The Marks Law Firm Blog and New Updates

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.

But one of the few virtues most people remain willing to endorse (verbally at least!) is unselfishness. If you told Jay Leno’s “man on the street” that he should live a selfless life, he would almost certainly agree. And you and I probably would agree as well. Unselfishness is noble, and the selfless life desirable. But my question is this: “Is unselfishness enough?”

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.

Can’t Afford Your Support Obligation? Don’t Sell a Kidney Just Yet.

“If I don’t have the income, do I have to sell my assets or borrow money to pay my support obligations?” And the answer usually is “No.” Under Florida law, a Court generally cannot require a party to liquidate assets or incur debt to meet his or her support obligations.

When calculating alimony or child support, the Court looks at your actual income. That means that your assets normally only become an issue if they are generating regular income for you. So if you’ve fallen on hard times, or your income has changed substantially, in a way that makes your current support obligations impractical, take heart.
Florida law allows you to seek a modification of your obligations, and usually your assets are protected through that process. So make sure you know your legal rights before you go in the hole financially or have a garage sale to pay your support—there may be a better option available to you!

The (Veto) Pen Is Mightier!

Thanks to a 24 hour news cycle and the mass communication available via the internet, most of you have been aware of the progress of Senate Bill 718 as it made its way through the Florida legislature. The bill would have ended permanent alimony in Florida and would have changed the analysis a Court employs when determining time-sharing with children.

Specifically, it would have legislated that a Court start from the presumption that 50/50 time sharing is in the best interest of children. The Bill had the potential to dramatically change how divorce cases are handled, and to wreak havoc on children who have grown accustomed to a particular schedule.

After passing the House and Senate by wide margins, the bill was vetoed by Governor Rick Scott.

His primary reason for pulling out the veto pen was a provision in the Bill that made it retroactive. That means it would have applied to alimony awards and time sharing schedules entered long ago. According to the Governor, under the new law’s retroactive application would have been too disruptive to families and former spouses who have spent years operating the previous structure.
So for now the veto pen is mightier than the legislature’s vote. But don’t get too comfortable! Considering the Governor’s clearly stated concern about the law applying retroactively, it is likely State lawmakers will start work on a revised version of the law, which applies only prospectively, very soon. In the meantime, we hope everyone is ready for Summer and wish you all a blessed end to the school year.

What Kind of Family Law Attorney Are You Looking For?

By Family Law Attorney Tom Marks

Some people want an experienced, more expensive Family Law Attorney and some people want a newer, less expensive Family Law Attorney. Some people want their attorney to be a “bulldog” and some people want someone who cares about them and their future.  Is it possible to get all of these in one Family Law firm? Let’s explore this question.

The Marks Law Firm has several attorneys, with professional rates ranging from $275 to $450 per hour. We also have attorneys with experience levels from 3 to 44 years. The Firm has an experienced team of paralegals with rates of $125 per hour.

So how do you put all of those fees and costs together in the most cost effective, efficient and strategic way? The answer is that we work as a team. The paralegals support the attorneys and do whatever they can under the supervision of the attorneys to keep costs down.

For those looking for a more cost effective source of representation, we pair the paralegals with the more entry-level attorney(s). On bigger more complex cases we utilize the more experienced attorneys along with the paralegals and if necessary the more cost effective younger lawyers.

Of course we have administrative support staff including our Receptionist, Office Manager and Marketing Director.  This provides administrative support that includes having non-legal client questions answered without charging the client. In addition, we bring the client on as part of the team with the paralegals, attorneys and support staff.

The client knows the facts as to what has occurred in the marriage and leading up to the Dissolution of the Marriage, Paternity action or any other family law matter we might be handling for them. I like to say we “row the boat together” or we “plow the field together”. That way the client, as part of the team, works in unison with the paralegals and attorneys in a very collaborative and synergistic way. I have found this team effort to be a great way to be on the same page with the client in presenting our case in Mediation, to Opposing Counsel or to the Court.

We make every effort to resolve each client’s case in an amicable and an uncontested fashion. However, when we find the other side being completely unreasonable and unwilling to resolve the family law matter in a positive realistic way, we are experienced enough and ready to litigate our clients case to the fullest.

You might call that, “being a bulldog,” we would call that “representing our clients zealously”. So we are able to provide the whole range of family law services and competencies to the Client, bringing the Client on to the team of Attorneys, Paralegals, Legal Assistants, and Administrative support staff. Simply put, we care deeply about our Clients. We want to see them better off for having been represented by The Marks Law Firm. We strive to represent our clients with integrity, excellence and devotion. Our clients are our mission.

Family Law Mediation in Orlando, Florida

What is Family Law Mediation?

Mediation is the process by which a trained and independent third-party assists the parties in resolving their dispute dispute.  Your mediation may resolve all issues in your case, but does not have to. Often parties will reach a partial agreement at mediation, narrowing the issues that need to be presented to the Court.

During your mediation, you have the chance to present your goals to the mediator who will then facilitate a conversation between you and the other party.  It is a lower pressure alternative to litigation that lets the parties control the resolution.

Do I have to attend Mediation?

In Florida, most Family Law Courts will require the you to attend mediation before allowing you set a hearing and seek relief from the Court.

What happens if I decide not to attend mediation after I have received notice?

Unless you physically unable, you should not skip a schedule mediation.  If you fail to appear at a properly noticed mediation, and you don’t have a good reason for not showing up, the other party can seek sanctions against you.  These sanctions can include an award of mediator and attorneys’ fees, other costs against you, and you will also have really upset your Judge!

What does mediation cost?

The cost of mediation (excluding the Parties’ own attorney’s fees) depends on whether you attend private mediation with a private mediator, or take advantage of mediation at your County Courthouse.  The cost of private mediation is based on the mediator’s hourly rate, which is generally determined by the mediator’s experience, reputation, and training. If private mediation is too costly, many counties allow you to attend mediation at the Courthouse, with a Court-approved mediator, at a significant discount.  The cost when mediating at the Courthouse depends on the income of the parties. For example, in Orange and Osceola Counties, the costs are determined as follows:

  • If the combined gross income of the Parties is less than $50,000, the fee is $60.00 per Party, for up to one 3 hour session.
  • If the combined gross income of two Parties is less than $100,000, but more than $50,000, the fee is $120.00 per Party for up to one 3 hour session.
  • If the combined gross income of the Parties exceeds $100,000 the Parties can select a private mediator or the Court can provide a list of mediators from which you can choose. If the Parties can’t agree on a mediator, the court will appoint one on from the list.
  • If you cannot afford to pay any cost for mediation, you have the opportunity to apply for indigent status.  For those the Court deems indigent, the fee is waived.

Does the Mediator render a decision that is binding?

No.  In fact, the mediator doesn’t render any decisions.  Instead, the parties steer the ship in mediation.  Unlike arbitration, where an arbitrator issues a decision that normally binds the parties, the goal of the mediator is to facilitate the Parties, through negotiation, to reach an agreement.  If you do not like the options discussed at mediation, you are under no obligation to agree to them.  Remember, in a mediation the parties are in charge!

What happens if we can’t come to an agreement?

If you can’t reach an agreement at mediation, the mediator will file a report stating the parties are at an “impasse.”  Thereafter, you can pursue further mediation, negotiate informally, or put your dispute before the Court.

Do we have to resolve all issues at mediation?

No.  You are free to resolve any, all, or none of the issues involved.  If you reach a partial agreement, the mediator will notify the Court and you will have reduced the time and money that will be necessary going forward.   Keep in mind, however, that if whether you reach a full or partial agreement, once the Court ratifies the agreement, you will be bound to honor it.

We’re Outta Here!!! Maybe…

In a place populated by displaced northerners and others escaping bad weather or starting over in the “Sunshine State,” a common issue in family law cases is one party’s desire to grab the children, leave Florida, and head “back home” when his marriage hits the skids.

We often meet parents who either want to take the kids and leave, or who are afraid the other parent is on the verge of doing so herself. Fortunately, Florida’s Statutes (specifically Section 61.13001) provide some guidance for parties in this situation.

Let me first talk to the parent who is lying awake at night in fear that his spouse or significant other is going to disappear out of town with the minor children. According to Florida Statute 61.13001, a parent cannot relocate, with a child, more than 50 miles from the residence, unless that parent has a court order or the written consent of the other parent.

While the Statute’s definition of “Relocate” does allow for brief periods of travel for certain purposes (i.e. vacation or health care for the child), it does not allow your spouse or significant other to pack up the kids and “move” to any location more than 50 miles from the residence. If you wake up to find that this has happened to you, the Statute allows the court to facilitate the quick return of the child, although you will want to counsel with an experienced family law attorney to ensure you and your child are protected.

And to the parent who truly believes it is best for the child to “relocate” out of the area or the State, the Statute gives you the process for trying to make that happen. If you file a Petition for Relocation you will have the chance to explain to the Court all of the reasons it is better for the child to move to the new location. But make sure the focus truly is on the best interests of your child(ren). A court is not going to let you move away just because you don’t want to be around your soon-to-be former spouse, or because you miss your family back home. So before you say “We’re outta here!” make sure you’ve consulted with an attorney and followed the law. Otherwise you could find yourself on the business end of a very unhappy family law judge!”