Posts Tagged ‘Rankin Mississippi County’

If It Isn’t Paradoxical, It’s Not True: Custody Myths Debunked

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Let me start by stating what is too often overlooked: there are not extremely obvious answers or simple solutions in child custody battles. In my experience having taken several hundred custody and visitation disputes to trial, I have learned a few things that could potentially help a litigant in these stressful cases.

My intention is simple today: to bring basic common sense into the murky water of domestic custody disputes. The myth is this: the worse I make the other parent/ex/spouse appear, the better I appear to the court. Not so fast, as we shall see.

Once upon a time I had a client who was probably, but not certainly, the better parent when compared to her husband, but she made a relatively simple custody victory elusive by getting in her own way….it often happens. When testifying about the parenting skills of her husband (who sought full physical and legal custody of a 6 year old little boy), she would instantly and consistently revert to name-calling and bashing the man she married years ago. Most of her testimony focused on his numerous affairs, not his skill in parenting. He was far more collected and even-tempered than she. He did in fact have several admitted extramarital affairs, and she clearly was not past any one of them. Her wounds were simply too fresh to focus on her child. To him, her insults were like water off of a duck’s back….and therein lies the rub.

Even though we did eventually secure a favorable result, our understandably angry client would likely have spent a fraction of her final invoice if she had bitten her tongue, if even every so often. She was clearly so upset with her husband that she lost all sight of the one thing the court cared about: what was best for her little boy. A case that could have been resolved in a couple of months instead required a couple of dozen hearings and far more too much wasted time.

Even though it is quite tempting to use a Chancery Court proceeding to tell the whole story about the downfall of a marriage/relationship, some things are much better left unsaid. Please realize that the court already knows you don’t have warm, fuzzy feelings about your ex/spouse, or you wouldn’t be there in the first place. It is already well-understood. Slinging mud at your ex often simply irritates the Chancellor hearing your case. Often the best thing to say in court is nothing at all, especially if it causes distraction.

The paradox lies in a simple misconception; that having more negative to say about your child’s other parent will score points, therefore you win. Not so fast; goodwill and maturity go a long way–Mississippi Chancellors appreciate calm reasoning and the desire to get along, particularly for the childrens’ benefit, if nothing less. Don’t ever think you are worse-off than the next custody litigant. Cooler heads most often, and likely should, prevail. Often the litigant who is emotionally-charged teters on the brink of appearing to alienate a child’s innocent affection of both mom and dad.

The attitude a child custody litigant brings with them to trial is overtly paramount to the success of their claim and the efficiency in obtaining a positive outcome. It is very easy to lose sight of what matters most to the court: the best interests of children. Emotionally-charged litigants often forget that their testimony will not only be judged on its believability, but on its responsibility and focus.

My best advice to anyone going through a custody fight (whether or not in a divorce or a custody/modification proceeding) is to remain calm and stay focused on your kids. Forget about the indiscretions, the lying, the cheating, or whatever else your ex did to bring you to disappointment UNLESS it has a direct bearing on your children. It’s usually water under the bridge. Don’t forget that Chancery Court judges are human too, and they hear bickering on a daily basis. It gets tiresome at the least. The myth is that mudslinging is effective; the truth is that it is not very productive.

If you are seeking an attorney who has a clear view of the big picture in a custody dispute, I will gladly lend my advice. Shaping your testimony and being in the right frame of mind are fundamental to winning child custody disputes. If you are prepared to consider viewing this type of litigation from a fresh, objective, and realistic perspective, give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family and Domestic Attorney with 14 years of focused experience in child custody litigation and divorce.

Age 12: Not A Magic Number

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

The law is full of misconceptions, and one of the most common ones that our office receives calls about is the role a child plays in a custody case. Many people seem to believe that when the child reaches age 12, they have the choice of which parent to live with. While age 12 does have some significance in custody cases, it does not give the child license to make that decision entirely on their own. It does, however, allow the child to express a preference, and the way the child chooses to do that may largely affect the outcome.

It is often a joke with lawyers that if we allowed children to make their custody decision, the child would pick whichever parent allows them to jump on the bed and have ice cream for breakfast. That is a slight exaggeration, but judges acknowledge that many 12-year-olds do not have the maturity to make the best decision for themselves. Several factors go into the judge’s decision on how much weight to give the child’s preference, such as the child’s age, their reasons for their preference, and the judge’s personal sense of the child’s maturity level.

If the child has good reasons for picking the parent they want to live with, a judge will most certainly consider the child’s preference. Good reasons include the school situation, the home environment, and, to some extent, the child’s community record. Reasons that will most likely not persuade a judge include picking the more lenient parent, being closer to a girlfriend or boyfriend, or, like the old joke goes, the parent who lets the child eat pizza for every meal. Ultimately, the case largely leans on the child’s ability to make a thoughtful, reasonable argument to the judge about what living arrangement is in the child’s best interest. Below are some examples of good and bad arguments by a child for their preference.

What may work: “Your honor, I want to live with this parent because I believe this environment is best for my personal growth and educational opportunities.”

What will probably not work: “Your honor, this parent is stricter than the other, and therefore I do not wish to live with them.”

A child’s living arrangements is an extremely important decision, and courts prefer to have the child involved as much as possible. Allowing a child of 12 years or older to be able to show a preference and giving them the opportunity to speak on their behalf achieves that while still giving the court enough control over the situation to make the decision that is in the child’s best interest. We often hear the misconception that the child has control over their custody arrangement, and while they do play a role, it is not as great as many people believe. If you or someone you know has a custody problem, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the experience and knowledge to properly address your case and achieve a fair result. With any questions, call our office at 601-573-7429.

Five Divorce Misconceptions

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

In our office, we see a variety of mistakes made by clients, many of which have an impact on the outcome of their divorce in terms of the division of assets, awards of alimony and/or attorney’s fees, and even in the determination of custody of the minor children. Keep in mind that much of the financial responsibility is the responsibility of the non-custodial parent. Do not ruin your own finances. Do not allow the potential future cost of your children’s college education to be forgotten in your divorce – your spouse owes his or her fair share. After all, the minor children did not ask to be brought into this world; both of you created them, and BOTH of you are responsible for giving them a fair shot in life.

1. When things get rough at home I should move somewhere else. False (with some caveats). The most common mistake we see is the belief that one can simply leave the marital home when things go sour. Our advice to any client is that leaving the home prior to a court order being issued is a mistake, unless of course there is a legitimate fear for you own safety or for the safety of the minor children. Many Chancery Courts in Mississippi routinely rule that the party who has left the marital home without proof of provocation forfeits his or her equitable share of the value/equity of the marital domicile. Trust the advice of a trained professional and duly licensed attorney before making a hasty decision to jump ship altogether.

2. It is okay to start dating as long as I am separated from my spouse. False. Mississippi does not recognize legal separation, and if children are involved, you automatically start out “behind” in terms of the factors considered by the court in an award of custody – Albright v. Albright considers moral fitness as well as continuity of care, so tread very lightly and perhaps just try to enjoy being single for a while (until your marriage is officially dissolved). Also, the Chancery Courts in Mississippi will generally give favor to the adult in the room, i.e., the person who valued the sanctity of marriage until the bitter end, regardless of fault.

3. It is acceptable to drain our joint bank accounts. After all, they are in my name also. False (With a few exceptions). There may in fact be circumstances wherein you should attempt to recoup losses or ensure that future bills will be paid, but this is a challenging and complicated issue. We recommend that you consult with your attorney before taking any such measures, and keep in mind that any action you take out of anger or spite will likely be adverse for you when your case is heard by a Mississippi Chancellor.

4. It is okay to utilize social media to vent about my spouse. We have freedom of speech, after all. False. Any disparaging of your spouse is not solely in the context of personal free speech when children are involved. The Chancery Court is the ultimate arbiter (a.k.a. the super-guardian) of all minor children within its jurisdiction. Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social media platform as a forum to vent your frustration is ill-advised. Exercise patience and trust the court to make a fair and consistent judgment, one that will be in the best interests of your children. Divorce, even when relatively amicable, is never easy, and it can be tempting to vent your frustrations or to seek emotional support on social media. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this type of behavior rarely, if ever, earns you favor in a Mississippi Chancery Court.

5. It is my right to choose to minimize my spouse’s contact with the children until the divorce is final. False. (With rare exception). The only legitimate reason to become an obstacle to your spouse’s visitation with your minor children prior to a divorce being finalized is when there are safety concerns which can be shown by proof – if the evidence does not demonstrate that your children are in danger when in the care of your spouse, be careful. The last position you want to be in is to have to explain why you took the reins of child custody without the permission of the court. Remember, the Chancery Court is the legal “super-guardian” of all children within its jurisdiction, and that responsibility is taken incredibly seriously.

If you have a question about this article or about child custody in general (whether in the context of a divorce or otherwise), or if you simply would like to share your input, we would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact The Law Office of Matthew Poole, via telephone at (601) 573-7429 or email at matthewspoole@gmail.com. We are best equipped to assess your situation and give you some practical advice on steps you can take to receive a favorable result in Mississippi Chancery Court.

Considerations in Hiring a Domestic Lawyer

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

There are a huge number of variables to consider before hiring an attorney for any legal matter, and when it comes to a matter of domestic law, that consideration is especially important. This particular area of law is quite complicated and can be confusing, and there are certain criteria that prospective clients should be aware of before hiring an attorney for a divorce, modification, or custody issue. I have practiced in the domestic arena for thirteen years and have handled over twelve hundred domestic matters during that time.  Let me give you some basic advice that hopefully will benefit the interests of justice for yourself and your child.

First, I would like to make very clear that there is no one specific set of rules that dictate what makes a competent, ethical, and able attorney, one who will ensure that your rights are protected under any one set of circumstances.  In my opinion, all successful attorneys share one common attribute – they have the proper skillset to perform their job.  In other words, the best domestic/family law attorneys are always on the offense.  The general theory and belief amongst the best domestic attorneys is that as long as you are attacking the opposition, you are winning. Keeping them on the defense makes them unable to use their time to attack you.  It is always better to be on the offensive, and it is very difficult in any circumstance to score points with the court when you constantly have to defend allegations from the opposition.  This is not to say that frivolous accusations are heralded or met with favor from the court; however, in any domestic scenario, there are only so many angles at which to bring valid factual allegations against your opponent in order to gain favor with the court and to demonstrate with the court that you are in fact on the “high ground” in terms of the legal merits of your custody or divorce case.

I would highly suggest that anyone searching for a domestic attorney seek one who doesn’t “wear too many hats” – in other words, one who isn’t a proverbial jack-of-all-trades.  The reason I say this is that in Chancery Court we often see attorneys who handle car wrecks, DUI’s, felony criminal matters, and practically anything and everything else they can get their hands on in order to pay the bills.  I strongly advise against hiring an attorney who wears too many hats.  It’s possible for an attorney to be competent and able to practice in two or more different areas effectively; however, your bets are best hedged when you hire an attorney whose practice focuses on a more specific practice area. For comparison, would you entrust your health or the health of a loved one to a thoracic surgeon who is also a vascular surgeon, an oral surgeon, a family practitioner and a plastic surgeon? There is no way he or she could have mastered so many areas, all of which are vastly different and require vastly different skillsets. And whether it be medicine or law, the advice is no different: leave the “jack-of-all-trades” for the rural areas that have few options when it comes to either profession.

The last bit of advice I would give anyone seeking an attorney for a divorce or child custody matter is to look at the amount of experience the attorney has in that realm.  I have occasionally run across attorneys who have practiced for four or five years, who are competent and who, at the very least, do a sufficient job in representing their clients.  However, I would caution that seven to eight years of experience should be considered the standard prerequisite for having mastered the nuances of the case law and statutes which permeate domestic litigation. An attorney’s experience is invaluable and crucial in helping you to obtain the best result for your own unique circumstances.

If you would like to speak with us regarding your domestic matter, be it divorce, custody, modification, or contempt in Chancery Court, please give us a call at (601) 573-7429 and we will be glad to schedule a consultation.

Separate Maintenance/Alimony Considered by Court of Appeals

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Recently the Rankin County Chancery Court was appealed on a claim by a wife for separate maintenance which is also considered separate alimony.  The claims of the wife include the issue of her being entitled to support outside of child support, which would be considered alimony or temporary separate maintenance.  The Rankin County Chancery Court heard a case in Spotswood v. Spotswood wherein the court was asked to consider a claim that the husband was required to reimburse the wife for insurance premiums that she paid through her employment and that she would also request payments for the mortgage of the marital home that the husband and wife owned jointly.  The Rankin County Chancery Court determined that the husband reimburse the wife for those insurance premiums as well as pay half of mortgage payments for the marital home, although the husband had departed the marital home.  The husband argued that the chancery court made an error in ordering him to make payments on the marital home as well as the insurance payments and essentially granted the wife’s request for separate maintenance or alimony even though the court specifically found that the wife was not entitled to the payment for separate maintenance or alimony.  The Court of Appeals determined, after reviewing the entire record, that if the lower court had found that the award of separate maintenance or alimony is not warranted then the court cannot order one spouse, in this case the husband, to undertake obligations for the benefit of the other spouse, in this case the wife.  Essentially the Court of Appeals was presented with a question that has been litigated in Chancery Courts around the state of Mississippi for decades.  The Court of Appeals resolved a solitary issue here and found that the wife was not entitled to separate alimony or maintenance because the court of Rankin County determined that she was not entitled to the same.  The court, in essence, determined that the husband was not required to make the payment for the mortgage of the home or insurance, as the Rankin County Court had previously adjudicated.  Therefore the Court of Appeals reversed and rendered the decision back to Rankin County Chancery Court in order to have them make a determination of the issues aside from the decision that was made; that the husband could not be required to make payments outside of the scope of alimony even if they were in the guise of insurance or mortgage payments after the determination had already been made that separate alimony or maintenance during the parties’ separation was denied.


If you need assistance with a separate maintenance or alimony issue, contact The Law Office of Matthew Poole, and we are best able to provide you with the assistance and advice in order to bring your case to a fair conclusion.

Matthew Poole (601) 573-7429.

Alternating Physical Custody of a Young Child

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

It has become common in the state of Mississippi, as well as other jurisdictions, that parties to a divorce as well as custody actions have requested that their minor child be as close to equally split in physical custody as the court will permit. On the day of the trial in a recent case that went to the court of appeals, the husband and wife agreed to consent to trial of the divorce on solely irreconcilable differences and permit the chancellor to resolve the issues of physical and legal custody of the minor child of the marriage. At the time of this marital dissolution the parties were jointly parenting a five-year-old little girl. After hearing evidence based upon the testimony of the parties excluding the fault-based grounds that were dropped ,the parties were both awarded approximately an equal split on physical custody until the daughter was able to attend kindergarten. The wife argued that the chancellor mistakenly failed to decide who would have custody of the daughter when she started kindergarten. The wife did not argue that the final order of the court was not final and appealable, but the underlying issue to be resolved was the parallel to this issue. In his ruling, the chancellor failed to specify the exact month and year in the final judgment of the child’s reversion to standard physical custody on the part of the mother. The wife also argued to the court of appeals that the chancellor failed to consider if the joint custody arrangement was practical due to the distance the daughter had to travel. At this point, the father lived in San Antonio, Texas. There was a significant argument as to the impracticality of traveling to San Antonio, Texas from Brandon, Mississippi, even prior to the child starting kindergarten at 5 years old. In this case, the chancellor found that shared custody was in the best interest of the child, despite the fact that she would have to travel significantly to spend time with either parent. Given the distance between San Antonio, Texas and Brandon, Mississippi, the court of appeals determined that the custody arrangement was not in the best interest of the minor child. Thus, the case was reversed and remanded with further instructions to the court to make adequate consideration of the travel time in order to effectuate this difficult provision in terms of travel for alternating custody. The important point to remember is that a significant amount of precedent discourages the use of alternating custody arrangements even prior to a child attending school.

If you need help with a complicated or complex custody arrangement or need advice on how to best proceed in order to parent your child or children, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole, and we will be happy to help in any way that we can within the bounds of existing legal precedent.

Matthew Poole (601) 573-7429.

“Can Parental Alienation of Children result in Contempt of Court?” – A Summary Prepared by Matthew Poole, Jackson, Mississippi Child Custody Attorney

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Although some states recognize parental alienation as a separate cause of action without the need for showing direct contempt of a court order, Mississippi Law has yet to directly correlate parental alienation with the laws that require compliance to the strict terms of the judgment of the court. It is well accepted that contempt of a Mississippi court order regarding visitation, custody, or support is based upon a standard that has been clear precedent for decades. In general, contempt of a court order can be shown by demonstrating; 1. The presence of a lawful valid court order, 2. A violation of that court order, 3. That the violation was willful or “contumacious”. Violations of court orders are common place throughout every jurisdiction, however, without a showing of contumacy there can be no holding by any Mississippi Chancery jurisdiction that contempt is present. Contempt has traditionally been held as a disregard of or disobedience to the rules or orders of a judicial body by disorderly behavior so as to disturb the proceedings or impair the respect to that judicial body. The normal sanction for contempt is either monetary sanction or incarceration until the contemnor has complied with the court order and thus purged themselves of contempt.

It is common that court orders regarding child custody, whether by agreement or after a trial, include language that prohibits disparagement to the children of either parent. It is also well held law that modification of custody may be based upon substantial interference with visitation or extreme interference with either party’s parental relationships with their children. Interestingly, a violation of a non-disparagement clause in a court order has also been held also to warrant modification of custody, visitation, or any of the terms of visitation. In order to obtain a modification of physical custody, there must be a showing that the disparagement of one parent to the child has an adverse impact on the child. There have been several cases in MS where children have exhibited of high levels of anxiety and depression that has been linked to the disparagement and conflict between the parents.

It is highly recommended that in any divorce or child custody proceeding that a non-disparagement clause be explicit since there is no direct recognition of alienation syndrome in MS. Without specific language in the court order prohibiting such conduct it is likely that disparagement will not be held to be contumacious and will solely be potential ground for modification of custody or visitation. Keep in mind that a showing of contempt requires far less proof than seeking modification of any prior court order.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with a MS family law attorney with extensive experience in these matters, call Matthew Poole at 601.573.7429. We practice primarily in Hinds, Rankin, and Madison County, Mississippi but also cover any county in Mississippi.

Although some states recognize parental alienation as a separate cause of action without the need for showing direct contempt of a court order, Mississippi Law has yet to directly correlate parental alienation with the laws that require compliance to the strict terms of the judgment of the court. It is well accepted that contempt of a Mississippi court order regarding visitation, custody, or support is based upon a standard that has been clear precedent for decades. In general, contempt of a court order can be shown by demonstrating; 1. The presence of a lawful valid court order, 2. A violation of that court order, 3. That the violation was willful or “contumacious”. Violations of court orders are common place throughout every jurisdiction, however, without a showing of contumacy there can be no holding by any Mississippi Chancery jurisdiction that contempt is present. Contempt has traditionally been held as a disregard of or disobedience to the rules or orders of a judicial body by disorderly behavior so as to disturb the proceedings or impair the respect to that judicial body. The normal sanction for contempt is either monetary sanction or incarceration until the contemnor has complied with the court order and thus purged themselves of contempt.

It is common that court orders regarding child custody, whether by agreement or after a trial, include language that prohibits disparagement to the children of either parent. It is also well held law that modification of custody may be based upon substantial interference with visitation or extreme interference with either party’s parental relationships with their children. Interestingly, a violation of a non-disparagement clause in a court order has also been held also to warrant modification of custody, visitation, or any of the terms of visitation. In order to obtain a modification of physical custody, there must be a showing that the disparagement of one parent to the child has an adverse impact on the child. There have been several cases in MS where children have exhibited of high levels of anxiety and depression that has been linked to the disparagement and conflict between the parents.

It is highly recommended that in any divorce or child custody proceeding that a non-disparagement clause be explicit since there is no direct recognition of alienation syndrome in MS. Without specific language in the court order prohibiting such conduct it is likely that disparagement will not be held to be contumacious and will solely be potential ground for modification of custody or visitation. Keep in mind that a showing of contempt requires far less proof than seeking modification of any prior court order.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with a MS family law attorney with extensive experience in these matters, call Matthew Poole at 601.573.7429. We practice primarily in Hinds, Rankin, and Madison County, Mississippi but also cover any county in Mississippi.