Posts Tagged ‘parent’

Hire a Lawyer… Fast

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Getting served with legal papers is not a fun experience. There is really no other way to put it. It doesn’t help that these papers are often served on the person at work to avoid confrontation, which adds to the embarrassment and confusion. However, as stressful as being involved in a lawsuit is, swift action in hiring counsel is an extremely important step in addressing it.

One of the common scenarios given in my first year of Civil Procedure was that clients would be served with papers requiring an answer (30 days in Mississippi), would lay the papers on the counter, and forget about it for 26 days. They would then see the papers while cleaning up and realize that they needed to hire a lawyer. While it may be tempting to try and ignore the fact that you are being sued, you should take fast action to protect your rights to be heard.

In custody actions, the summons is different than one requiring a written answer, and provides the person served with a time and place certain to appear and defend themselves. That hearing is called a temporary hearing, because it outlines the Court’s order on what the parties are to do until trial. This temporary order includes the parameters of visitation with the child as well as the support obligation of the parent who is not exercising primary physical custody. Depending on the space of the court docket, these temporary hearings are usually not set for very far out from the service of the complaint, so that the party bringing the suit can get some temporary relief while awaiting trial.

When you are served with papers such as these, don’t lay them on the counter and forget about them! As Jimmy Two Times would say in the 1990 film Goodfellas, you need to go “get the papers, get the papers.” Get those papers and take them to a lawyer before that temporary hearing date so that you and your attorney can talk about what will be the most effective strategy from there. The sooner you hire a lawyer when you are served with papers, the better. If you are served with custody papers, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the skills and expertise to make sure the proper strategy is in place before the temporary hearing so as to get you the best result in your case.

Written by J. Tyler Cox, J.D. Candidate of Mississippi College School of Law, 2018.

Mississippi Child Custody Factors: Financial Situation of the Parents

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

One of the worst-kept secrets in the world is that kids are expensive. They break stuff, get sick, and outgrow clothes faster than you can buy them. In child custody cases, the court will take into consideration the finances of the individual parents, not because affluence counts higher in favor of custody, but that the ability to provide for that child is extremely important. This is not to say that the parent with the most money wins. It means that if one parent is totally broke, then they will have an uphill battle in showing the rest of the factors weigh in their favor.

Parents in a good financial situation will have an easier time showing that they can provide for the child, and possibly to spoil them to some extent. Spoiling does not mean turning the child into Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Spoiling means being able to buy the child a new bike, a baseball glove, and send them to college. A good financial situation also means that the parent can provide the child with a great place to live and can afford utilities without having to worry.

Courts may also look at the parents’ financial situations by seeing if the parents are responsible with money. Credit card debt, crazy investments, and buying clothes and jewelry beyond your means will lead a judge to believe that you have trouble limiting your spending, which can adversely affect the child. A parent who can show that they have their finances under control will have the upper hand regarding this factor of a child custody determination.

This factor is one that often confuses and scares clients that come into our office. Often, these are the parents who acted as a homemaker during the relationship or who never completed school because of childcare. The financial situation of the parents does not mean that the parent who makes more money will automatically win. It is simply one factor that can help a chancellor make their decision. Taking care of a child takes a responsible person, and one of the easiest ways to show your responsibility is to prove that your financial situation is a good one for the child to grow up in. If you have a question about your child custody case, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. We love helping people take care of what is important to them, and would love to help you too.

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.

Mississippi Custody Factor 3: Parenting Skills

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Considered by some to be the “smoking gun” in child custody cases, the determination of which parent has the better parenting skills is pivotal in a chancellor’s decision in awarding custody. Before entering our office, many clients feel anxious about the weight of this particular factor because they feel as though they may be singled out as not being able to raise and nurture their child. However, while the determination of which parent has the better parenting skills seems like the most important element in a child custody case, it is only one factor that a chancellor weighs in making their decision, and a factor that could wind up favoring both parents equally.

When weighing this factor, courts look to which parent has the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care. This can include being a stay-at-home mother, being actively involved in the child’s schooling, and acting as the primary disciplinarian. Courts may also look to see which parent contributes more to the child’s social needs, such as driving them to and from sport’s practices. If one parent is unwilling or unable to provide this type of care for the child, then the court will not weigh this factor in their favor. This can obviously result from a number of aspects about a parent’s life, most notably employment demands.

One misconception that many people read into this factor is that it will always clearly favor one parent over the other. Many times, courts find that this factor favors neither parent, because both express a desire and willingness to provide for their child. In this situation, a court would turn to other factors to decide the custody of the child. Another worry that clients seem to have about this factor is the strength of the words “ability” and “willingness.” Being deemed to not have the ability or willingness to raise child will surely have a profound effect on a parent, however all is not lost when this occurs.

Many incorrectly believe that this factor is the main decision regarding a chancellor’s judgment of who the better parent is to raise the child or children involved. It is not. Although an important factor, the determination of which (if either) parent has the best parenting skills is just one of several factors that the court weighs in a custody case. If you or any one you may know has a question, or is unsure about the law pertaining to custody, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office can answer any question that arises about these factors that you may have, and can help you through this unpleasant time. Please continue to follow this series as we explore and explain more of the Albright factors.

Albright Factors Part 2: Continuity of Care

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Our previous article discussed the first child custody determination factor from the Mississippi Supreme Court’s ruling in Albright v. Albright, which is the age, health and sex of the minor child. We now shift our focus to the next factor that may be overlooked at first, but then seems to make intuitive sense to most people: the parent who has had continuity of care of the child prior to the separation of the parties.

As with many factors in child custody cases, people often believe this factor presents an inherent bias toward the mother. However, this is not always the case. Either parent could have a very demanding job that simply takes time away from providing care to the child at home. For example, in Copeland v. Copeland, the Chancellor found that this factor favored the father, because he would spend time with the child after work, prepare the child’s meals, and get the child ready for bed until the mother arrived home from work. Copeland v. Copeland, 904 So.2d 1066, 1076 (Miss. 2004). The Court also noted that the continuity of care should be examined prior to and during the separation, so temporary custody cannot weigh too heavily in favor of one parent automatically.

The continuity of care of a minor child can also be examined by which parent seems to carry a bigger load of the responsibilities in caring for a minor child. In May v. May, the mother believed this factor favored her because she took her son to most of his doctor’s appointments, often cooked dinner for the family, and got her son ready to go to school in the morning. The Court noted that while this seemed true, the factor favored both parents evenly because there was evidence that the parents split duties regarding the child’s care, as the father had also taken the child to some appointments and cooked to the best of his abilities (soup and grilling). May v. May, 107 So.3d 1052, 1055 (Miss. Ct. App. 2013).

This factor is one of the Albright factors that begins almost at the birth of the child. Continuity of care will favor the parent who has taken on responsibility of the child’s care, but can often come out as favoring both parents evenly. Contributing to the care of a child can range from the obvious, such as changing and feeding, to the not-so-obvious, such as bedtime stories and trips to the doctor. Parents engaged in a custody battle obviously care about the children, so if you think one of your parenting duties is related to the continuity of care, speak up! Those assertions can only help you, and showing the ability to be responsible for child care will help greatly in the Court’s decision.

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.