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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.

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.

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.

Help! My Divorce Case Was Referred to the General Magistrate?

 I JUST RECEIVED NOTICE THAT MY CASE IS BEING REFERRED TO THE GENERAL MAGISTRATE.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Why was my case referred to a General Magistrate?

Most Judges’ dockets are very congested.  In an effort expedite the resolution of the thousands of cases filed every year, cases often are referred to General Magistrates.

Is the General Magistrate the same as a Judge? The short answer is “no.”

General Magistrates are attorneys and, similar to judges, they wear black robes, hear testimony, and rule on objections and evidentiary matters.  However, because General Magistrates do not have the power to issue Final Orders requiring a party or parties to act (or refrain from acting), they differ from judges.

Instead of issuing a Final Order, the General Magistrate submits her report and recommendation to the Circuit Court Judge who assigned to your case.  The report and recommendation must contain findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations.  Additionally, the General Magistrate must give notice to the parties that she has submitted the report and recommendation to the Circuit Court Judge.  This notice usually comes by mail to the parties or their attorneys.

Do I have to submit my case to the General Magistrate?

No.  Any party can object to the referral to a General Magistrate, so long as he does so within 10 days after service of the referral upon that party. Otherwise, the law assumes you consent to the referral.  Additionally, a Party can object before the time a responsive pleading is due, if the referral occurred within 20 days of when action filed.  A party waives the right to object to a referral actually made if the party participates in the hearing, but the party does not waive objection if there is a total lack of any referral order.

What does the Notice of referral to the General Magistrate have to tell me?

The notice of referral must state with specificity what the Court is referring to the General Magistrate .   If the General Magistrate makes recommendations or findings of fact on issues that weren’t included in the notice of referral, those recommendations or findings have no effect.  Every referral also must include other dry, standard language per Florida Statutes.  If you’ve received a referral and want to know if it complies with Florida law, contact one of the family law attorneys at The Marks Law Firm for review of your documents.

If the General Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation get it wrong, am I stuck with them?

No! If a party disagrees with the report and recommendations, that party may serve “exceptions” (objections) to them.  The party must serve these objections within 10 days of being served with the report and recommendation.  It is important to timely file any exceptions— the failure to file exceptions on time will preclude further review of the report and recommendations. Furthermore, you have to explain your exceptions with specificity.  Once the exceptions have been timely filed, the court may not enter the order or take action until after the hearing on the exceptions.

If I file exceptions to the general magistrates report and recommendation, will the Judge re-hear the entire matter?

No.  The purpose of a hearing on exceptions is for the Judge to review the record to determine whether competent evidence. Supports the report and recommendations.  If specific findings are not supported by competent evidence, the Judge may rule solely on those specific issues.  It is important to remember the party filing the exceptions is required to file a record of the hearing, so if you are concerned about having a hearing before a General Magistrate, make sure to bring a Court Report to record what happens in front of the Magistrate.  Of course, the best way to ensure your rights are protected, whether in front of a General Magistrate or Circuit Court Judge, is to bring qualified legal counsel to your hearing.  The family lawyers at The Marks Law Firm have extensive experience in such matters and would be glad to talk with you about your case.

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.

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December 2013 Newsletter

 

 

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“Mary Had a Little Lamb” Isn’t Just for Kids!

By Attorney Eric Faulkner 

With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, and the holiday season in full swing, I want to share a story about an amazing woman who knew how we can make the most of this season.  That woman is Sarah Hale (1788—1879), and while you may not recognize her name, I guarantee you’ll recognize her impact.Sarah Hale was remarkable.  She did great things at a time when women were viewed as less than their male counterparts.  Sarah was an author, advocate, publisher, and educator.  She is also the individual most responsible for President Lincoln proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.  When you have time, research Sarah’s efforts to establish an official day of Thanksgiving-they were quite impressive!

But I want to talk briefly about something else Sarah Hale did. Something we are all familiar with, but the full story of which few are aware.  Sarah Hale is the author of the beloved children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and the reason she wrote it should be on our minds as we approach Christmas.

Everyone remembers the story of Mary bringing her lamb to school—how the lamb devotedly followed Mary “everywhere that Mary went,” and that the teacher turned out the lamb because of the disruption.  What many don’t know, however, is that the poem is based on a true story.  While Sarah was teaching school a student, Mary Sawyer, actually brought a lamb to class one day!  Understandably, the children were distracted, so Sarah sent the lamb into the courtyard where it patiently waited for Mary.

When the class was released and Mary left the schoolhouse, the lamb came running to her side.  Astonished, other students asked Sarah why the lamb was so devoted to Mary.  They wondered, “Why does the lamb love Mary so much?”  Sarah’s response was both simple and profound.  As the last stanza of the poem reflects, she answered that the lamb loved Mary because Mary loved the lamb.  That night Sarah wrote her famous poem, to reiterate an important principle for her students and for future generations—if you want to experience love, start by loving those around you.

What a profound lesson for us so many years later.  If we all put this simple idea into practice, imagine how it would change our lives.  Do you want to have a better marriage?  Be a better husband or wife.  Do you want to have better boss?  Find a way to be the best employee you can.  Do you want to have more friends or better relationships?  Be a better friend to those around you.  As the poem teaches us, love them first!

1 John 4:19 tells us that we love because God first loved us. I can’t help but think Sarah Hale had this verse in mind when she wrote about Mary’s devoted lamb.  This Christmas I encourage you to read “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with a new perspective.  When you read it, think about the significance of God loving you before you ever knew or cared that He existed.  Meditate on the fact that God loved you “first” and think about what that means for your life.  And then go out and show that same love to those around you.  I promise you won’t regret it!  God bless, and Merry Christmas!

You can view Attorney Eric Faulkner’s Bio here!

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October 2013 Newsletter

Family Law October Newsletter

National Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Month

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Frequently Asked Questions

Divorce Questions for Orlando Divorce Lawyer – General Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce):

Questions I should ask my divorce lawyer about my case and questions about divorce to Orlando Divorce Attorneys

What is the difference between divorce and legal separation?”
In addition to ending your marriage, a divorce (or “dissolution of marriage”) addresses all issues within the marriage, including property, finances, and child-related issues.  This is the most common way to deal with marital issues, as Florida does not recognize “legal separation.” However, if you prefer a less permanent route, there are options available to obtain financial support or address concerns related to minor child(ren) without filing for divorce.  For example, Florida law allows a married party to pursue an action for support and maintenance without dissolution of marriage.  That allows for a time of separation and the chance to consider the circumstance without the prospect of a full divorce hanging over you.  If you would like to discuss these options in more detail, contact one of the family law attorneys at The Marks Law Firm to schedule a consultation at your convenience.

Why should I have a lawyer representing me during my divorce?
While many individuals proceed through the divorce process, having the help of an attorney with family law experience can go a long way toward protecting your interests. Florida’s family laws have developed over many decades and are often nuanced and complicated.  An experienced attorney will understand these laws and be able to help you avoid the mistakes or unfavorable results that can arise from not knowing all of your rights.  For example, pro se litigants (those who represent themselves) often do recognize or include important considerations such as ensuring adequate financial protections in the event a spouse passes away, the tax implications of paying spousal or child support, practical ways to avoid future conflict, and significant children’s issues that pro se parties don’t often consider.  The family law attorneys at The Marks Law Firm have the experience to support you with these difficult issues.

How can I find out which decision-making option would be best for my situation?
The presumption in Florida is what is called “Shared Parental Responsibility,” which starts from the position that each parent is considered an equal in parenting the child(ren). When the Florida Legislature changed the “custody” verbiage in 2008, the intent was to ensure that neither parent was considered superior to the other and that each parent should have as much time with the child(ren) possible, unless very particular circumstances (i.e. child abuse, substance abuse etc.) indicate otherwise. There are accommodations that can be made for “shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision making” and “sole parental responsibility” when appropriate, although these are exceptions and must be justified by the significant evidence. The family law attorneys at The Marks Law Firm can educate and guide you as part of your team to make informed and well thought through decisions that can positively impact you and your children for years.

My spouse refuses to give a divorce. What are my options?
Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that either party may pursue a divorce without the consent of the other.  That means that even if your spouse refuses to cooperate, you can file and pursue a divorce proceeding on your own.  The Marks Law Firm is focused on family law and knows how to effectively assist spouses who face this frustrating situation.

What is the difference between an uncontested and contested dissolution of marriage?
An uncontested dissolution of marriage occurs when the spouses agree on all issues, including time sharing and child support, property distribution, and spousal support.  The benefit of an uncontested proceeding is that it minimizes conflict and allows the parties to maintain control over the outcome.  However, if the spouses cannot agree on any of these issues, the matter becomes contested and requires the Court to make the decisions for the parties.  The Attorneys at The Marks Law Firm have over 75 years of combined experience helping families in both contested and uncontested family law litigation.

Can I get my marriage dissolved without a lawyer?
Yes, you can obtain a dissolution of marriage without the help of legal counsel.  However, there are a number of steps to the process and before you decide to do it alone, you should consider whether you are comfortable with the following questions:

  • What do I need to file to start the divorce process?
  • Where do I file the necessary documents?
  • Do I know and understand all of the applicable statutes and time limits?
  • What am I allowed to legally ask for during my divorce (i.e. alimony, child support etc…)?
  • Do I know all of my legal rights and how to avoid waiving them?
  • What are my obligations to my spouse and child(ren) during the case and how might those obligations change when we are finished?
  • How are child support and alimony determined?
  • How does the Court determine property division in a family law case?

These are only some of the issues that may come up during your divorce case, and the outcome of these issues will affect you for years to come.  At The Marks Law Firm, our family law attorneys know the answers to these questions and have the training and experience to ensure your rights are protected.

Won’t a lawyer turn our dissolution of marriage into a battleground?”
It’s true that sometimes attorneys can add to the dissension and make matters harder, but normally the opposite happens.  The emotions and personal feelings associated with a dissolution of marriage can be overwhelming.  It’s often difficult for spouses to be objective during the divorce and work together to reach a reasonable and proper result.  While the goal of your lawyer is to fight for you and to protect you and your child(ren), an experienced family lawyer will also help you understand the legal and practical issues involved in your case and avoid unnecessary costs and headaches.  Involving an attorney early on also gives you a better chance for an early resolution, which allows you to move on with your life more quickly.

How long do I have to live in Florida before I can file a divorce action?
A person seeking a divorce in Florida must have resided in the state for at least 6 months prior to filing the divorce.  This means you must have lived in Florida with the intent to remain here for at least the 6 months leading up to the beginning of your divorce case.  If you are unsure about which state has jurisdiction over your divorce case, you can contact the family law attorneys at The Marks Law Firm to discuss your concerns.

In Florida is there a waiting period before my divorce becomes final?
There is no waiting period or cooling off period in Florida. If you and your spouse agree on all issues that need to be resolved, and your paperwork is in order and properly completed, your divorce can be finished as quickly as the Court’s schedule allows for you to attend a final hearing.

Why is the date of separation important?
The date of separation can be important because it is one of the dates a Court can use to determine the value of property to be distributed during a divorce, and can set the date for determining back child support or spousal support.  The Court also often uses the date the Petition is filed, as it can be difficult to nail down a specific date of separation, especially when the parties have been growing distant over a period of months or even years.  Determining the proper date, and applying that date to the calculations involved, can be tricky, and if you have questions about this issue it is a good idea to contact one of the attorneys at The Marks Law Firm for a consultation. We are Orlando divorce lawyers.

How is the date of separation determined?
As mentioned above, it can be difficult to determine the separation date. If you know the exact date on which one of the parties left the marital home, that is likely the best way to calculate the date of separation.  If you don’t recall that date, or if you are still living together, it is hard to pinpoint a date of separation and the Court may use the date of the Petition instead.  If you have questions about determining your date of separation, or regarding the best date to use for valuing your property for legal purposes, you can call The Marks Law Firm and discuss your questions with one of our experienced family lawyers.

Divorce Initial Consultation:

How can I get the most out of my Initial Consultation?
You should come to your Initial Consult as prepared and organized as possible. That means it will help save time if you have at least some basic financial documents like your most recent paystub, savings, checking and brokerage statements. It will also be very helpful to fill out our Initial Consult forms as completely as possible prior to coming in for your consult to give to the Attorney when you meet.  You should also think of any questions you may want to ask and write those down or even E-mail them to the Firm prior to the day of the Initial Consult. The Orlando Attorneys at The Marks Law Firm work hard to combine excellent counsel with cost effective representation, and anything you can do to save the Attorney time will ultimately save you money.

If I request a consultation, does that mean I have to hire you?
No, you are under no obligation to hire the Attorney or the Firm because you have set an Initial Consult. You should take the time to make sure the firm is a good fit for you before you retain the Attorney.

Do you give consultations over the telephone?
Yes, this can be an effective way to get started especially with time constraints and perhaps geographical distances. Ultimately is usually is a good idea for the Client and the Attorney to meet in person, but as long as the Client completes the Initial Consult forms and emails them back with some basic financial documents, (see below) a telephonic Initial Consult can be very effective.

I don’t even know if I need an attorney.  Is there just a packet of forms I can use?
If you have no minor children, and you and your spouse can agree on everything and feel comfortable enough that you know what you are doing, there are forms for a “Simplified Dissolution of Marriage” available. You can also get forms if you have minor children, but we do not recommend it because of the added complexities. In fact if you have any significant assets or minor children, you should take the completed forms in to meet with an Attorney to look at them before you sign them. That way you may only have to pay an Attorney for one hour of time and then the rest yourself. Our Orlando Divorce Law Firm, Marks Law Firm regularly does this type of consultation and would be glad to answer any questions you have about the process before you file your paperwork.

Will I be involved in my own case?
Absolutely! At The Marks Law Firm in Orlando, FL our approach is that the Client and the Firm are a “Team.”  The Client knows the facts of the case better than the Attorney ever will, because the Client has lived through it, so the only way the Team can succeed is if we work together toward a common goal. When the Attorney/Paralegal and Client working collaboratively and with great communication, we can reach the best possible resolution for you and your family.