Finding Financial Peace During the Holidays

As a “mom-on-a-budget,” I’ve adopted several practices to help my family stay on track during the holiday season. By putting these few simple practices into action, my kids have learned that Christmas is about more than just receiving presents and I’ve found I can avoid breaking the bank and still make each Christmas morning absolutely amazing!

First and foremost, encourage your kids to be realistic about gifts.

A few years ago I heard of a family who had adopted the tradition of the Three Kings. When the Wise Men came to visit baby Jesus, they certainly did not come hauling the whole Walmart baby section behind them in Red Rider Wagons!
Each King brought ONE gift for Him…. And He is JESUS! Each gift was something that was meaningful in that time, each gift was a blessing fit for a King. My daughter, who is 9 now, fully understands this theory and it’s given me the opportunity to teach her that Christmas is so much deeper than Santa Claus, candy canes, and toys that break within 24 hours of opening them. Think Simple, Think Meaningful!

Set a budget and stick to it!

It’s so easy to pick up extra gifts here or there, just because they are a “great deal”, but before you know it, those deals have blown your budget and Christmas becomes a burden that you have to recover from.


Sit with your children, ONCE, at the beginning of the season and discuss their 3 most “wanted” gifts. And if you just must use the catalogs, don’t revisit them every week. Use this as time to really find out about your kids likes and dislikes and as a way to really invest your hard earned money rather than just buying random toys as a “great deal.”

Think outside the box! A gift doesn’t solely have to be a toy or a video game. What does he/she delight in? You can find so many unique experiences to gift to your child through websites such as Groupon. Give them a memory for a lifetime!

These are the top three ways I’ve found financial peace during each Christmas season while teaching my kids a bit about contentment and the true meaning of this season!

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!

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!


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!”

Words of Encouragement for Those Going Through A Divorce During the Holidays

With the holiday season in full swing, I wanted to take a moment away from the legal discussion that normally takes place on the blog and provide a word of encouragement to those struggling through a divorce case or other family law matter. One of, if not the most difficult job we have as family law attorneys, is helping the client manage their emotions and remain mentally and spiritually whole during their case.

It is both easy and understandable for someone in a divorce to be hurt, become angry, or disengage from those close to them. The end of a marriage involves a mourning process and it can often seem like that process will never end. Take heart, things will get better!

The first word of encouragement is this: it’s ok to hurt and to mourn as you work through the difficulties of family law litigation. In fact, confronting and dealing with the pain you’re feeling is healthy and necessary, particularly if you want to have positive relationships moving forward.

At The Marks Law Firm we work closely with a handful of select counselors to help ensure that our clients are taking care of all areas of their personal health. So don’t let outdated stigmas or injured pride keep you from getting the help needed so you can start the next chapter of your life off on the right foot!

The second thing to remember this holiday season is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel! In the midst of the battle it can be hard to see peace awaiting you on the other side, but it’s there! The attorneys at The Marks Law Firm have combined more than 80 years of family law experience, and we want every family law litigant to know that regardless of how difficult your case seems, it will eventually come to an end.

Resolution is coming, and with it, the opportunity to start fresh. So if you ever feel like yours is a lost cause and things will never improve, give us a call for a reminder that there is hope and that better days are ahead!

Skills to Increase Intimacy and Ward Off Divorce

The rehabilitation of marriages is something that every professional family lawyer should explore rather than race headlong into driving the last nail into the coffin of a bad marriage.

I have to say, however, it is somewhat difficult for a family law attorney to expound upon the essentials of a good marriage, since as you might suspect, our offices are not the place where one would deal with healthy marriages.

It is with this reality in mind that I was pleased to happen upon an article on the Internet addressing how good relationships could be maintained and poor relationships could be rehabilitated. The author’s name is Laura Doyle and she has a website at She is a relationship expert, and New York Times best selling author, who specializes in training and coaching intimacy skills.

In that article she expresses her belief in intimacy skills that she has learned over a period of time in her work of counseling women. She refers to these skills as “Six Steps for Women to Stamp Out Divorce”. She begins by recognizing what most of us would readily admit which is that most people do not have good relationship role models. Many of today’s marrieds are products of single-parent households or broken homes or marriages that have washed up on the rocks as a permanent condition. Her humorous line was that learning intimacy skills from broken marriages is the equivalent of learning oral care from parents with false teeth.

Many of us know that there is very little teaching in schools or colleges about marriage and the skills of intimacy necessary to maintain a good marriage. Normally a Sunday school class or church sermon is as close as some of us get to lessons on how to conduct a good marriage. Most of us learn marriage skills after several years of marriage, and the resulting unhappiness has driven us to seek counselors for help after a great deal of damage to the relationship has already been accomplished. This, then, becomes our belated classroom.

I read the article out of curiosity since it related to my practice of family law but after I had finished the article I could see how most men would probably respond in a very positive manner to a spouse who initiated these skills, and that they would, no doubt, encourage reciprocity on the part of the husband.

I am going to refer to her comments because I believe that her approach could lead to a very successful rehabilitative process. However I may add some of my own comments where I feel my professional experience might assist in your understanding. The six intimacy skills that she espouses are as follows:

Skill #1: Do at least three things a day for your own pleasure.

She is of the opinion that there is a direct correlation between your self-care and your level of tolerance for your husband. She says relationships require patience and compassion but if you’re tired, frazzled or undernourished, you give your relationship little chance of thriving. She believes that focusing on your own pleasure through self-care takes the pressure off of your husband to make you happy (and she acknowledges that your happiness is your own responsibility and not that of your husband anyway.) She believes that your good mood also signals to him that he can succeed in delighting you which inspires him to want to do just that. Here, it seems to me, for a person to have fun every day reduces the demands and expectations on a husband to provide an escape from a mundane life, and you might expect that relief to encourage a positive response.

Skill #2: Relinquish control of people you cannot control.

She states, with a great deal of insightfulness, that “helpful” in wife language means “controlling” in husband language. She says that when you correct your man’s driving, or what he wears, or what he does at work, you are sending a message that he is not competent to guide his daily life properly. She knowingly states that unwitting criticism is an attack. This pushes intimacy away no matter how well-meaning your comments. She knows that intimacy needs safety and encouragement in order to thrive, and the intimacy vanishes with criticism. She prescribes for the woman to take a step back and trust her husband to run his own life without any help from her, and then watch him take a step forward and start acting like the man that she initially fell in love with.

Skill #3 -Receive gifts, complements and help graciously

Her opinion is that “receiving is the opposite of rejecting. When your husband gives you something that’s not what you had in mind, receive it anyway by saying, “you were so thoughtful. Thank you” On the other hand, deflecting a gift or a complement is rejecting the giver as well as the emotional connection you could have had, had you accepted the gift graciously. She recommends that when your husband offers to bathe the kids, accept his help graciously no matter how imperfectly he does it. Rejecting a gift, or compliments or help, contributes to reducing the quality of your relationship. She believes that if you receive gifts graciously that you’ll probably see more gifts start to come your way almost immediately.

Skill #4 – Respect the man you chose.

Laura believes that being respectful will resurrect the man you fell in love with. She readily concedes that you probably didn’t marry a dumb man to begin with, and if he appears to be dumb now, it’s probably because you are focused on his shortcomings. She understands that a man who feels respected by the woman, who knows him best, also feels self-respect, which is far more attractive than him cowering or bristling with hostility. She goes on to say that the lack of respect causes more divorces than cheating does, because for men, respect is like oxygen. She thinks that they need respect more than they do sex. The exercise of respect means that you don’t dismiss, criticize, contradict or try to teach them anything. It should be obvious, according to her, that he won’t do things the same way you do. And it follows that if you wanted to have that, you could’ve just married yourself. She is convinced that with your respect, he will once again do the things that amazed and delighted you to begin with.

Her statement here brought to mind my recollection of the biblical encouragement found in Ephesians chapter 5 at verse 33, where Paul is speaking to husbands and wives saying that “each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband”. It seems that if respect is important enough to find its way in the Scriptures then it is certainly a skill worthy of development.

I once heard a counselor state that if a wife praises her husband for being thoughtful, even though he is not thoughtful, that by hearing it enough he will be inspired to grow into that description. I believe there’s a lot of validity to that statement.

Skill #5 – Express gratitude three times daily.

Laura states the following: “gratitude has magical powers. It turns an ordinary meal into a feast an average relationship into a lifelong romance, and an ordinary husband into your hero.” Laura admitted that in her personal experience that she had been reluctant to thank her husband for anything because she thought that she was doing more than he was anyway, and he wasn’t thanking her for what she was doing. She also thought that he would stop doing the things that she thanked him for because he would consider those efforts as being optional. However she admits that she was wrong and that currently she thanks him for washing dishes, replacing light bulbs, and working hard at his business. She states what appears to be a truism, that the more grateful she was for what he did, the more inspired he was to do the things that she appreciated, which made her feel more cherished and adored.

It strikes me as only logical that if the husband receives no appreciation for the things that he does, because his wife feels that he is supposed to do those things anyway, then it would follow that the husband believes that he is no better off than a hired hand who is doing no more than what is paid for doing. Surely, fostering an employer/employee relationship is the farthest thing from encouraging the intimacy that one would seek to enjoy in a marriage.

Skill #6 – Strive to be Vulnerable

Laura is of the opinion that intimacy and vulnerability are directly connected. She believes that if you want intimacy, then you will need to take the risk of admitting that you are lonely, embarrassed or hurt, or whatever admission sends the message of vulnerability. This is not a sign of weakness, according to her, since it takes a lot of strength to do that. But she illustrates that when you are vulnerable you don’t care about being right. You’re just open and trusting enough to say “I miss you” instead of “you never spend time with me”. She recommends that it simply means saying “ouch” when he is insensitive, rather than retaliating. She knows that such vulnerability completely changes the way that your husband responds to you. She encourages you to understand that vulnerability is not only attractive but it’s the only way to get to that incredible feeling of being loved just the way you are, by someone who knows you very well. She paints the picture that there is nothing like the joy of intimacy that results from vulnerability. She urges women to understand that it is really worth dropping the burden of being an efficient, over scheduled superwoman in order to have the intimacy that vulnerability brings about.

The bottom line for Laura Doyle is that an intimate, passionate, peaceful relationship is not a matter of luck – it’s a matter of skill and good habits.

What I observed in my practice is that most unhealthy marriages result from a lack of focus on the essential needs of your spouse. This is what Laura Doyle covers very well in her statement about the six skills. What has become evident over the years is that spouses become very self focused and begin to develop a primary concern that their own needs are not being met in the marriage. These feelings inevitably result in feelings of resentment, and the resentment level slowly increases until you almost can’t stand being around the other person. That is the result of self-focus.

Many people state that marriage is a 50-50 proposition with each person doing their fair share. However, in my view the wise ones are the ones that advocate marriage being a 100/100 proposition. This calls for focusing on his needs as well as your own.

When you review the six skills that she’s talking about, it really doesn’t call for a great deal of sacrifice. All it calls for, is doing at least three things a day for your own pleasure; relinquishing control over people that you can’t control anyhow; receiving gifts, compliments and help, graciously; showing respect for the man; expressing gratitude three times a day, and risking to be vulnerable, because it’s more attractive.

When you really think about it, those skills don’t demand a great deal of sacrifice, but they may well draw more intimate attention from the man you married, because in this kind of relationship, pulling, by attraction, is far more successful than pushing.

What About a Post-Nup Marital Agreement?

Everyone is familiar with at least the general idea of a pre-nuptial agreement—a contract you enter before your marriage that governs what will happen to certain assets and liabilities if things don’t work out.

But did you know you can still take advantage of those same protections AFTER you say “I do?”

Florida law allows married parties to enter into a post-nuptial agreement—a contract after you’ve been married that has basically the same impact as a pre-nup would. Most people don’t consider this option, either because of taboo or because they simply don’t know it exists. However, a post-nuptial agreement can be a great way to alleviate financial concerns that arise after your wedding day.

For example, a post-nuptial agreement can be very helpful in limiting the fights over finances that so often create conflict in the home. By addressing money issues in a post-nup, you can remove some of the financial uncertainty that may be causing your spouse to worry. A post-nup also allows you to protect assets that you didn’t have coming into the marriage, but have since built or acquired.
While the discussion about a post-nup may be a delicate conversation, it may be one worth having. If you think a post-nuptial agreement would be beneficial in your marriage, you should contact one of the experienced family law attorneys at The Marks Law Firm to discuss the option in more detail.

How to Avoid Divorce – Part I

Wow! This seems like a strange topic coming from a Family Law Attorney who has practiced law for over 25 years and who has handled hundreds of Family Law Cases. including Divorce which in Florida is known as Dissolution of Marriage. However, who would be in a better position to have seen so many of the causes of Divorce.

Not getting married, although one option, is not the answer either because the impecunious “significant other” in the “living together” arrangement misses out on many of the protections otherwise afforded them under Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes had they been married. They get no alimony, spousal support, or Equitable Distribution rights.

So starting with the assumption of being married, which I am actually a strong proponent of, how do you avoid divorce after you are married? Obviously, this is a huge topic which hundreds of books if not more have been written, seminars given and counseling sought. All of those are good and are certainly part of the answer. The Attorneys at The Marks Law Firm, P.A. regularly encourage reconciliation in the right circumstances when done correctly and safely. We have a list of excellent Christian Counselors and others we can refer our clients to.

 So you are married-what now?

But how do you avoid getting to the point of having to walk into a Divorce Lawyer’s office in the first place? The following is certainly not an exhaustive list and so should be considered instructive and a good starting place. Let’s begin with the assumption that you have taken the time to really get to know your potential spouse by building on a solid friendship and not just a lot of emotion and feelings that will fade over time. Let’s also assume that you have common goals and beliefs going into the marriage as a foundation. Now let’s assume you are married and facing a myriad of stressors and temptations around you at work, in social settings and from your past.

Danger-danger: the Internet?

Let’s work our way backwards here starting with your past and working our way forward. I have come to see the Internet and Social Networks, like Facebook, as the most significant current threat to marriages. How’s that? Well of course it starts at home. If you are not connecting and spending time growing together with your spouse, they may seek out affirmation in a former relationship from college, high school or other setting, like work. I can’t tell you how many Divorces I’ve seen where one of the spouses felt neglected and sought out affirmation or simply a connection from someone in their past. For some reason former high school sweethearts end up being the most frequent choice I see. Maybe it is about reliving our past and glorifying how wonderful a former relationship was when we are in the midst of bills, kids, jobs and all the other real life stressors.

It is easy to fall into this trap when you are feeling unappreciated, under stress and alone. I can tell you the grass is not greener on the other side of the hill. All the statistics bear this out. If about 50% of first marriages end in divorce, the percentage of failed marriages increases with each subsequent remarriage, i.e. 2nd, 3rd and 4th marriages until about 90% of 4th marriages fail. And yes, I see those too.

So what’s the Answer?

So stay connected, spend time with each other, grow in the same direction together, develop or enhance your shared beliefs and remember and reaffirm your wedding vows regularly in deed and in word. I am out of space here and so will have to get to the next major observation from my practice to help you avoid divorce. You may be asking why someone who handles divorces and whose Firm handles exclusively Family Law related matters from Adoption, Alimony, Custody, Enforcement, Modifications, Paternity, Domestic Violence Injunctions to Divorce, would write a blog to help people avoid having to see a Divorce Lawyer?

I’ve always said I want to be able to come home at night and look my Wife and Kids in the eye and say I helped someone today. I want to act with integrity and my own personal beliefs based on sound principals to do what is right and to help people in any way I can. Whether you have to walk into my office for help or whether I can help you avoid the trauma of Divorce or maybe at least help the Parties avoid damaging their kids by lowering conflict and seeking what is in the best interest of the minor children.


Health Issues, Medical Care, Health Insurance and Divorce

As the pink ribbons blanketing Central Florida reflect, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Like most of you, The Marks Law Firm has been touched by the destructive impact breast cancer can have, both on a family’s personal relationship and its finances. That’s why we wanted to take this opportunity to remind our extended family (you guys!) that Florida’s Statutes governing family law are aware of, and make provision for, the costs that accompany breast cancer and other medical struggles you might face.

Unfortunately, the development of significant medical issues can leave a family or individual in financial straits. Medical issues normally arise unexpectedly, putting an unplanned strain on finances that can be difficult to overcome. If you are a spouse preparing for a divorce, or a former spouse who faces growing medical bills, you are not alone.

Florida Statute 61.08, governing the determination of alimony in a divorce case, specifically takes into account the physical and emotional well-being (or health) of each spouse. And if you’re already divorced, the onset of sudden and unexpected health issues (and the bills that come with them) may constitute a substantial change in circumstances justifying an increase in the support you currently receive.
Similarly, the Florida Statutes also provide relief for spouses and former spouses struggling to care for a sick child.
There are few things that are harder on a parent than having to comfort and provide for a child struggling with health issues. When that happens, the last thing you want to worry about is the cost of the care your child needs. Florida Statute 61.30 addresses these concerns by discussing the cost of healthcare in the child support calculation. If you have a child battling illness, and the bills seem overwhelming, you may be able to obtain a much-needed increase in the child support you receive from the other parent.

No parent should have to make healthcare decisions for herself or her children based solely on the cost of the care involved. If you’re struggling with these costs and worried that your family may not be able to get the care it needs, call The Marks Law Firm to schedule a consultation and discuss your options.