Posts Tagged ‘visitation’

Advice to Women: How to Spot a Bad Dad

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

One of the most powerful drivers of domestic litigation, mom filing suit against dad or vice-versa, is the desire by both parents to receive or avoid child support obligations.  The typical, let’s say father, will usually bend over backwards to avoid paying child-support, because it is a 21 year obligation not easily dispatched. Sometimes, and more often than not, these dads look for creative ways to thwart that obligation by seeking joint custody of their child.  Do they really want to spend close to half of the time with the little one? Doubtful, at best. Their answer? “I want joint custody”. For a seasoned lawyer, we all see through this veil of nonsense.  

It is clear that Mississippi law prefers parents to agree to custodial arrangements, in large part to take a hefty load off of the backs of our strained judicial system.  Although the consequence is not intentional, many domestic lawyers get paid large sums to fight for “joint” custody for a parent who simply wants to avoid child support obligations.  So, let’s explore the impact of one child on an average man’s balance sheet, monthly.  

Per capita income in Mississippi for a single man is about $33,000.  After mandatory deductions, that number shrinks to about approximately $26,600.  That is only a little over $2,200. per month. Now, if said average income man has a child and owes support, he will owe 14% of that $2,200 in support, or about $320 per month.  Ouch to him. This figure does not include extracurricular activities, day-care, or medical and dental costs. Kids are not, and never have been cheap. If you thought that having a dog was expensive, you were wrong.  

Why are so many men pushing the narrative of “joint” custody?  Are they really concerned about being heavily involved in their childrens’ lives?  Most often they are not, but there are the rare few great men who are not as concerned about paying child support as they are about being involved in child-rearing.  These men are uncommon, but they do exist. My experience allows me to spot the fake “great dads” rather quickly. It is always about the money for them, not concern for their children and their rearing.  

Standard visitation is almost always going to be par for the course.  Judges are not usually willing, absent unusual circumstances, to rule for joint physical custody of children, and the reason is patently clear.  Chancery court judges want finality, they do not want litigants coming back every time someone moves or changes school district. Who can blame them?  They seek an efficient system no more or less than anyone else would. Joint physical child custody is about as difficult to manage as two people sharing a car.  It doesn’t work, at least not well.  

My advice is simple.  If you are the more engaged, loving, capable parent, fight for your children.  Be there to raise them in your light. Do not be intimidated by threats of “joint custody”, it is often just a scheme to avoid child support.  Trust your God-given instincts. If he truly does care enough, joint physical custody is always a consideration. If he is looking to save a few bucks, fight at every corner for your little ones.  (Sorry guys, but this is the way it plays out 90+ percent of the time, and I am one of you). In the end, good will always defeat bad intention, but you have to muster the will to fight for what is right.


Matthew Poole is a 2015 and 2018 N.F.L.A. Mississippi top ten domestic attorney, 2019 Birdeye Top Mississippi Famliy Lawyer, and 2004 Steen Reynolds Trial Competition Finalist.  He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.

Pt. One. Grandparent Visitation, the Legislative Mandate…Sometimes

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

Like just about any other legal matter governed by state statute, the legislature has carved out certain situations in which grandma and grandpa have a right to see their grandchildren. The right to do so is not without its limitations, nor should it be. The matter is governed by MS Code Annotated section 93-16-3 (2013), and reads as follows;

Section One:

Whenever a court of this state enters a decree or order awarding custody of a minor child to one (1) of the parents of the child or terminating the parental rights of one (1) of the parents of a minor child, or whenever one (1) of the parents of a minor child dies, either parent of the child’s parents may petition the court in which the decree or order was rendered or, in the case of the death of a parent, petition the chancery court in the county in which the child resides, and seek visitation rights with the child.

Section Two:

Any grandparent who is not authorized to petition for visitation rights pursuant to subsection (1) of this section may petition the chancery court and seek visitation rights with his or her grandchild, and the court may grant visitation rights to the grandparent, provided the court finds:

(a) That the grandparent of the child had established a viable relationship with the child and the parent or custodian of the child unreasonably denied the grandparent visitation rights with the child; and

(b) That visitation rights of the grandparent with the child would be in the best interests of the child.

Section Three:

For purposes of subsection (2) of this section, the term “viable relationship” means a relationship in which the grandparents or either of them have voluntarily and in good faith supported the child financially in whole or in part for a period of not less than six (6) months before filing any petition for visitation rights with the child, the grandparents have had frequent visitation including occasional overnight visitation with said child for a period of not less than one (1) year, or the child has been cared for by the grandparents or either of them over a significant period of time during the time the parent has been in jail or on military duty that necessitates the absence of the parent from the home.

Section Four:

Any petition for visitation rights under subsection (2) of this section shall be filed in the county where an order of custody as to the child has previously been entered. If no custody order has been entered, then the grandparents’ petition shall be filed in the county where the child resides or may be found. The court shall on motion of the parent or parents direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to the parent or parents in advance and prior to any hearing, except in cases in which the court finds that no financial hardship will be imposed upon the parents. The court may also direct the grandparents to pay reasonable attorney’s fees to the parent or parents of the child and court costs regardless of the outcome of the petition.

WOW…..talk about a mouthful of undecipherable legislative jargon. I want to cut through said jargon and simply point out a few key points that are applicable to the majority of those who are reading this article. No one cares to read legalise, sometimes not even the writer of this piece who, many moons ago, was not a lawyer. Let’s start by looking at the bones (basic structure) of the statute’s most commonly invoked provision.

The viability of the relationship is paramount to obtaining rights to see your grandkids. Other than the extreme scenarios mentioned in section one (1), which include death of a parent or the termination of their rights as a parent, viability is the cornerstone of the majority of grandparent litigation. As you can clearly see in section 2, the language is not entirely clear until we break down the fundamentals of the English language. The gist of it is that grandparents who have done the following are clearly entitled visitation rights:

1. Given 6 months of financial support to the child/children

2. Had a year of frequent visitation with some overnight visits as well

3. Cared for the child for a large amount of time because parents are not available due to military service or incarceration

The unusual thing that muddies the clarity of this section is that the word “or” only appears between prong 2 and prong 3…..which begs the question “do prongs one and two need to both be met? Or do they function separately?”. Even though less than clear, it appears that the legislature intended the latter…..they simply could have placed an “or” between all three prongs. Welcome to legislative lingual murkiness at its best. If you meet any one of the three prongs, you have demonstrated a viable relationship and your foot is in the door, so to speak. From there, you can begin the process of obtaining one of the most important familial rights available….time with the grandkids.

If you need help with a grandparent related legal issue, I have 16 years of experience dealing with some of the most complex related cases. Telephone consultation is always free of charge.

Matthew Poole is a 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar and 2003 Finalist at the University of Mississippi School of Law annual Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition. He will speak to members of the bar for the National Business Institute on July 18 at the Pearl, MS Marriott.

New Custody Rules…And Similar Advice

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Child custody cases are never easy. Oftentimes they require a year or more of litigation and many, many thousands of dollars. There have been several recent developments in Mississippi law that will affect each and every child custody case in this state, some are meaningful and will make a major impact, others will not. Custody matters are never straightforward and and those who believe they are simple likely need a straight-jacket and some serious psycho-therapy. And this is the reality when child custody is front and center in your life.

Easy advice is not readily available for those who are seeking simple solutions. There are a few recent changes to both statute and common law that will impact any child custody case in our state, although they rarely make outcomes differ. The basic paradigm is still in place…the best interests of the children will always be paramount. We have a piece of advice that is entirely obvious and commonly ignored…follow the existing court order precisely, do all you can for your kids, and never, ever fail to exercise visitation when it is availed to you. Be as involved with the kids as possible, help with homework, and do not let a new romantic relationship impact your little ones in a negative manner.

Chancery court is the sole arbiter of who wins child custody. Chancellors are the ultimate guardians of all children in their respective jurisdictions. Even though finances are of concern as well in every divorce, the clients we have the most compassion for are those who will fight to have their kids with them as much as possible. As a single dad, I share their raw emotion. It makes the job all the better to represent like minds.

Some recent legal changes that impact custody cases in our state include changes to the alimony laws which now present previously unforeseen obstacles, the judicial decision that marijuana use is a ground for divorce under the existing statutes and now considered tantamount to opiate use, and that habitual cruelty is now more easy to prove and encompasses more bad conduct as grounds for divorce. Child custody law has also been affected by these changes to cases that also apply to childless divorces. I want to be clear that all legal decisions regarding child placement are highly subjective and dependant on a myriad of factors.

Based on existing law and the subtle changes to Mississippi custody and divorce law, I have a few simple observations and a small piece of advice. My previous article the pointed to the absolute importance of continuing care of your child is a must-read. I also would like to point to the importance of moral fitness in any custody matter. Although it is often said that only God can judge, try telling that to your local chancery judge.

Law has and always will change. Your custody case will also have a changing life of its own. Being a little behind on your child support and then asking for a modification of custody as a defense is a very precarious scenario for any litigant. Never forget that one must possess “clean hands” in order to ask to court to intervene in their domestic case. At the end of the day, two wrongs never equal a right. That never needs to be forgotten.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 9 year old son, Lucas.

A Day Late and Dollar Short: The Huge Custody Hurdle

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

We spend much of our time talking about all of the factors that impact court custody decisions and there are certainly plenty. The Albright factors dominate much of the information we provide to prospective clients, as they should. They permeate every aspect of custody outcomes. If you look at the search bar on our site and place the word “custody” within it, it will become clear how permeating these factors are in custody law, and that they are the cornerstone of domestic litigation involving children. Is there one factor that rises above the terrain in terms of its power of influencing outcomes? My answer is…..yes.

The most important factor (aside from some extremely horrible parenting which rises to the level of abuse/neglect) is continuity of care. As an example, I have multiple times encountered a prospective client that may very well be a better parent than the alternative parent. We just received a call from a gentleman that appeared to deeply care for his 6 year old daughter and also to be a loving, concerned dad. He is responsible, has a great job and stable home. According to him, mom was not as good a parent as he. That may well be the truth. However, he waited, and waited, and waited……..6 YEARS to call an attorney and attempt taking custody from her. Big mistake. His window of opportunity has shrunk to the point of being nearly non-existent.

I must say bluntly that if you are truly the better parent, then you must act quickly and decisively. The most difficult argument for any attorney, which is entirely nonsensical (even somewhat comical) on its face, is to say to a judge, “Your Honor, my client will be demonstrated to be the better parent, although he/she left the children with the worse parent for half a decade”. Good luck selling that to any court in Mississippi. Keep in mind that the old saying “The law aids the vigilant” could not be more applicable than in child custody cases. There is a natural proclivity for any judge not to disrupt the usual routine unless an exceptional danger to the child exists.

Some may ask, “But what if I can prove that I am more capable as a parent, that I have a better home, school district, morals, etc.?”, and that is a fair question. It is a very good question and rightfully in play. If I may respond, my retort would be that the child needs stability also…….changing custody can and usually will be traumatic for them. Although a parent may well be “better”, they are unlikely to overcome the huge obstacle of not having been sufficiently “present”. Be careful about sitting on the sideline, being a day late and a buck short will be one tough hill to climb. Better parents frequently lose custody cases for this simple reason. It is most often a loss that could have been easily avoided.

In short, my simple advice is that if you are the better parent, demonstrate that fact by not leaving your child with the lesser parent. Actions truly speak louder than words, especially in Mississippi Chancery Courts.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi family attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Steen, Reynolds, and Dalehite Trial Competition at the University of Mississippi, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will speak to members of the Mississippi Bar on behalf of The National Business Institute on July 18, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure. The seminar is certified for 6 hours of legal continuing education credit.

Are Judge Ideologies Reflective of District?

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

The short answer is not just yes, but without question. Now, let’s speak to a couple of different issues that frequently come up during domestic and family related court cases. I will pick a few of the most common to best exemplify that no two chancellors are created equally. Some can rule totally ant-opposite each other on the exact same issues and facts. It can be a frustrating scenario for lawyer and client alike.

The Morality Clause

This issue comes up in virtually every case I have ever managed. The difference in results can be, well, astonishing. In some of the more left-leaning counties, chancellors are inclined to determine that there is no harm done to a child by having a non-married romantic partner stay the night or even cohabitate outright. No harm no foul, at least in their view. Try arguing that the sleep over with the new love is harmless in Rankin or Madison county and you will get laughed out of the room unless there is a VERY plausible reason. They almost do not exist.

Alimony awards

An award of alimony is more generous and easily obtained in liberal counties of Mississippi. Some of the old-school, conservative chancellors will award alimony, but the amounts tend to smaller. Be it periodic, lump-sum, reimbursement, or rehabilitative alimony, they are usually more conservative in their awards. Not surprising, right? I will say there is some variance in the awards of alimony vs. no alimony, but not as great as the variance in the bare amount of award. The variations, in my experience, can vary even as much as threefold depending on venue. The difference in even $2,000 a month makes a big difference in most people’s bottom line.

Attorneys fees

This one can be tricky, although there is always a best way to argue that you are entitled to attorneys fees. However, they are far from a guarantee. They are predominately based on ability to pay your lawyer vs. your opponent’s ability to pay theirs. This is where some significant discrepancy comes about in the courts method of interpretation. I have seen some conservative chancellors vanish a wife her lawyer fees request because, even though she made less than she spent, she recently bought a new car and took excessive vacations. This was the result even though husband made about five-fold her income. In a more liberal venue, the result would clearly have been different. A large award would be most likely the outcome.

Standard vs. Liberal Visitation

There are some chancellors, most of them older and somewhat old-fashioned (not that being so is a bad thing), who are strictly inclined to only award standard, every other weekend type visitation to the non-custodial parent (n.c.p.) Usually being the dad, but not always, the n.c.p. gets a very short end of the custody stick. Conversely, some of the younger and progressive counties elect judges who are willing to award either liberal visits for the n.c.p. or even outright joint custody.

In sum, lawyers will never be able to pull out the proverbial crystal ball and tell you precisely what to expect. Ask them what ideology your chancellor brings to the courthouse. It makes so much difference even in what may appear a simple case.

Matthew Poole is a 2018 Top 10 rated Mississippi domestic attorney by the National Association of Family Lawyers, 2004 Finalist of the Copeland Cook Taylor and Bush Trial Competition, and 2001 Millsaps Second Century Scholar. He will be speaking to members of the Mississippi Bar in July, 2019 on divorce practice and procedure.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE…ESPECIALLY GRANDPARENTS

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

As the year 2018 comes to an end, it is appropriate and perhaps customary to reflect on the events and happenings of the past twelve months and look forward to the New Year to come. This may be especially true of the members of families who have experienced the difficulties of a divorce and custody matter where children are divided between households.

In my previous article we explored some generic ways that we can make this time of year a bit more joyful for everyone with a specific focus on our children. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so soon, and if you have read it, we hope that you appreciate the common sense suggestion (and legal benefits that accompany these issues) of “Be Nice” that it promotes. For all our future blog entries, you may automatically infer and assume that “be nice” is a given. In this short work we will attempt to expound on “be nice”, but with a more specific focus on our parents: the grandparents of our beloved children. They are often the most valuable asset to young ones.

Pursuant to Section 96-16-3 of the Mississippi Code, a grandparent may be allowed visitation when the grandparent shows a viable relationship with his or her grandchild has been established, visitation with the grandchild has been unreasonably denied, AND visitation is in the grandchild’s best interest. (Emphasis provided). The AND in that sentence is not at all suggestive or subtle: it is a mandate that all 3 elements are proven. A grandparent must show to the Court that these three factors, cumulatively, exist in their case, else any legal action taken may be fatally flawed. As always, these elements are considered on case by case basis and the terms are subject to the interpretation, and significant weight given to each, is in the discretion of each individual Chancellor. That said, consider the following:

The Mississippi laws include provisions for grandparents to seek legal relief regarding child custody and/or visitation. In fact, calls and email inquiries involving Holiday visitation for grandparents are becoming more and more frequent. Of course the specifics are as diverse as the spread of individual dinner tables; of course, but the central and prevailing question is almost always the same: How can I get Grandparent’s rights so that I can see my grandchildren during the Holidays? It’s a fair question that usually would be easily solved if the adults in the children’s lives would all heed our prior advice repeated above. But not everyone can or will simply “be nice”. Those instances may require legal action, to-wit:

WHAT IS A VIABLE RELATIONSHIP?

A viable relationship is difficult to define, but it is something more than a Birthday card and a text every now and then to say “how is school?” and “I wish you would come see us sometime”. Those gestures are nice and I encourage this type of contact. If you have this relationship with your grandchild, keep it up and good for you! If not, then maybe you should seek to incubate and nurture a relationship. (Those words are chosen intentionally so that you will approach this with “baby steps”). You can’t be fake, it can’t be forced and it cannot be for reasons other than the love of the child. A viable relationship with a child, or anyone for that matter, is none of those things.

This generation of parents is unfortunately forced to rely on neighbors and friends and, thankfully, grandparents, in the day-to-day business of child rearing. Parents work, kids participate in school and after school activities. This is all healthy and normal, and time consuming. The grandparents that participate in this juggling act/struggle are more likely to fair well in their efforts to have meaningful time with the kids. And if they must press this matter to Court then their efforts will always be a factor and should be rewarded. That is not to say that a “score-card” is being kept, or that one should be kept. Do what you can when you can. Financial support and assistance for your grandchildren is also considered, but that alone will not convince the Chancellor that a viable relationship exists.

Some are more able to participate because of their job or transportation or schedule flexibility or what have you, and some simply cannot do it. They should not be punished, right? Yet some grandparents are able but maybe not so willing to help out when the parents are in a pinch. It’s not as easy to discern who can and who can’t. It’s much easier to figure out who will and who won’t. And so grandpa, ask yourself: when asked to pick up the kids from school or from soccer practice, are you the one in the carpool line? How flexible are you to host the kids for the weekend if asked? Do you offer to keep the scout fees current?

Suffice it to say that a “viable relationship” with your grandchildren is not formed overnight – it’s formed and developed and molded over many nights, months and years. A viable relationship is developed through the sacrifice of time on the part of the grandparent who attends the ballet recital and the baseball games. Are you this grandparent? Or are you too busy to develop a viable relationship with your grandchildren? The good news is that it’s never too late to start.

HAVE I BEEN UNREASONABLY DENIED VISITATION?

A grandparent who lives across the street, across town, or even across the State has a better chance of proving this element than does the one who lives across the country. But again, there is no easy “one size fits all” answer to this query.

Most grandparents would say that ANY denial of a request for visitation with the grandkids is in and of itself unreasonable. But we must assent to factors of the day such as school duties (homework, tests, etc) clubs and activities, or maybe a friend’s birthday party or a planned trip to the water park. In other words, are the requests for visitation interfering with some other important event? If it is, then perhaps the denial is not unreasonable after all. Furthermore, if the request for visitation includes extensive travel, it may simply be unreasonable to drive hundreds of miles for a few hours spent in front of the television with grandma. Perhaps a better question might be “Have I been unreasonably denied a reasonable request for visitation”? Whatever the situation and however geography, employment duties and other logistics play their parts, reasonable requests for visitation made by grandparents who have already formed a viable relationship should not be denied.

WHAT IS IN THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS?

This is the most important question for the Chancellor to ask and attempt to answer. I could (and very well may) write dozens of articles on this subject alone. This question is the polestar consideration for each and every case, as it should be. Ironically, we will spill the least amount of ink, as it were, on this third prong of the test after declaring it to be the most important.

Absent some extraordinary issues, we could all agree that time spent with the grandparents is consistent with our overall meaning of the phrase “best interests of the children”. To that end, parents reading this article should always want the best for their children and grandparents visitation, even if they are the parents of your ex, should be part of your routine whenever possible.

May God bless you and your family during this Holiday Season!!!

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi lawyer who specializes in family law and domestic relations conflict resolution. Matthew was admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association in 2004 and was named Top 10 Family Lawyer in the State by the National Association of Family Attorneys in 2018.

Merry Christmas To Everyone…Especially Our Children

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

My name is Michael Louvier, Law Clerk to Matthew Poole, Esq. At this time of the year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the past year, look forward to the New Year to come, 2019, and to be thankful for what we have today. I thank God everyday for my family, with whom He blesses me every day of my life. I thank God for the unconditional love that my wife and two children and I have for each other. I’m thankful for my parents, who have been married for 62 years, and who set the bar very high for my three siblings and I as parents and grandparents. I thank God for my sister and two brothers, all older than me, and all wiser, as it should be. Especially during this time of the year, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I thank God for the blessing of the multitude of children that He has brought into mine and my wife’s lives. So many children in our 32 years together, 28 years married and 25 years as parents. Nephew, nieces, and hundreds of children have enriched us as a family. They have all made us laugh, cry, celebrate, rejoice and pray, and our lives are much more complete knowing each child. We love them all and say those exact words to them anytime we can. Many are “all-grown-up” adults now, off of dad’s payroll, as it were. And some of these children are having children of their own. We are so proud to be invited to the Baptisms, birthday parties… I could go on and on and on, suffice it to say that my wife and I love children, all of them. And from that love came this article, to-wit

At this time of year it is also appropriate to try to keep the wants, needs and wishes of others in mind, especially our children. Gifts under the tree and good food, desserts and cider are always a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Gift giving, mistletoe and the like aside, making the Holiday Season better for you and yours is always a complicated matter. And so, regardless of your marital situation: married, separated, divorced, re-married, single parent…it really doesn’t matter. If you want to make this Season better for your family and your children more enjoyable and less stressful, I urge you to consider the following:

Whenever you are enjoying time with your family, especially your children, you should always be mindful of your alcohol consumption. If you are an everyday drinker, slow it down. No need to show everyone how much you can drink, it’s not a contest that you want to win anyway. If you are a social drinker, then be more social than drinker. If you rarely drink alcohol and the egg-nog is exceptional, then make sure you don’t overdo it. In short: Be responsible for yourself and be nice. It’s the Holiday Season so Be Sober and Be Nice.

For the split and co-mingled families that live apart and geography and logistics become a variable in this issue – one word of advice: COMMUNICATE. Without communication with your ex (or his mom or the new husband or his 19-year-old daughter, etc., this will be a problem. The more children involved the more difficult the logistics become and; therefore, the more vital COMMUNICATION becomes. Whomever you must coordinate with to make this a less than impossible task, make all plan for exchanges and travel and meeting places early. Attempt to agree on a “half-way point” that is well lit, has a bathroom and some refreshments and maybe even good food. Schedule an agreed to best time and place and stick to it. If you haven’t yet done this part and you are reading this, then you should be searching for the contact in your phone right now. And when you get them on the line, tell them to pull up this site and read this blog. (Do this now!) Travel for this purpose is stressful, potentially dangerous according to weather and other conditions, and potentially expensive. Remember to have the car gassed up and ready to go. Minimize the stress by being the clear voice of reason in the communication. Drive carefully always. If it’s an extended drive, make the ride more comfortable with pillows and blankets and a cooler of water and maybe some snacks and sandwiches. Don’t be in too much of a hurry, as accidents will never get you there sooner. Don’t allow your emotions and the overall vitriol for the “other family” to dictate the plan. Most of all remember that it’s all about the kids, not you. Let me repeat that: this whole plan is about your children, and not about you. Be Flexible, Be the adult….Be Nice.

School is out for everyone, and that is sometimes good news for the kids and the teachers (I thank God for our educators, too!), but not good news for working parents. During your extended Holiday visitation period, your child might have a friend that has some free time. Within your limits when factoring the job restraints, the financial realities and the geographical issues, you may want to ask your child if he would care to include a friend or two in some of your plans. And don’t simply pick them up and go back to your place for some riveting television watching. Go somewhere! Do things! Go to the mall, the movie, museum, Chinese buffet, burger joint, ice-cream shoppe. You get it? Good, now do it! No matter where you live, there is always something to do in your area that is fun and exciting and sometimes even free. If all else fails, order a pizza and rent a good movie. Just don’t be a dud, Dad.

There is a growing debate about limiting access to social media during visits. There is no easy answer except to suggest that your child should feel comfortable to be online, but that she, too, should be aware of your time and your plans, etc. Just because I suggest that it’s all about them is not to be misinterpreted as it’s ALL about them. Kids used to have to drive away in a car to be miles away from you, now they can be sitting next to you on the couch, iphone in hand, and be on a completely different planet than you. By the same token, they can be hundreds of miles away from you and you can be talking to each other as if you were in the same room. Use this Holiday time as an opportunity to enhance your relationship and let social media assist you instead of letting it be a point of contention.

Our previous blog entry “Are you smarter than a 5th grader” could suggest that the higher the grade your child is in, the least likely you are to have any clue about the math and foreign language and almost all other subjects that they take. Get involved in your child’s everyday academic life before they understand how much of it that you don’t understand. Ask your student to share their required reading with you (now you have something to read, mom!) and this will immediately become a topic of conversation between the two of you.

My point in this article is clear: Be good to your children, especially in this Holiday Season. This is the time of year that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

My prayer: Thank You, Lord, for blessing us with these many children in our lives. Let all those parents and others that read this article to gain some guidance from You, humbly, through me. Amen.


Michael Louvier, B.A. (University of New Orleans), J.D. (Mississippi College School of Law) is the primary clerk to Attorney Matthew Poole. He has two decades of legal experience and is the father of three.

ARE DADS STILL THE UNDERDOG IN A CUSTODY BATTLE?

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Let’s face it: Fathers who are “fighting” for custody of their children start out with the figurative “one hand tied behind their back”. But in the past decade or more, great progress has been made to allow for a more level playing field. Let’s briefly explore this subject and, hopefully, shed some positive light on this complicated issue.

I am not hesitant to use the phrase “custody battle”, but many times that is the best description of what this type of court case is, or becomes. Many cases might begin with the parents declaring to each other, their lawyers, their families, and most importantly their children, that they only want what’s best for the children. Some parents even try to adhere to this promise. But all too often the proceedings drag on and frustrations set in and what began as a “cordial” case turns into just what we didn’t want or expect: a Battle.

Fighting it out with your ex often becomes the only way to assert your rights regarding everything, including the custody and visitation of your children; unfortunately, the fight itself almost always makes the dad out to be the bad guy. That is, those dads who refuse to accept the “standard visitation” schedule of every other weekend and an extra day or two sprinkled throughout the month are classified as “combative” or hard-to-deal with. The old-fashioned mindset was: How selfish! Those guys are only thinking of themselves and aren’t putting the kids first, some might say. *A personal note: If someone suggested that I was only allowed to see my kids every other weekend as they grew up, there would be more than a battle to ensue – there may have been a pair of handcuffs involved in that conversation. Thankfully, the mindset in this area is more open to the ideas of “Joint Custody” and “Shared Custody” and other forms of co-parenting scheduling plans that include and facilitate the involvement of BOTH PARENTS, not simply more time with mom and less with dad. Of course, when mindsets change, the laws and court decisions follow suit, and that is encouraging.

There are several factors that each parent must consider when they are “battling” for custodial periods of time with your child. For example: always keep in mind the time constraints of your employment when you fight for the extra week-day. If you agree to, or are awarded by the Court, every Wednesday, but you must work until 6:00pm and you are unable to pick up your child from school, then what have you really gained? Geography and logistics must be considered, as well. Same scenario: Dad is awarded Wednesday and he must return the child to school on Thursday morning; however, he lives more than an hour away! The return trip to school must begin at 5:00 a.m. or earlier. Is this a victory for Dad? Is it a good situation for the child? Finances play a part (of course) as does the support system in place for each separated parent. Can Dad afford to take time off work for the extra time? And after this somewhat lengthy discussion, we have yet to mention the child’s wishes and needs. I believe it is safe to say that no loving parent – regardless of any other factor – would choose a custodial period with the child that interfered with an activity that is important to the child. Dads forced with this decision almost always defer to the wishes of the child. This becomes a sword that cuts both ways: now Mom and her legal team can suggest to the Court that Dad doesn’t want extra time.

The Conclusion, if there is to be one in this brief overview of an extremely complex issue, is that Father’s involved in a Divorce proceeding should take great care in avoiding the pitfalls of a “custody battle”. Consider the cost of “winning”. Who benefits? Who loses? Is there any common ground that should be explored? Has reasonableness been abandoned? And finally, but most importantly, what schedule and situation is best for the child?

Maximum involvement of both parents in the upbringing of the child(ren) should be the desired outcome in any case. In more and more jurisdictions, this is the presumption of what is in the best interests of the child. Father’s more and more are being considered “equal” parents. I see this trend as a good one – for Dads and for their children.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi family attorney specializing in domestic conflict resolution. He was selected as a 2018 top 10 family lawyer by the National Association of Family Attorneys.

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.

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.