenges Equal Danger + Opportunity

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Other Factor” That Can Sink Your Custody Claim: Alienating Child Affection

Monday, August 20th, 2018

I was recently in trial in the northern part of our great state and had a unique case wherein I had the good fortune of securing custody of a four-year-old little boy for my client, the father. The case was one of the most difficult I have ever handled in 14 years- both legally and emotionally. It was a roller-coaster of facts and subjectivity of the law, to say the least. The opposing attorney was highly competent; a seasoned prosecutor from Lee County- one of the best I have ever faced.

My client was guilty of some degree of minor violence; domestic abuse which was relatively easy to prove, and yet he obtained custody of his son. How can this happen, you may ask, and rightfully so. It seems the long odds stacked against my client were impossible to overcome. This case lasted 23 months in total. The victory was by a razor-thin margin. I was on hanging on every word from the court and counsel opposite until the very end.

Any custody attorney will harp on the factors a court will consider in determining the best interests in a child’s physical placement. Mom no longer has a clear and plain advantage, due in large part to the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The “tender years” doctrine has been significantly eroded, to the point that only breastfeeding an infant child confers some advantage to mom. Dad now starts on equal footing in a custody battle for all practical purposes. As a single father with sole legal and physical custody of my son, I have reaped the benefit of the recent change in law.

Beginning January 10, 2018 our office began a series of articles outlining all of the Albright factors- the defined matters for a court to consider in a custody dispute. We did not write only one article on the only non-specific Albright factor which is the most subjective; the one that is most easily described as a “catch-all”. Up for grabs and potentially up-ending any custody case are “other relevant factors”. What could these possibly be?

In all of the custody experience I have, never did I imagine that I could win a custody case based on these mysterious and elusive “other factors” when my client lost more than half of the specified Albright issues. Not in a million years did I believe that some undefined, highly subjective issue would win the day. And then, exactly that occured. I am still somewhat surprised by the result– pleasantly surprised, that is. The ugly head of parental alienation was the “other factor” that swayed the balance to my client’s victory.

Parental alienation of a child has always been regarded as paramount to a Mississippi court- even more so lately. That said, I have increasingly witnessed first-hand that if the alienating parent’s behavior is severe, courts will likely deem it to be tantamount to child abuse, negating what would be an award of physical custody to the opposing parent. To be frank, a decade ago this “other factor” would have been considered as just another Albright issue. Today, it can upend an entire case. That is music to my ears. Times have certainly changed.

Alienation comes in many shapes and forms. Most often it is in the nature of passive-aggressive parental alienation; making it difficult to get a hold of a child by phone, making subtle comments about the other parent’s morals and character, or even stoking a child’s concern about whether their other parent cares about them. Other times parental alienation takes on an overtly aggressive form.

The case that prompted me to write this article involved mom, who had a bi-racial son, instructing him to call his father and his family a “bunch of n___ers”. And it was all caught on tape. It didn’t happen only once, this four-year-old little guy, half African American, had made the infamous N-word a part of his vocabulary, all thanks to mom. It was horrible to hear on tape, heartbreaking at the very least.

The focus of this article is not necessarily parental alienation, it is a forewarning to parents who engage in extreme behaviors to the psychological and emotional detriment of their child. Be it excessive shaming of a child, prolonged absence, or just plain verbal cruelty, beware of the “other factors”–they can flat sink what would have otherwise been a custody victory. Chancery courts have broad discretion in child custody matters, and anything you say-to your child or anyone involved-can and will be held against you.

My last piece of advice is relatively simple. Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great heart”. I couldn’t have said it better. When navigating the treacherous waters of child-custody litigation, do not forget that children need love, happiness, and innocence of adult issues as much as they need food and water. It is easy to lose sight of this fact when angry at an ex-lover. Keep sight of what matters most: protecting your child from turmoil and shielding them from despair.

If you are involved in a child custody case that requires a robust knowledge base and formidable experience, I will gladly attempt to point you in the right direction. Be forewarned- simple answers to complex issues, particularly those involving child custody, are elusive and require a high level of competency. If you need just that, contact us anytime.

Matthew Poole is a single parent of an eight year-old boy, Lucas. He is well-acclimated to the various challenges that face single parents, both professionally and personally. His practice has been focused on child custody matters for 14 years as a parental advocate.

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.