Posts Tagged ‘Parental Alienation’

Do This, Not That…Common Custody Mistakes

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

“Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas”.

Eleanor Roosevelt

We receive about 4,500 phone calls a year, plus or minus. In 16 years of practice, my assistants and I have received prospective client intakes from more people than the population of a medium-sized city. Almost all of the calls have a common denominator; an inability to communicate with the “other” parent. It can be easily avoided…here is a basic blueprint. I hope it is helpful.

Every life struggle needs a hero. Why should it not be you? As a single parent, I have seen these challenges first hand. As a domestic lawyer, I have fought these battles for my clients just the same. So here are my thoughts and impressions about how to proceed when child custody is front and center in your life…and your kids’ lives even more importantly. So here is the entree’; what to do and what to avoid. If you follow this advice, parenting still won’t be easy, but life will be better for your children.

DO- Keep open communication with the other parent about childrens’ activities and progress.

DO NOT- Cut off your kids ability to talk to dad/mom or keep them in the dark. Children build self-esteem through belief that they have great parents…two of them.

DO- Remember that children are innocent.

DO NOT- Believe they understand adult problems, emotions, or opinions.

DO- Remember that your child is one-half of you, one-half of another.

DO NOT- Think that your child isn’t hurting because their other parent is not around…even if it is by their own bad choice.

DO- Realize that kids need love, even if the person loving them has serious flaws.

DO NOT- Require perfection from your ex…we all have flaws, but loving of our children is what matters most, your relationship may have been a simple moment in time, after all.

DO- Make sure to tell your kids that you love them, so does dad…or mom…and grandma.

DO NOT- Tell them that they were abandoned, that you are the hero, that you saved them from misery and suffering.

DO- Ask your children what they need from your ex, be it a new toy, a way to communicate, or a simple showing of affection.

DO NOT- Tell your children how you feel about the person who may have broken your heart, damaged your soul.

DO- Make sure your children enjoy being a child…it is a precious thing we all remember dearly.

DO NOT- Let them feel the real life burdens all adults feel every day.

Last thought…if all else fails, always take pride that you did your best and never gave up on the children brought into an imperfect, but beautiful world. Any judge will see you for your strengths first. That is the way it should be. In a custody battle, nice guys and gals finish first.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, MS family lawyer specializing in custody and custody modification matters. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 2004.

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.

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.

Importance of a Father in the Home

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Maintaining the family unit should be the number one goal of any mother and father. Even when going through a divorce, it is essential that both parents are just as involved in their child’s life as they possible can be. However, with divorce ever on the rise in the United States, an all too common consequence of parent’s separating can be an absence of the father in the home. This can mean a great deal of adversity for the children later on in life. Be it an increased risk of poverty or a higher chance of incarceration, living without a father puts a child’s life squarely at risk for all manner of difficulty.

Since 1960, the percentage of children living in two-parent homes has decreased dramatically from 88% down to 66%. This drop has been caused by many factors, but the most prevalent one is the rise in divorce. Across the nation, married couples are calling it quits and their children are stuck in the middle. Unfortunately, this increase in divorce has made some dads pack up permanently, leaving their ex-wife with the kids, and their kids without a father-figure. This can have an indescribable effect on the life of a child.

According to the Census Bureau, there are 24 million children in the United States, and one out of three of them live without their biological father in the home. Compared to children who live with both parents, these children are four times more likely to live in poverty, and two times more likely to drop out of high school. Combine these statistics with the poverty income level in the U.S. only being $12,140.00 a year, a child living in a single parent, fatherless home has to escape becoming another statistic just to overcome the odds already stacked against them.

Risks of poverty and lack of education aside, there is a darker and more horrifying concern of growing up without a father. One of the more striking statistics provided by the Census Bureau shows that 63% of youth suicides in the United States are performed by children of single-parent homes. This is an astonishing number. To put this data a different way, one of the only single identifying metrics that connects two thirds of all children from around the country that commit suicide is the fact that they are raised in a single-parent home. This alone shows the importance of why maintaining a two-parent household is integral in a child’s life.

Going through a divorce can be the toughest thing someone has to go through. Although most everyone would rather not split up their own family, it is often not that simple. When mom and dad cannot work it out, or even refuse to work it out, the child suffers. Custody battles can be the same way. When one parent refuses to let mom or dad be a part of their kid’s lives, it hurts the child most of all. If you want to be a part of their child’s life, but are struggling because of divorce, custody, or your spouse is refusing your rights as a parent, please do not hesitate to call us. The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole is well-seasoned to handle these types of situations and we would be happy to help.

Written by J. Tyler Cox, J.D., Class of 2018

Parental Alienation: Why You Should Act Fast

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Pretty regularly at our office, we unfortunately have child custody cases where one parent continually makes derogatory remarks about the other parent in front of their child. This is one of the worst things a parent can do when wanting to obtain custody, especially when the child is not old enough to legally have a preference with which parent he/she would rather live with. What many parents do not realize is that a parent has an inherent duty to foster and facilitate the relationship between their child and that child’s other parent. Disparaging the other parent can not only hurt their case in the eyes of a chancellor, but it can also adversely affect the child. From a chancellor’s perspective, belittling the other parent in an effort to negatively impact the child’s relationship with them is wholly improper and unacceptable.

When the “brainwashing” of a child by one parent gets so bad that it manipulates the child into disliking or not wanting a relationship with the other parent, there is more than likely a case of parental alienation. Parental alienation is a term used by child custody lawyers and child psychologists alike to describe what happens in situations where a parent has made conscious efforts, by negative words or actions, to upset their child’s relationship with the other parent. An example of this would be where a mother has spoken badly about a father, made derogatory remarks about him, or even lied about him to the child, all in order to alter that child’s feelings towards his dad, so that the child would not want to live with him.

Other examples of behaviors that can cause parental alienation include one parent discussing details of the parent’s relationship, scheduling the child’s activities during the other parent’s visitation time, not informing the other parent the times of those activities in order for them not to attend, denying the other parent important school and medical records, and giving the child ultimatums encouraging them to pick one parent over the other. This type of behavior has major consequences, and if not addressed as soon as possible, can permanently destroy a child’s relationship with their parent. A child’s mind is very susceptible, especially to a person that they instinctively trust – as they would a parent. Prolonged exposure to this type of influence deteriorates little by little any chance of a relationship they might have had with one of their mother or father.

In years past, parental alienation issues could only be brought up when there was a non-disparagement clause in the custody order. This prevented parental alienation from being any more than a contempt issue. Now, however, chancellors in Mississippi consider disparagement through the parenting-skills factor under Albright. With disparagement now being a consideration in Albright, it constitutes a material change sufficient for modification of custody.

Isolating a parent from their child is serious, and in the end, it does more damage to the child than it does to the other parent. To put it plainly, parental alienation is a form of child abuse. Chancellors know this, that is why any hard evidence that a mother or father is molding their child’s emotions negatively toward the other is met with extreme prejudice. Absent neglect and endangerment, nothing can kill a parent’s chances of being awarded custody more than harmfully reshaping their child’s relationship with their mom or dad. If you believe that this is happening to you, or someone you may know, please give us a call. We have the expertise to handle parental alienation cases, and any of your child custody needs.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney who specializes in family litigation. He was admitted to practice in 2004.