The Marks Law Firm Blog and New Updates
A Life Well Lived
by Family Law Attorney Tom Marks
I went to a funeral for a 20-year-old young woman named Jenny recently. She was the daughter of two of our best friends, Mike and Lisa who we have known for about 25 years. My wife and Lisa were pregnant together and our daughter was born two months before Jenny. Then our sons were born one month apart a couple years later. So we have lived a lot of life with our friends Mike and Lisa.
Jenny was born with a diaphragmatic hernia and had probably 50 surgeries during her short 20 years of life. Although she had significant medical issues and had to rely on oxygen most of her life she was a determined and amazing young lady.
Although we have known Mike and Lisa for 25 years I still learned so much about Jenny from the many people who got up and spoke about her many accomplishments from working at Chick-fil-A to attending college at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Jenny had a 4.0 GPA and was in the process of working with Florida Southern and Arnold Palmer Hospital to create a new degree major called a Child Life Specialist.
The church was packed with people who Jenny had positively impacted during her life and there were a flood of tears shed but also a lot of appreciation for all of her accomplishments and the lives she’d touched. She helped families and other young lives through some very similar difficult medical paths that she had taken.
For someone who had gone through so much she had an enduring spirit, a quick wit and a precocious and determined personality. She touched a lot of people in very positive ways despite her circumstances. In short, she left a legacy that lives on.
I hope many who read this will pause to consider that perhaps our circumstances are really not that hard and just maybe we can rise above to see how much we have to appreciate and how great an impact we can have on the lives of others, just like Jenny did.
Who Is at Fault When Nobody’s to Blame?
One of the questions asked most during initial consultations is: “Does my spouse’s infidelity matter?” It’s a fair question, given the pain infidelity can cause. While televisions shows like “Jerry Springer” and “Cheaters” make light of spouses who don’t honor their vows, for the cheater’s other half the issue isn’t funny and demands attention.
Without a doubt, the party who has been “cheated on” has every right to be hurt or even angry, and the desire to see the cheating spouse held accountable is understandable. The same goes for parties who have been victimized by emotional affairs, disengaged spouses, or a just plain “bad marriage.”
Infidelity Irrelevant in Orlando?
However, Florida’s divorce laws render a spouse’s infidelity, and the other reasons marriages fall apart, largely irrelevant in a divorce proceeding. That’s because Florida is a “no fault” divorce state, which means the reason behind the failure of your marriage is of little importance to the Court. The Court will ask only if your marriage is “irretrievably broken,” and if either party wants a divorce, that desire is enough to “break” the marriage for legal purposes.
The Court generally does not make judgments about the health of your marriage or whether divorce is right for you, and it almost never engages in a discussion about whether counseling or other steps might save your marriage. Unfortunately, in Florida, if one spouse “wants out” of a marriage, there is little the other spouse can do, through the legal system, to stop them. Many people (including yours truly) believe we have made it too easy for people to end their marriage, but that is the current state of Florida’s law.
I write the above not to discourage anyone, or steal hope from a spouse holding on in a difficult situation. It’s actually quite the opposite. My hope in explaining Florida’s “no fault” divorce laws is to encourage those in struggling marriages to get help before considering legal options. Unless you are in an abusive situation or have been abandoned without the means to support yourself and/or your children, I urge you to explore non-legal ways to address your marital issues.
Seek out the counsel of trusted clergy or a professional counselor. Consider programs like the “Fireproof” or “Courageous” studies to see if they might be useful. Enlist friends and relatives to help you communicate with your spouse about your desire and commitment to salvage your marriage and keep you family together.
Whatever you do, don’t give up on your marriage and family just because the road gets rough. Divorce is too important a decision to make lightly, and it’s too difficult a process to endure as anything other than a last resort. If you need help figuring out the right thing to do in your situation, please contact one of the family law professionals at The Marks Law Firm so we can talk about what you can do to preserve your family and protect your marriage.
Reaching a Common Ground
By Family Law Attorney Tom Marks
I went this last week to visit Regent University in Virginia with my daughter and we went to an event called the “Clash of the Titans.” It was a debate from the political left and right moderated by Dana Perino, of the Fox news show called “The Five.”
The two conservatives, Newt Gingrich and Jay Sekulow debated the two liberals, David Axelrod and David Plouffe. The focus of the debate was on “Executive Powers” and involved some of the most divisive issues of our day, including Obamacare, the medical exchanges currently in disarray and the IRS targeting conservative political groups. Of course, issues like the recent partial federal government shutdown and the threat of defunding Obamacare were on the table for a potentially polarizing and out-of-control argumentative free-for-all.
However, even though the participants did not agree on many of the pressing issues facing America today, they maintained civility and respect for each other’s ideas, goals and positions. It made me think of The Marks Law Firm’s Family Law Practice and how even opposing parties in the Dissolution of Marriage Proceedings can still act civilly and seek common goals of protecting the minor children and properly co-parenting them into the future. I see those successes in my Collaborative Family Law Cases and even in the more traditional litigated Family Law Cases.
Even with gridlock in Washington DC, these politicians from opposite sides of the political spectrum could still agree to disagree in a debate on the issues and then sit down and have dinner together and try to reach common ground for the good of the country.
I believe parents should and can do the same thing even through a divorce, for the good of their minor children.
Fighting for the Beautiful View
This past Summer I enjoyed a great reminder of the importance of struggling through difficult times toward the blessing on the other side. This reminder came while my wife and I were whitewater rafting in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
If you’ve ever been rafting, you know that the common rafting trip involves a lot of time coasting downriver, punctuated by a few episodes of furious paddling, leaning, and trying hard to stay in the boat! This works great because it allows you feel like a bit of a daredevil while enjoying breathtaking natural beauty from a unique perspective!
As we approached a sharp bend in the Arkansas River, high in the Colorado Rockies, the rapids began to pick up.
Our guide told our four-person crew that we had an intense stretch of river coming, so we anchored ourselves and got ready to paddle. For maybe 25-30 seconds we paddled hard, leaning and pulling our way through the rapids and around the river’s turn.
The waters calmed and we were able to catch our breath and relax. Once things had settled, our guide got everyone’s attention and told us to look behind us. What we saw was amazing—an unobstructed, glorious view of a 14,000 foot peak that looked as if it rose directly out of the river.
That evening when I thought back on the moment we came around the bend, it struck me that we couldn’t see the mountain, or the view, until after we fought through the rough waters and turned the corner. My perspective wasn’t clear, and the benefit wasn’t evident, until I came through the stormy waters. Sometimes life is a lot like that rafting trip.
We spend a lot of time coasting and then, without much warning, difficult pops up. In the midst of the difficulty, we might feel like things will never be “good” again. We struggle, head down and hands to the paddle, furiously trying to find a way through the stormy waters. And eventually we turn a corner where the river calms and we can catch our breath.
And it’s then that we learn the benefit and beauty of our struggling. The bible tells us to consider it a joy when we struggle through trials of all kinds. These trials perfect our faith. They fix our perspective. They help us plot a more positive course going forward. So when you find yourself in the middle of a difficult time, be encouraged. Joy comes in the morning. And when you’ve turned the corner, you’re likely to find a beautiful view that wasn’t available before the trial. God bless!
“MIRRORING” – and Its Application in the Law
By Family Law Mediator and Attorney Ronald L. Sims
Psychologists have a time-honored vehicle to enhance communication. It’s called “mirroring.”
The procedure is simple in theory, but may be slightly difficult in application.
The first speaker makes a statement, and the second speaker “mirrors” that statement by repeating it verbatim. Sounds easy enough.
Let’s try it.
First speaker: “I’m uncomfortable with you here.”
Second speaker: “You don’t want me here.”
As often happens, the second speaker doesn’t repeat, but instead re-interprets what the first speaker said. That is not mirroring. Let’s try it again.
First speaker: “I’m uncomfortable with you here”.
Second speaker: “you said, I’m uncomfortable with you here”
The first speaker relaxes- he or she has been heard and understood, and that is important. All too often we hear what is said to us, and we quickly re-interpret what is said and end up with a conclusion that is slightly off, if not flat out wrong.
There have been many occasions when lawyers have agreed to something over the phone, only to end up in a later fight about what was actually said. That result is often avoided by exchanging confirmation messages, so that both parties know and have a memorial of exactly what was intended. That is a form of mirroring and, as many can tell you, it has often saved the day from protracted litigation over an issue that both parties thought was resolved.
How many times in marriage, or post-marriage, do we hear, “You said_______”, “No, I didn’t.” Such a situation often is followed by a heated discussion that usually results in a deadlock (or sometimes a hammerlock).
With the advent of email and texting, the concept of mirroring can take place in a matter of seconds. If, however, you think the matter may have some significance later on, and you are in a position to do so, write it down, date it, and have the other party initial it. If the circumstances won’t allow for that, at least you can write some confirmation note that you can share with the other person in a timely manner to at least memorialize your understanding of the matter. Then, if they don’t correct it, you have evidence of a mutual understanding.
This may sound like I’m suggesting something awfully technical. I’m not! Misunderstandings occur all the time, and normally are unintentional. Eliminating those misunderstandings by mirroring your correspondent is easy, painless, and many times, very important. Attorneys often refer to a “he said/she said” type of case. Those instances can be avoided at home, as well as in the courtroom which will lead to clear communication and fewer headaches for everyone involved!
Family Law and the Golden Rule of treating Family Law Clients
By Family Law Attorney Tom Marks
I have been practicing family law in Orlando for about 27 years now and I continue to be amazed at how poorly some lawyers treat their clients. These types of divorce attorneys tend to treat their clients as a “one time transaction.”
This has many adverse consequences for the client as well as the attorney. The clients’ overall long-term best interests are often overlooked and as a result, should the client need further help in the future, they do not return to the attorney that treated them like a “one time transaction.”
Family law attorneys that practice the “Golden Rule” put themselves in their clients’ shoes and ask the question, “If I were the client how would I want to be treated?” So no matter whether it is a financial case, involving Alimony, Equitable Distribution, Child Support or Attorneys’ Fees, or if it is a case involving minor children’s issues like Time Sharing, Right of First Refusal and Shared Parental Responsibility, the attorney needs to employ empathy and consider how they would want to be treated if they were the client.
The attorney who puts the client first rather than the financial demands of the law firm will reap the benefits of having highly satisfied clients who will readily recommend them as a family law attorney to their friends and anyone else they come in contact with. The attorney will also benefit from an improved reputation, greater satisfaction in his or her work and having a sense of purpose and value in his life.
At The Marks Law Firm we treat our clients as eternally meaningful human beings and that we have been placed here to serve in such a way that they are actually better off at the end of their case then when they first showed up at our door. We do our absolute best to communicate clearly, represent zealously, seek best case solutions and to improve our client’s situation by offering hope and a future to them at the end of our representation. We enjoy building friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime and beyond.
The Crucible of Family Law
by Family Law Attorney Tom Marks
I just finished reading an interesting book entitled “Leadership in the Crucible of Work” by Sandy Shugart. A crucible is essentially a hardened ceramic vessel in which chemical reactions take place under great heat and pressure. The author applied that concept to the heat and pressure many of us feel in the work environment.
I would like to take that one step further into the realm of family law and when our clients find themselves in the crucible of family law.
Take all of the hopes and dreams of a marriage with children, the family home, incomes, bank and retirement accounts and all the debt looming over everything and then pour all that into the crucible we call a dissolution of marriage.
The financial, communication and other relational issues that have brought the marriage to this place are now poured into a petition for dissolution of marriage and put under great heat, pressure and reactivity.
Financial pressure of the marriage is heightened because now the parties cannot live as well financially in two separate households as well as they did in one. They cannot communicate as well separately as they might have when they were together and they are further estranged from one another as they move further and further apart, geographically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
However, sometimes under great pressure people can rise to the top and produce something even stronger than before. Like melting iron and copper together in the crucible to form bronze, some people grow stronger and more resilient through this difficult process we call divorce.
Sometimes it is necessary because of abuse, abandonment and infidelity. That is not to say divorce is always the answer. It is certainly not. But sometimes its result is something stronger, more focused and more resilient.
Be Better Than Unselfish!
In this age of moral relativism, where “tolerance” is the watchword of the day, taking a strong stand has become taboo.
In his book “The Weight of Glory,” philosopher and theologian C.S. Lewis addresses this question and concludes that we can do better. According to Lewis, the ideal of a selfless life focuses “not primarily on securing good things for others, but on going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.” Lewis suggests, and I agree, that love should replace simple unselfishness as our goal.
A fair question right about now would be “What’s the difference?” Glad you asked! Love is a positive that serves the recipient; unselfishness, alone, has no recipient. Love gives; unselfishness gives up. Instead of celebrating our lacking, let’s seek out ways to bless those around us. Rather than denying ourselves for the sake of self-denial, let us turn our energy toward meeting the needs around us. Imagine the beauty of substituting the affirmative act of loving those around us for the negative non-act of simply going without ourselves!
To be fair, loving others starts with putting their needs ahead of yours, which requires a selfless approach. But the attitude (unselfishness) only has an impact on others when followed by the action (love). A selfless mindset only gets us halfway home; the next necessary step is to love. It’s then we learn that not only is it better to give than to receive, it’s also better to give than to simply give up! God bless and have a great week!
How to be a Great Family Law Client
Meeting with and hiring an attorney can be a scary and difficult process. Most people (thankfully) don’t have much experience with lawyers and legal issues, and your first experience can be intimidating.
Taking these things to heart will make your lawyer’s job easier and will enhance your overall experience with the legal system.
- Maintain Reasonable Expectations: Despite what you hear on some commercials or in the movies, your attorney is not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
Remember that your lawyer can only operate within the law in your State, and is constrained by that law and the Court in which you find yourself. Also, always keep in mind that each case is fact specific. There’s nothing more frustrating for a lawyer than having to explain why the outcome of your cousin’s neighbor’s sister’s friend’s case doesn’t apply to your situation. Let your attorney help set your expectations based on their knowledge and experience, and trust them when they give you the range of possible resolutions.
- Keep an Open Line of Communication: When it comes to the facts of your situation, your attorney only knows what you tell him or her. Make sure that you’re communicating regularly and keeping your attorney apprised of any incidents or exchanges that might be relevant to your case. Sticking your head in the sand will only hurt your case and make it harder for your attorney to protect you.
- Always Be Honest: Similar to keeping an open line of communication, your attorney will be able to most effectively protect you if you tell the truth. Don’t withhold information from your attorney and don’t try to strategically keep secrets from him. When in doubt, always err on the side of telling your attorney something rather than keeping it to yourself. If we know all relevant facts, we can prepare for and address them. If not, we can’t provide you with complete counsel and you’re likely to suffer as a result.
- Be Organized: Make sure that you keep emails, invoices, and other documents that might be related to your case. Send copies to your attorney regularly as well. Family law cases can involve a lot of “he said/she said” and the Court appreciates when there is documentary evidence to support your position. It also makes the attorney’s presentation a lot easier and more compelling.
- Accept Counsel’s Advice: Your attorney has been through a good amount of school and training to get to where she is. Trust that she is looking out for your best interests and providing appropriate counsel. Family law cases can be difficult and emotional, but you shouldn’t make emotional decisions. Instead, follow your attorney’s lead and trust her counsel. If you can’t do that, it’s a sign you may need a new attorney!
While this list isn’t exhaustive, following these guidelines will help your attorney do his best job and will make your experience with the legal system go much more smoothly. Family law litigation may not be fun, but by working with your attorney as a team you can help minimize the pain and get a fair result more quickly.
Family Law and Attorney Leadership
By Family Law Attorney Tom Marks
I read a great book while on vacation last week on the topic of leadership. You might ask what does leadership have to do with a family law practice. Don’t family law attorneys just deal with divorce, timesharing, children’s issues, equitable distribution, alimony and the like?
Well actually, good family law attorneys are all about leadership. If the divorce attorney is open to new ideas and ways of helping others, then he or she is able to influence, teach and mentor others in the process. When the client arrives in an emotionally and financially vulnerable place, the attorney can exercise integrity and leadership to help the client navigate through the divorce, modification, enforcement or other any other type of family law case.
Good family law attorneys, as leaders, need to have a vision and be able to communicate that to the client. They also need to have good communication skills and to be highly competent in their profession. Great leaders, who happen to be family law attorneys, need to have great people skills and be able to coach their clients through a very difficult process. They need to be open to doing what is in the best interest of the client, even if that means helping them reconcile their marriage and keep their family together. That is called integrity.
I have read a lot of books on leadership and have always tried to exercise the principles I’ve learned not only in my personal and family life but also in my professional life as a family law attorney.