Posts Tagged ‘rights’

Corporal Punishment vs. Child Abuse: A Thin Line

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Can your child be taken away because of a simple spanking? When I was elementary school at a public institution in Rankin County, Mississippi, I had the misfortune of enduring the school principal’s penchant for enforcing rules by use of a very large paddle, equipped with golf-ball sized holes in order to increase the velocity of each collision. In the early 1990’s, it was standard fare to expect a good old-fashioned whipping from school administration for playground roughhousing or any other number of youthful misdeeds. Boy, how times have changed.

In today’s world of political correctness and fear of legal liability, it seems that those days are long gone, and will likely never return. Parents have often asked our office whether or not a Youth Court or Chancery Court has the authority to take their children from their physical custody wherein there has been significant corporal punishment. Gone are the days of schools bruising the rear-end of a miscreant child (usually boys, alas).

Desoto County, Mississippi recently dealt with an appeal revolving around the question of distinguishing between reasonable discipline versus child abuse, and the line is very thin and broadly within the discretion of the trial court in civil matters. In this particular instance, the appellate court had to consider the sufficiency of evidence utilized by the trial court in removing four children from their father’s custody. At hand was a simple query, at least at first glance.

The appellate court first, and a matter of proper judicial due course, considered the bare language of the applicable Mississippi statute, section 43-21-105(m). In pertinent part, said statute provides that an abused child is one “whose parent….has caused or allowed to be caused, upon the child… emotional abuse, mental injury, non-accidental physical injury or other maltreatment”. Wow, talk about a broad definition, allowing wide discretion for the judge. However, the statute on point also states that “physical discipline, including spanking, performed on a child by a parent, guardian or custodian in a reasonable manner shall not be deemed abuse under this section”. Thanks for the semi-clarification, right?

It seems to me that the question of whether or not corporal punish ment of a child is violative of Mississippi law comes down to good old-fashioned common sense. While the criminal statutes regarding abuse of minors are relatively easy to interpret, the civil law remains open to broad interpretation. It is my hunch that any physical punishment that is accompanied by bruising or other visible signature will likely run afoul of the statute on point, but the margin for interpretation is razor-thin. Foremost, always remember that the court will have wide leeway in drawing the line between abuse and reasonable corporal punishment. No two judges are the same and may see the same thing differently. Reasonable minds may, and will often, disagree.

If you are dealing with allegations of abuse or neglect and need guidance and effective legal counsel, we will gladly be of assistance. Always trust your better judgment and recognize that any child punishment of a child must not be done out of anger. In the words of the American author and Unitarian minister Robert Fulgham, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. Well said.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family lawyer focused on case evaluation and domestic conflict management. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in July, 2004.

Expectation vs. Reality: My Lessons in Practicing Domestic Law

Friday, July 27th, 2018

My name is Kenneth Davis, and I have been working for Matthew for close to two years total now. When I first began working in domestic law, I fell victim to much of the overly optimistic enthusiasm that so many young lawyers encounter. Coming from a very close family that has never needed intervention to solve conflicts between us, I was rather naïve to just how petty people can be in litigation over family matters. Family is the most important thing in this world, and sadly that often gets lost in the maze that is a domestic lawsuit. I say this not to downplay people’s emotions or investments in their goals for their family, but rather to be up front with people on the things I see on a day-to-day basis.

Much like professional golf, a lawyer-client relationship is much more of a team than most people think. The client does not only sign a petition and then sit back and let the lawyer do the rest. Clients are their biggest advocate, and they know more about their case than anyone else. The lawyer’s job is to trigger the client’s mind for information they can use to prove their case, and to present that proof to the judge in an effective way. Like a golfer and their caddy, a client and their attorney must be on the same page every step of the way to achieve the best result possible.

When I tell people I practice domestic law, what follows is usually a form of “that must be dramatic.” It certainly is, as family law impacts people’s everyday lives and their relationships with their children. Most of the stories I tell are the really ridiculous ones, such as fighting over the most minor things. I then realized that while many litigants mean well with their lawsuit, sometimes they are mostly fueled by spite. That is most unfortunate, because often the client’s reasonable goals take a back seat to that anger toward the other party. That can add unnecessary baggage and stress to an already volatile situation, and it can put strain on the attorney-client relationship at the expense of the result.

Domestic law can be a challenging and stressful arena in which to practice, although for the most part it is satisfying. It brings me great pride to know that these clients have trusted me with their familial relationships, which are sacrosanct. As with any area of law, proper discipline and teamwork make a world of difference in the outcome of a domestic lawsuit. The most important thing in a domestic case is to never lose sight of what you are wanting to achieve. It can be easy to get lost in the trees and lose sight of the forest. This is truly the best advice I can give to anyone I meet, whether it be a litigant, another attorney, or anyone with a goal they want to achieve.

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.

Don’t Just Ask for a Restraining Order

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Have you been physically assaulted by your spouse or the father (or mother) of your child? Have you contacted the local police and other authorities regarding the abuse? Oftentimes children are the primary victim of their own parents’ hatred of one another. If your children have witnessed one or more incidents of physical abuse, they are likely viewed by Mississippi law as victims of abuse and neglect themselves and have multiple avenues of recourse. While courts with criminal jurisdiction such as Justice Court, County Court, and Municipal Courts are able to provide you with a peace bond or other means of restraining your spouse/opposing parent from the harassment and stalking that so often accompanies domestic abuse, they have severe limitations.

Unfortunately, the separation of powers between the various types of courts in Mississippi can present additional challenges to the actual victims of domestic abuse. Mississippi Chancery Courts are of limited jurisdiction of all matters set forth in §159 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The State of Mississippi is comprised of twenty (20) Chancery Court Districts (see §9-5-3, Mississippi Constitution, 1890). There are six (6) specific subject-matter areas in which Chancery Court exercises exclusive, complete, and ongoing jurisdiction, including “All Matters in Equity” and “Minor’s Business”. “Equity” is an often confusing and misinterpreted term. According to Black’s Law Dictionary (Seventh Ed.), equity has a four part definition, the first two of which are particularly telling as to the depth and breadth of Mississippi Chancery Court subject-matter jurisdiction. First, Black’s asserts that equity is “Fairness, impartiality, evenhanded dealing”. Secondly, It is “The body of principles constituting what is fair and right; natural law”. Clearly equity isn’t a lucid concept, rather a notion that is reflective of available recourse as to principles of justice.

Victims of domestic violence are able to obtain relief from Chancery Court per the procedure set forth in Mississippi Code Annotated §93-21-3 as well as those governed by Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 65. As codified, the victim of domestic violence, married or unmarried, may go so far as to award the abused parent possession of the home or to require that the perpetrator provide adequate housing including utilities and other related expenses. Also, Chancellors are empowered by statute to encumber jointly held assets and make adequate provision for the care and support of minor children as well as the victim. Custody of the children, child support, and visitation are all within the realm of properly exercised equitable judicial discretion. Equity permits that Chancellors have broad authority in the spirit of protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

In short, Mississippi Chancery Courts are empowered by legislative proclamation to address a variety of issues that adversely affect children, as they too are considered victims of domestic abuse. Often it is assumed that a court other than Chancery Court is able to afford domestic violence victims some level of redress outside of the scope of a restraining order itself. However, as previously stated, the exclusive nature of Chancery Court jurisdiction as to “Minor’s Business” and “All Matters in Equity” precludes other arms of the judiciary from ordering such relief to victims.

The victim of domestic violence not only is afforded relief in various forms both equitable and by statute, but retains significant advantages in the determination of both temporary and physical custody. Mississippi Code Annotated §93-5-24 provides in pertinent part that;

“there shall be a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest (i.e. in regards to the commonly cited Albright v. Albright factors) of the child to be placed in the sole custody, joint legal custody or joint physical custody of a parent who has a history of perpetrating family violence. The court may find a history of perpetrating family violence if the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, one (1) incident of family violence that has resulted in serious bodily injury to, or a pattern of family violence against, the party making the allegation or a family household member of either party. The court shall make written findings to document how and why the presumption was or was not triggered. This presumption may only be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.”

It is clear that victims, parents and children alike, are afforded significant protections from those who would harm them. Although the presumption that violence perpetrators are not proper custodians or decision-makers for a child may be overcome it presents a sufficiently robust obstacle to those persons who have been restrained, enjoined, or otherwise found civilly liable for home-trauma. To be clear, the ball is not in the abuser’s court. Our office is fully able to address all of the challenges that domestic violence creates.

If you or someone you care about is a domestic violence victim and is in need of an attorney with experience as to the best path forward, my staff and I are ready to provide you with the resources to obtain justice. Our office exclusively handles domestic litigation and is unlike so many other firms who lack the client base to remain focused on these matters. We have 14 years of experience in this sub-category of Mississippi law and the will, desire, and knowledge to ensure that equity will be done.

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

No Law Degree Needed to Know What’s Fair

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Many lawyers will tell potential clients that immediate action is needed to protect their rights and that they need to file a lawsuit now. This is often correct, as claims often go stale and witnesses forget what they have seen. However, in domestic relations law, sometimes the best practice can be resisting the urge to file a lawsuit and go to war.

Chancery courts are courts of equity, which means that the chancellors of those courts will seek to rule in a way that is the fairest to both parties. This allows clients who are not familiar with the process of a lawsuit to do a lot of the ground work themselves or through their attorneys. You do not need a law degree to know what is fair. Our office often receives calls from potential clients who have not talked to the other party about the situation, when that actually may be the best course of action.

Of course, sometimes lawyers may be more aggressive about starting a case than they should be. The thought process is that maybe the other side will realize what an inconvenience a lawsuit is and will be open to settling. While this may work sometimes, it seems like an unnecessary step in getting to what’s fair. Those two parties who once shared a bond or perhaps still share a child can only benefit from at least trying to communicate about what is fair to make it easier on everyone involved.

If you believe that a lawyer you meet with seems hell-bent on filing a lawsuit to get you what’s fair, you may want to speak to a different lawyer. When you leave that lawyer’s office, you should not feel as though you must file a lawsuit or they will not help you. Some parties only need the advice from a lawyer to try to talk to the other person, and in most situations it is worth the time and effort to try that. Otherwise, the nasty back-and-forth of a lawsuit will drain the time, resources, and emotions of the parties.

The lawsuit is a great thing that allows Americans to seek redress of the wrongs done to them. However, this process can also be abused. In chancery courts, where equity is king, sometimes the best option is to talk it out. If you visit a lawyer who seems to not consider that an option, a second opinion may be just what you need. If you or someone you know is going through a situation like this, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the experience in these matters and will give you an honest answer as to all of your options.

Frontline Prospective On Child Custody Law

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Working under Matthew Poole, a saying that I hear almost every day in the office is: “if everyone was reasonable, child custody lawyers would be out of a job.” As the main individual who handles calls to our office, I can tell you from first-hand experience that this is true. Working in a family law office can definitely show you the bad side of good people, and the people that call our office are usually in situations where tempers and emotions are high. As the person in our office who handles the majority of these calls, my perspective is that there are things that people can and should do to both save money and to help their situation in the long run.

From the start of my employment here, I noticed some commonalities between the variety of different calls we would receive on a daily basis. The main commonality in every call that we have received is lack of communication between the potential client and the person they are having issues with. If I could give any advice to those in these situations it would be that communication is key. There are so many situations where if the two people could just put differences aside and start a conversation with one another, it would save them so much heartache and money. After an extensive case study on custody matters, our office has found that 25% of people agree to settle their case with the same agreement that was offered to begin with. This shows that if the two people could just communicate without getting attorneys involved, they would not waste thousands of dollars on litigation; giving them more money to spend on the child.

I understand that communicating in situations like divorce and child custody can be tough. But in those circumstances, particularly when children are involved, being able to talk to the other side is vital. For instance, being able to have an open dialogue with the other parent in a child custody case can and will make it easier to deal with them later on down the road. Even though it’s hard, it would be so beneficial for the children if their parents were able to talk and communicate with each other about the children’s needs. It’s not easy for someone going through something like this to shelf their emotions and be the first one to reach out and start a dialogue, but in all honestly it is the best course of action to resolve their issue. To put it simply, every dollar spent on a lawyer could be spent on the kids. Why waste resources on litigation when simple communication could resolve the issue and leave that money available for the child? Doing so would dramatically decrease stress and replace it with tranquility. Just remember, the happier that a parent is, the happier the child will be.

Price is certainly something that most potential clients are sensitive to, and therefore we encourage all of our clients to attempt to talk with the other side as much as possible. Communication can help iron out many of the problems present, and can lower costs greatly for both parties. We understand this can be tough in a situation where there was a falling out of a once caring relationship. Unfortunately, there are times where starting a conversation is next to impossible and getting an attorney involved is the only option. If you believe hiring an attorney is your only avenue of relief, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We will do our best for you when communication has broken down in your relationship to get you a fair result.

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

Mississippi Child Custody Factors: Stability of Parent’s Home and Employment

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Stability is one of the most important things in the raising of a child. Kids have it tough, and having a stable home gives them one less thing to worry about. As such, in custody cases the court will take into consideration the parents’ abilities to provide a solid place in which to raise a child. Kids are also expensive, so the stability of employment will also be examined, as stable employment means steady money coming in to support that child.

There are several indicators of stability of a home environment that can help a court make this determination. If one parent has lived in the same place for an extended period of time and the other has moved a high number of times, it would appear that the child would have stable, predictable housing. Stability can also come from routines within the household. If one parent can show that while in their care the child goes to bed at a reasonable hour, gets three squares, and brushes their teeth twice a day, that would show to a chancellor that the home is stable.

The stability of the home can also encompass other things, such as substance abuse or violence. A parent who has had issues with drugs, becomes intoxicated often in the presence of the child, or has frequent guests who do these things will have a tough time winning this factor in a child custody case. Violence toward others, especially to the child, will also give a judge concern with giving custody to that parent.

Firmness in the parent’s employment will also be examined in child custody cases. Much like when a boss is looking at an interviewee’s resume, a judge will be concerned if one parent has been terminated from several jobs recently. On the flip side, if one parent has held down the same job or has received promotions at work, that parent will be viewed as the more able to provide for the child.

Children have an absolute need for stability. They are going through life and learning along the way, and knowing their home environment will be the way it is gives them more ease. With stability, kids are free to devote their time and energy to doing things that kids should be doing. Firmness in the home and employment is one of the most important things you can show to a court in a child custody case. That shows that you can use your time and energy to being there emotionally for the child instead of having to worry about shelter or a paycheck. If you or someone you know has a question about your child custody case, call the Law Office of Matthew Poole. We are knowledgeable about these cases, and will give you an honest answer.

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.