Posts Tagged ‘mother’

Gas Fumes and Perfumes: Modifications of Custody Involving Teenagers

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

While in court recently on a child custody modification, a chancellor was remarking on how difficult teenagers can be when they are smelling “both gas fumes and perfumes.” While also an attempt to break the tension in the room and to help the parties relax, the judge’s words evidenced how tough implementing a visitation schedule on a headstrong teenager with a driver’s license can be. In this particular case, the question posed to one of the parties was “what happens when the child doesn’t listen?”

This was an interesting question that different chancellors will approach in their own ways. A judge stated to me once that if a child did not want to attend a visitation with their parents, the judge would take their cell phone. Cell phones are life to many teenagers, and this judge found taking them away to be an extremely effective way to promote obedience of a court order.

What happens when a teenager really does not care about their phone? In the “gas fumes and perfumes” case, the child there was a lover of the outdoors who spent his time with 4-H and fishing, and did not really care if they had a cell phone or not. The judge in that case recognized this and posed the question of “what then?” Do we hogtie him and take him to the visitation? Throw him in jail? Hard labor? These questions become more difficult to answer when dealing with a teenager who is entering an exciting and confusing time of their lives.

Teenagers are notorious for doing the exact opposite of what they are told to do. It is simply in their nature. However, court orders are still court orders. They should be followed by whatever parties bound and should have consequences if not followed. The difficulty with teenagers is finding some way to punish them that will actually work. People of that age often do not have the funds to pay a fine, and if we threw every disobedient teenager into jail, we would have to build a million jails!

The biggest way to help facilitate teenage obedience of court orders regarding visitation seems to be communication. As a parent, the best thing to do is to talk about these visitation times with a teenager. Make them feel like it is something they want to do, rather than must do. Make them feel as though they are going to a second home and not a vacation. Teenagers want to have their concerns fall on ears that are listening. Striking a balance between parent and friend will help facilitate a teenager’s obedience with a court order, and to make sure that they won’t get in the car and drive off every time they want to act counter to that order.

Written by Kenneth B. Davis, Associate Attorney at the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole.

Mississippi Child Custody Considerations: Preference of the Child

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

Perhaps one of the more daunting and trying considerations for parents involved in a child custody dispute is the preference of the child. Parents contesting child custody are often nervous that their child’s preference will not be favorable to them because of a number of different reasons manipulating that child’s decision making. Sadly, this could even include the other parent’s influence. However, the preference of the child is but one of many considerations that chancellor’s weigh in their analysis of the Albright Factors to decide the best interests of the child.

By statute, the preference of the child will not be considered by a chancellor unless the child is 12 years old or older. After the sufficient age of 12, a child in a child custody case could be allowed by the court to express their preference as to which parent they would prefer to live with. A chancellor, however, is not required to honor the wishes of a child as to whom he/she would prefer to live with, but will only make that decision based on whether the best interests of the child is served by allowing them to express a preference.

This consideration is considered dismaying by some because of a parent’s ability to manipulate the feelings of a child in regards to the other parent. For example, there unfortunately are parents that will promise their children a later curfew, a new phone, or even a new car, just to manipulate the child into wanting to live with that parent. Although offering favors to their child may sway that child to their side momentarily, ultimately, a chancellor deciding the case will see that for what it is and take that into consideration when making his final decision.

Even though there are parents who attempt to essentially “bribe” their own children to make them want to live with them, a court will not make a decision based on the child’s preference if their preference is not in their best interest. It is understandable that this factor can cause a sense of uneasiness and worry in parents when dealing with a child custody dispute. Our office handles child custody disputes every day, and can help ease those worries. If you have any worries or concerns involving your custody disputes, or just have any questions at all involving your custody related issues, please contact our office. Thank you for following this series and please continue to follow along each week as we explore the Albright Factors.

Mississippi Child Custody Considerations: Home, School, and Community Records

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

A child’s home, school and community environment will have a huge impact on that child’s development as a person, and will likely shape them for the rest of their journey through life. This is where they will form bonds of friendship, get involved in the community, and get an education that will help them meet the challenges of adulthood. One of the most common misconceptions regarding this factor is that a court will only look to whether a change in custody will result in the child being “uprooted” from their community or school. While this is certainly a potential aspect in a chancellor’s analysis of this consideration, a chancellor will ultimately focus more on each of the parent’s ability to take their children to and from school on time and the children’s absences from school while in each parent’s custody. The courts primarily focus on whether the child(ren) are in a stable environment and if awarding custody to another parent would improve or provide that stability.

Courts have regularly weighed this factor unfavorably against a parent if/when a parent relies on others to drop off and pick up their children from school. For example, the Court of Appeals in Mississippi has found in recent cases that when one parent habitually struggles getting their child to school on time, that is weighed negatively against them in favor for the other parent, even if the other parent would need to “uproot” their children in order to be awarded custody.

When considering this Albright factor, the court also focuses on the child’s attendance in school when in the custody of each parent. If the child has an abundance of absences from school while in the care of the mother, that fact would be weighed unfavorably against her in the determination of custody. Also, for instance, if while the father had custody the family moved frequently and the children were forced to change schools and communities often, a chancellor would certainly weigh that fact against the father, especially if the mother has maintained stable household.

We talk to many people who have questions about this factor and many who come into our office have concerns about how their child’s school and community record will affect their case. The home, school, and community record of the child is but one factor among many in a chancellor’s Albright analysis when determining child custody. If you, or anyone you may know, have any questions about how this factor or others may impact your case, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the insight to the application of these factors to answer any and all questions you may have. We are glad to help you in this uneasy time. Please continue to follow our website’s series on the Mississippi child custody factors.

Mississippi Custody Considerations (Albright Factors: Moral Fitness of Parents)

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Here in Mississippi, it is well settled that the best interest of the child must be the polestar consideration in all custody decisions. In deciding the best interest of the child in custody cases, it is the chancellor’s duty to consider that the relationship of parent and child is for the benefit of the child, not the parent. To determine where the child’s best interest lies, the court must weigh a slew of factors when deciding custody. Among these factors one of the most critical consideration is the moral fitness of the parents. Especially here in Mississippi, deep in the Bible belt, this factor is perhaps taken into consideration more than any other factor.

When weighing this factor, the chancellor will make a judgment on who he or she finds to be morally fit to receive custody of the child. The chancellor will question both parents’ morals to find who should be awarded custody based on the best interest of the child. For example, a court will take into consideration whether either parent had an affair or has a drinking problem.

When it comes to the moral fitness of the parents, how those morals impact the children is key. For instance, if a mother’s paramour had constant exposure to the child and was in the home for extended periods of time with the child, the court would perhaps weigh that negatively against the mother. Bad behavior on one of the parent’s part is essential to the court’s analysis, however it is whether that bad behavior is exposed to the child that will cause the court to weigh in favor of the other parent.

As with the factor of the emotional bond between the parent and the child, a guardian ad litem (GAL) will play a large role in determining which parent possesses the better moral fitness to raise the child. The GAL will use home visits to make this determination, often with a prescheduled home visit, and possibly with an unannounced visit. This helps the GAL determine whether the scheduled visit (which often goes well) was the real deal, and not just a gilded image of everyday life in that home.

Many of our clients have questions about this factor because it is such an influential consideration in the eyes of the courts of Mississippi. Although this factor is important to the courts analysis in child custody cases, it is but one factor among many that a chancellor weighs in awarding custody. If you or anyone you know has any concerns or is unsure about the moral fitness consideration, or any other considerations, please contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office is pleased to assist you and answer any questions you may have.

Mississippi Custody Considerations (Albright Factors): Physical and Mental Health of the Parents

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

As many of our readers know, the foremost consideration in any custody decision is the best interest and welfare of the child. As a way for chancellors to navigate the interests and emotions involved in custody battles, courts created a list of factors to ensure that the chancellor considers all the relevant facts before making a decision, known as the Albright Factors. Many assume that no other factor is more contested than the consideration of each of the parents physical and mental health. However, this factor is most often found neutral, not favoring one parent over the other.

During child custody cases, parents’ physical and mental health information is made available via testimony of those parents. For example, a mother may testify as to her paranoia and suicidal feelings, in which the chancellor would take that into consideration when weighing that against a father with no record of mental or physical health problems. In cases like that, the chancellor could decide that the mother was the less mentally fit of the parents, thus awarding custody of the child to the father.

However, often the allegation of a physical or mental deficiency is made by one parent to the other. Clients who come into our office often suspect that something is making the other spouse act the way they are, which is usually decided to be a mental issue. Unless a chancellor finds factual support that one parent is suffering from mental health issues, a court will usually find that this factor favors neither parent. When a chancellor finds this factor neutral, the court will usually turn to other factors to decide the custody of the child.

The worry of physical disabilities impacting a custody decision is also something we encounter when speaking to clients. Health problems are no stranger in Mississippi, from diabetes to PTSD to cancer. These can surely be cause for concern when giving custody of a child to a parent, so it is important for parents with these conditions to either have it relatively under control so that they can devote more time to taking care of the child.

Often, concerns about this factor are based on a fear of “what the other parent will say.” However, absent a showing of a condition that causes the chancellor great concern, the mental and physical health of each parent is a neutral factor. Courts are aware of the adversarial nature of these cases, and therefore require proof of a condition that may impact the child negatively. If you or anyone you know has a question about this factor or any other Albright Factor, or any other law pertaining to custody, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office is pleased to assist you in this turbulent time. Please continue to keep following this series as we explore and discuss each of the Albright Factors.

Mississippi Custody Factor 4: Employment of the Parent

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

In tune with our last post, Mississippi Courts rightfully use many factors in determining the custody of a minor child. The employment of the parent is a crucial factor in the Albright analysis that a chancellor will weigh in determining which parent will be awarded custody, and will also play a part in the creation of a visitation schedule between the parent and child(ren). This factor may seem as though the court looks just to which parent has the higher-paying job or career. The court’s analysis, however, dives deeper into the responsibilities of each of the parents’ employment.

Standard visitation is every other weekend, 4 weeks in the summer, and 10 days at Christmas time, with other holiday visitation scattered throughout the year. Obviously, careers such as offshore workers, nurses, military, and others that demand large blocks of time will most likely not allow this schedule to be workable. Understandably, this is a concern we often hear in our office, as many Mississippians are employed in professions such as these. The client hears “since you don’t have time to exercise your visitation, you don’t get it at all.” This is absolutely not the case, as any chancellor in Mississippi would be gravely mistaken to not consider that work schedule regarding visitation.

Many people also think that the parent with the higher-paying career is perceived to be better suited to provide for the child, however this concern is ill-placed, as support is only one facet of this factor. Many times, the court looks to the parents’ work schedule and time at work to determine whether their work life is conducive to being involved with the child’s school and social life. Often, a parent whose employment schedule and responsibilities align with the child’s school and social schedule will weigh more favorably than just a job with a higher income. For example, a parent with a job that starts at 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., who has time to drop off and pick up their child at school, may be considered more beneficial to that child than a parent with earlier hours and higher pay.

Although the nature of a parents’ employment and the responsibilities of that employment is an important factor for a chancellor to consider, it is but one factor among many that the court must weigh in awarding custody. Though not dispositive, a parents’ work hours and schedule weighs in favor of that parent when that schedule best cooperates with the needs of the child.

This factor of a child custody decision is one that clients often have the most questions about, because their employment usually relates to support issues. However, the employment of a parent is also a huge factor in custody and visitation. A lot of professions have schedules that simply do not allow standard visitation to work, and parents will not be punished for having a schedule like that. If you have any questions about your employment in relation to a child custody case or know anyone who may have questions about a child custody case, please call the law offices of Matthew S. Poole. We are pleased to assist you in this turbulent time. Feel free to keep following this series on the Albright factors.

Albright Factors: Age, Health, and Gender

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Many of you are probably thinking that, according to our last post, that the age of the child is no longer considered a major factor in child custody decisions. This is not true, as even though the tender years doctrine is no longer treated as a hardline rule, the age of the child is still a factor that courts weigh in these cases, along with the health and gender of the child. The Mississippi Court of Appeals noted that sometimes all three factors are grouped into one larger factor, and sometimes age is separated from health and gender as its own factor. Flowers v. Flowers, 90 So.3d 672, 679 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012). While these factors may seem rather cut and dry, there are many ways that an attorney can construe these factors in the favor of their client to swing the balance of the court’s decision on child custody.

While most parents are concerned and interested in the health of their child, not all of those parents can give the child the attention their health deserves. Children afflicted by serious illnesses require a lot of personal care, and that means a lot of doctor’s appointments. Courts may look to see which of the parents is more able to accompany the child to these health-related appointments in making their decision on custody. That parent may also be better able to spend more time with the child making sure they feel safe, loved, and often simply to take their mind off their illness. While a parent with a demanding job can feel a huge amount of concern for their child’s health, they also cannot be in two places at once.

As mentioned in our previous post, the age of the child was given large consideration in child custody decisions, and although it is not the only factor, courts still use it in their analysis. The age of the child often relates to breastfeeding, as the standard was that during the child’s “tender years” that the presumption lied with the mother being the best guardian until either parent could equally care for the child. Before the prevalence of formula, this factor would have all but certainly favored the mother, leaving fathers with an uphill battle for custody of their child.

Related to the application of the tender years doctrine is the factor of the gender of the child. This factor can play a part as the child grows older and enters adolescence. Mississippi courts have noted that growing and maturing boys could need guidance from their fathers, as well as maturing girls from their mothers, and that this needed help and direction should be considered when making a custody decision. Parker v. South, 913 So.2d 339 (Miss. Ct. App. 2005).

The health, age and sex of the child factors in child custody cases may seem like afterthoughts compared to some others that will follow in this series, however these can still play a pivotal role in a chancellor’s decision in awarding custody. If a parent is able to spend more time with a child affected by illnesses, a chancellor will consider that. If the child is entering a confusing and frustrating time in their lives and one parent is better suited to help them through it, a chancellor will consider that as well. Many people will probably skim over this factor because it is often not a “smoking gun,” but it is still worthy of consideration, because it can play a large role in the outcome.

Introduction to Albright: The Tender Years Doctrine

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

One of the more common misconceptions we hear from clients in our office is that there is an inherent bias toward the mother in child custody actions. While it is often true that the mother has been the child’s primary caregiver, there are still 11 other factors that courts weigh to make the decision that is in the child’s best interest. However, before these factors were spelled out in Albright v. Albright, Mississippi courts often made this decision with emphasis on the tender years doctrine.

The tender years doctrine basically stands for the idea that during a child’s “tender years” (birth to around 3 years old), that the child’s best interests were served by remaining with the mother. Under the common law, fathers had an absolute proprietary right to the custody of his legitimate minor children. Later, the law shifted and began to favor the mother. The case of Johns v. Johns established this presumption in Mississippi law, stating that “In all cases where any child is of such tender age as to require the mother’s care for its physical welfare it should be awarded to her custody, at least until it reaches that age and maturity where it can be equally well cared for by other persons.” Johns v. Johns, 57 Miss. 530 (1879). Of course, this seems closely related to breastfeeding. For many years, courts in many states followed this as a rule instead of a factor in custody.

Later, the tender years presumption came under scrutiny from courts around the United States. Some of the concern from courts came from the supposed discrimination against fathers in child custody cases based solely on their sex. The Mississippi Supreme Court recognized the decline in other state courts’ consideration of the tender years doctrine, noting that although the doctrine should not be disregarded, that other factors should be considered as well. These factors were outlined in the case of Albright v. Albright. In that case, the Court noted that while the age of the child was an important factor in the decision of the child’s custody, that it wasn’t rational to base that decision solely on age. Albright v. Albright, 437 So.2d 1003, 1005 (Miss. 1983). Later in the opinion, the Court laid out the factors that should be considered in a child custody case, and those are the factors used to this day.

Our office often receives calls from people who are simply ill-informed about the decision-making of courts in child custody actions. Due to this, our office feels that people deserve to know what courts actually use to make that huge decision. Following this blog post, we will be publishing a new post about each of the factors considered when hearing the case from each party that will change that child’s life for good. If you or someone you know has a question about the Albright factors, or you’ve simply always heard that the child goes with the mother, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. Our office has the knowledge of these factors and their application to answer any question you may have. Thank you, and please continue to read the rest of our Albright factor series that will be published over the coming weeks.