Category Archives: Child Support

Separation Preparation…

First of all, there is no such thing as “Legal Separation” in Mississippi. The closest equivalent is a Temporary Order. This Order can either be the result of a temporary hearing or due to an agreement of the parties reduced to writing and approved by the Court. A temporary hearing and resulting Order, or Agreed Order, are usually done when a fault based divorce is on file with the Court.

A Temporary Order deals with short-term financial and custody/visitation issues, pending a final hearing.  This is intended to be a “band-aid” on the situation and to maintain the status quo while  trial preparations are happening.

A “Legal Separation,” while not recognized in MS law, is typically a different animal than a Temp. Order. Parties can separate in Mississippi, though not “officially”.

The thought behind the a Separation is to allow a cooling off period or a trial-run at no longer living as husband and wife and seeing how that works.

The problem with attempting it in MS is that it requires a great deal of trust between the parties as there is no Order, or teeth, if one party reneges on their agreement with regards to finances or custody.  And typically there is not a great deal of trust between separating parties.  However, a separation is a viable option in the tool belt of bringing calm to highly emotional domestic situations and can even lead to reconciliation in some circumstances.

What needs to be considered for separating, be it agreed or Court ordered?

  • The Children.  What is the custody and visitation schedule?  A Court would use the Albright factors to make a determination.  If by agreement, the parties have a lot of leeway in what the arrangement is.
  • Financial Support.  How much child support? How much spousal support?  The Court requires each party to complete a financial statement and exchange it with the other party.  Support awards are based on adjusted gross income and reasonable needs of the parties.
  • The House.  Who stays in the home?  Typically it’s the spouse that has the children, but regardless of who gets the house on a temporary basis, it does not mean that is how it will be at a final hearing.
  • The Bills.  Who pays what?  The house, utilities, school, cars, credit cards, etc… This is always a bone of contention.
  • Conduct During Separation.  In Mississippi you are married until you are divorced.  Even if you and your spouse have an “agreement” your spouse could still get grounds for divorce against you during a separation.
  • How Long is the Separation?  When do you decide to try something else?  This will be based on your specific facts and circumstances.

Matthew Thompson is a Litigation Attorney in Mississippi and can help you separate on temporary and permanent basis.

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Changing your Court Papers; Custody vs. Visitation

Modification is the process that is used to change a Court Order.  We previously discussed how NOT to modify your papers here.

Below are the basics for the right way to modify your current Court Order.  Child Custody, Visitation and Child Support are always modifiable. However, each has a separate standard.  Each require that you prove something different…

1.  Child Custody is the most difficult to modify. The non-custodial parent, must demonstrate 1) a material change in circumstances,  2) adverse to the child, 3) in the home of the custodial parent.  In English, dad has to show that there has been a big change, harmful to the child and it was mom’s fault.  It does not matter how much better dad is doing.  It does not matter that he has a new job, making good money, and has remarried Mary Poppins.  The Standard concerns what is going on in mom’s house.

A material change could be bad grades, serious behavior problems, serious problems with mom or serious problem with mom’s new beau. Now, once you show the bad change, harmful to the child, and it’s mom’s fault, dad wins, right? No. That provides the Court the authority to go back through the Albright factors for the Court to determine which parent is in the best interest of the child.

2.  Child Support is modifiable upon a showing of  1) a material change in circumstances, unanticipated at the time of the Order and that either the 2) paying parent’s income has increased (or a non-voluntary decrease) in a meaningful capacity or that the 3) child’s reasonable needs and expenses have increased, or both an increase in income and needs.  It should be noted that Child Support is statutory, as noted here, and the paying parent’s responsibility to pay does not continue to increase, just because his/her income does.

3.   Visitation has the lowest standard to modify.  In order to modify visitation all one needs to do is demonstrate that the current schedule is not working.  This can be shown by showing that a party moved over several hours away making every other weekend unworkable or by showing that due to the child’s schedule, or a parent’s work schedule the visitation plan is not working.  This one is easier to pursue, but the outcome is not always predictable, so have a plan for what schedule will work if you are seeking to change it because of distance or a work schedule issue.

*Certain other aspects of Order’s can/may be modifiable as well; ie; alimony, other child benefits.

Matthew Thompson is a Mississippi Child Custody Attorney and reminds you to follow your papers.

Follow the blog: BowTieLawyer  You may also contact Matthew with your family law case, question or concern at (601) 850-8000 or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms

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Modifying Your Divorce Without the Court, Think Again.

This is an all too common occurrence.  Mom and Dad get divorced, rock along and a few years down the road they decide to change their deal.  They are getting along, at least better than before the divorce, and both are burned from their past experiences with attorneys and attorney fees.  So…they decide we can handle this like mature adults.  Dad wants a custody tweak, Mom needs a support adjustment – bam-shabang– let’s just do it.

Mom and Dad agree that the Order will be “modified.”  They switch to a week-on, week-off custody arrangement.  The kids are older, it works.  Dad starts paying support directly for the benefit of the kids. He pays for the child’s car and insurance, and picks up health insurance which was previously mom’s responsibility. Dad does not pay mom directly. It’s about the same money, probably.  What could go wrong?  A lot of things!

Court Orders may only be modified by other Court Orders.  Once an Order is issued and in place the parties are bound to follow it.  This is so ironclad  that the Court has a mechanism in place to enforce its Orders that can result in the breaching party having to pay fines and/or go to jail. This process is called Contempt.  If you are not following the Order in your case, you are subject to a contempt petition being filed by the other party.

But if we agreed what’s the big deal?  The deal is that Agreement is not worth the paper its written on if it is not approved by the Judge.  At some point in the future, and it never fails, Mom and Dad have a falling out, again.  Mom goes to attorney and tells him that Dad has not paid child support in two years.  Mom sues  Dad for Contempt for all of the “back” support and then “un-agrees” to the custody change and goes back to an every other weekend schedule for visitation.   Dad counter sues for a custody modification seeking custody now due to mom’s change and contempt over the health insurance issue.  The only sure thing now is that each has considerable contempt for the other and the Court is left to sort it out.**

Dad scrambles to get his “proof” that he paid the car and insurance, but that is not what was ordered.  Mom tries to justify her position on the visitation retread because that is what the papers said, as if her hands are tied now and the “papers” know best.  Had they done an Agreed Order and had it approved by the Court, they could have accomplished the same thing and not left the door open for future problems of having the old Order used against them.  Both would have been protected and still had the same “teeth” in enforcing their Agreement it would have just been enforcement of their new Agreement.  Now both have risk and have conducted, at least, actionable non-compliance with the Court order.

If you modify your Order/Agreement do it in writing, signed and approved by the Court. It’s the only way to guaranty that the Agreement is enforceable and for protection from being subject to Contempt for not doing what was in the prior Order.

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