The divorce proceedings between Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have brought religious differences in a marriage to the forefront.  Katie was raised as a Catholic and Tom belongs to the Church of Scientology.  While reading articles about the couple’s divorce, some writers hint at, or come right out and say, that the controversial Church of Scientology was the primary cause of the breakup.

Whether or not this is true, religion is one of the factors taken into account in determining child custody.  Religion can, and often does, become an issue when a couple divorces and they have different religious beliefs.  Each parent will, of course, desire that his child be raised in the faith he has chosen to follow.

In most cases, the parent with primary custody determines the major life choices in the child’s life, which includes religion,  until the child is old enough by law to make these decisions by himself.  The child then can decide which religion, if any, he will follow.  However, even though a child is being raised in the faith of the primary custody parent, it does not mean his other parent cannot expose the child to his religion, too.

American courts try to stay out of the everyday child rearing decisions, as by law, they are forbidden from interfering with religious freedoms or to show preference of one religion over another.  When a divorcing couple is creating their parenting plan, courts prefer the parents determine the child’s religious upbringing then.  If parents, however, cannot reach a decision, the court will determine what is best for the child.  The court looks at the welfare of the child, the wishes of the child – if the child is old enough to express an informed opinion – actual or possible harm to the child, and the child’s educational, medical, emotional and physical needs.

A state can, in extreme cases when it feels the exposure has or will clearly have a negative effect on the child’s safety, health or general welfare, regulate a child’s exposure to conflicting religions.


The divorce rate of baby boomers has risen dramatically in the last decade.  These older divorcing Americans, will be advised by their attorneys on how their Social Security benefits will be affected by their divorce.  Although, those couples currently divorcing receive this helpful information, those who divorced years ago may not, and as a result, may not be receiving all the benefits they deserve.

Social Security monies are taken out of a worker’s check to help pay for his retirement in his later years.  Some retired individuals do not realize  they are able to collect on their ex-spouse’s earning history.  This rule favors women more than men, because women in the past have typically earned less than men in their working lives.  Retired people can either collect benefits based on their own earning history, or collect on 50 percent of their spouse of former spouse’s benefits if it is greater than their own.  If the spouse is deceased, then one can collect 100 percent of his or her spouse or former spouse’s benefits.

There are rules that govern the collecting of a former spouse’s benefits.  The marriage must have lasted ten years or more and the person who is seeking benefits must currently be unmarried or married to her current spouse after the age of sixty.  Seeking a former spouse’s benefits will not affect what the ex-spouse’s current spouse  receives.

There are several options available to those people who have not yet reached full retirement age.  When the former spouse is 62 years or older, the person seeking benefits can begin to receive a reduced benefit based on their former spouse’s earning record, provided that the divorce took place at least two years prior, even if the former spouse has not begun to collect on his or her benefits.  If more beneficial, the benefit seeker can always switch to collecting his own benefits in the future.

When a former spouse is deceased, then one can begin collecting a reduced widow(er)/divorced benefit at age 60, and then again, has the option to later on switch to his own benefits at full retirement age, if the amount is greater.

Family members who are assisting with the finances of elderly parents that have been divorced would benefit by requesting a Social Security benefits review on behalf of their parent to find out whether or not that  parent may be eligible for an increase in benefits based on their former spouse’s earning history.


When a marriage ends in divorce,  most former spouses go on quietly to a new life.  However, there are those divorced individuals who throw a party to celebrate their divorce.  Is this a tasteless celebration that is held as a direct and intentional insult to a former spouse, or is the event an attempt at celebrating a new start in life in a hopeful, positive manner?  That all depends on the divorce party’s purpose and how it is celebrated.

Divorce parties are held to emphasize a divorced person starting a new chapter in his life.  At times, some celebrations are hosted by both former spouses and are aimed to ease the pain and hurt feelings that have been caused by the divorce.  By celebrating their divorce, a couple can show that, although their marriage ended, they have moved on past the pain and grief, and would like everyone else to do so as well.  Couples who co-host a divorce party, share with friends and families the positive points in their marriage and then ask family and friends to support them as they move on to new paths in their lives.

There are those celebrations, however, that announce the new found single status of some divorced individuals and can be compared to a bachelor or bachelorette party.  Divorce cakes, wedding ring coffins, just-divorced banners  and divorce rings are just some of the items that one can find at these celebrations.

Whatever your opinion on the subject of divorce celebrations, according to a CNN article,  the parties look like they are here to stay as they are not only  growing in popularity, but are helping in lessening the stigma surrounding the end of a marriage.


When a divorcing couple has spent their marriage sharing all aspects of their lives with one another, it may seem strange to acknowledge that they now not only need to build a new, separate life, but need to keep many aspects of that new life private from their former partner.  Even in an amicable divorce, one or both spouses can become bitter, frustrated or angry about what took place during and after the divorce, and what was once a friendly relationship, may deteriorate into a not so friendly relationship.  Protecting your personal and financial information during and after the divorce is, therefore, very important.

One important reason for privacy in regards to both personal and financial information, is to prevent your former partner from using your information to damage your credit score, your finances or even your relationship with others.  Although we may not want to believe that a former spouse would harm us financially or personally in such a way, this is not always the case.

The first step in ensuring that your financial information is safe is to establish your own checking account and apply for your own credit cards.  By doing this, you not only establish your own credit and keep your money separate from that of your former partner, but keep your purchases and spending history private, as well.  One other financial step that is necessary is to go online and review all of your “one click” purchasing arrangements.  Various online businesses have made it easy for repeat customers to purchase items without re-entering their details.  You will need to create your own new “one click” accounts  linked to your own credit cards, which will provide just you with a list of the items  you have purchased.

Most married couples either share or know each other’s passwords for computers, online banking and such social media as Facebook.  Once a relationship ends, these passwords need to be changed to keep your personal and financial information and photos private from your former spouse.

When questioning what steps need to be taken to protect your privacy during and after a divorce, talking with an experienced Florida divorce lawyer can not only answer any questions you may have, but can provide you with the experienced legal advice and quality representation that you deserve.


The Pentagon reported last year that the military divorce rate has risen steadily since 2001, from 2.6 percent to 3.7 percent in 2011.  These figures point out that nearly 30,000 military marriages ended last year alone.  The civilian rate of divorce has actually fell, from 4 percent in 2001, to 3.5 percent in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To help military couples overcome the strains of not only distance, but the lasting effects of war on a marriage, many couples are turning to retreats.  Organizations around our country are offering military couples and families places to bond, to have fun and also to prepare for life on the home front through classes and counseling.  Retreats are provided by nonprofits, which include Project Sanctuary, Project New Hope, Coming Home Project, Operation Purple, Operation Oasis and the Army’s Strong Bonds.

One counselor for Project Sanctuary, Tammy Hagins, says the retreats empower service members.  According to Tammy, members are receiving tools for marriage, for their financial situation and for communicating with their spouses.  She states that “they are connecting and reengaging, “ and also that the family is going to struggle more, “but it’s a space to connect, to function as a family for a week.”

Michael Schindler, author of the book, “Operation Military Family:  How Military Couples are Fighting to Preserve Their Marriages,” explained that when military families reunite, they often face changing roles, intimacy issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  It can take anywhere from six to twelve months before a military couple can get into a normal groove again.  Not only do they face the same stresses of a normal couple, but the added stresses of war, as well.

Although a retreat will not fix all military marriage problems, retreats do give many military families a chance to bond, to relax, and a time to get away from all the stresses of life at home.


In divorce cases that involve children, custody arrangements are made that makes it possible for both parents to actively take part in their children’s lives.  However, unseen events can occur, such as a job or military transfer, that makes it impossible for a non-custodial parent to physically be a part in his child’s life.

Approximately 18 million children in this country have separated or divorced parents and another 17 million children have parents that have never been married.  Of these children, one out of four have a parent living in another city or state.  The number of children who do not have face-to-face contact with one parent is estimated to be ten million.

With modern technology, even though these parents cannot physically be with their children, they can stay in touch.  Today we have many modern tools of communication, which include phone texting, email, Facebook, and video hookups with webcams.  These tools of “virtual visitation” assist in making long-distance parenting easier.

Florida’s virtual visitation statute allow courts to decide relocation cases based on a wide range of factors, and one of these factors is that of the availability of virtual visitation.  Utah enacted one of the first electronic visitation laws, and now six states have laws covering virtual or electronic visitation rights.

There are, of course, two sides in the virtual visitation issue.  Those for virtual visitation say that it does provide a way to strengthen the bond between parents and children, but it isn’t meant to replace face-to-face contact, but just to fill in between holidays and summer breaks.

Those against the practice says the law gives some non-custodial parents an excuse to move away, and use the promise of virtual visitation to receive approval from the court to relocate.  There are also cases where virtual visitation has been used to spy on one parent.  The non-custodial parent will ask a child to open closets or walk around the house so he or she can see if the custodial parent has a new significant other.

Whatever your feelings or opinion on virtual visitation, it is her to stay and it does give long-distance parents a way to communicate and “virtually visit” with their children no matter how far apart physically they may be.


Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force members are alarmed by the number of domestic violence-related homicide cases this year.  All ready this year, there have been seven domestic violence-related homicides, which is one more than in all of 2011.  This alarming raise in numbers of domestic violence-related homicides isn’t just occurring in Pinellas County, but other Florida counties, as well.

The spokeswoman with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Leisa Wiseman, said that her agency has been monitoring the spike in the number of domestic-related homicides, stalking and other violent behavior across the state since 2009.  Members are not sure why numbers have risen, but suspect economic reasons, such as unemployment or foreclosure, or substance abuse, might be playing a role.

The task force is very concerned about another recently discovered statistic; in 69 percent of the 103 cases, loved ones knew about the violence within the relationship, but remained silent.  Frieda Widera, a victim advocate, said that advocates realize some friends and relatives do not want to become involved for fear of retaliation, but stressed that there are safe ways to intervene in a domestic violence relationship.  She stated that “the only way we are going to end domestic homicide is if friends and family and co-workers and neighbors know how to recognize it and intervene.”

Victim advocates state getting help from support groups, shelters and counselors to file restraining orders and create safety plans can greatly reduce the chance of a fatality.  In 89 percent of local domestic fatalities studied by the task force, victims of domestic homicides never had contact with the local domestic violence centers.  Advocates stated this was either because of denial, embarrassment, fear or a lack of knowledge that the centers and resources were available.

Domestic violence destroys families, threatens the well-being of spouses and children, and should not be taken lightly.  If you believe that you or your children may become a victim of domestic violence, immediately contact an experienced domestic violence attorney.


What happens when a father learns that the child he has raised and loved for years is not his biological daughter?  The answer to that question, of course, depends on the father in each case and also on the laws of the state in which he resides.

One father in Pennsylvania, Mike, found out the girl he had raised and loved for years was not “his.”  Mike said the revelation was “devastating”, and he left his wife, but he did not renounce his daughter.  For him, he still felt the child, in all ways that mattered, was still his daughter.  He paid his child support faithfully, and his daughter still  spends every other weekend with him. 

Mike has, however, filed suit to end his paternal rights, even though it may cost him visitation rights with his daughter.  When he learned his ex-wife was to marry the man who was his daughter’s biological father, the thought of supporting another man’s child became unbearable.  Two years after filing suit, Mike is still paying child support to a biologically intact family, which in his opinion is ridiculous. 

Mike is not the only father trying to end the paternal rights of a child who is not his.  As a result of political, social and technological shifts, more of these cases are playing out in court, and  stricter federal rules are forcing states to chase down the biological fathers and hold them responsible for children born outside of marriage.  The DNA tests that prove paternity have become easier, less expensive and more reliable.  Now all a father who questions the paternity of a child has to do, is to swab the inside of a cheek for cells and pay a couple of hundred dollars to have his question answered.

In most states, paternity decisions are governed by age-old English common law, that a child born in a marriage is presumed the product of that union unless the husband was impotent, sterile or beyond “the four seas.”  Judges today have interpreted that law in so many different ways that what happens in contested paternity cases depends almost as much on the state as on the details of the case.

In Florida, there are five ways to establish paternity:

  • Marriage:  The parents are married to each other when the child is born
  • Acknowledgment of Paternity:  The unmarried couple signs a legal document in the hospital when the child is born, or later
  • Administrative Order Based on Genetic Testing:  Paternity is ordered if a genetic test prove fatherhood
  • Court Order:  A judge orders a paternity in court
  • Legitimation:  The mother and natural father get married to each other after the child is born and update the birth record through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics

Although a man can prove he is not the biological father of the child born during the marriage with his wife, it will be up to a judge to decide whether or not he can sever his paternal rights and cease paying for the support of the child.


Although a state’s laws can be found and read online, understanding the complicated laws can be quite difficult for the average American.  In an effort to make a more user-friendly way to read and understand Florida’s law books, one foundation has created an online website to make the statutes not only more accessible to citizens, but more meaningful and understandable as well

Barbara Petersen is the president of the First Amendment Foundation and her organization worked with the Florida Society of News Editors to assist in the new site’s,, development.  This new site has features that the Florida State site, Online Sunshine at, does not.  For example, if a citizen wants to find out information on Florida’s divorce law, he will not only be able to read the legal law, but an easy-to-understand description of the law’s history with hyperlinked text that shows the definitions of terms in other parts of the law.

Florida is the second state to have its law books simplified by Waldo Jaquith, who describes himself as an “open government technology” advocate.  Jaquith first developed a website that tracked bills filed by Virginia’s General Assembly, and has been contracted by the White House to assist in creating a website that allows for easier tracking of lobbying, campaign finance and other ethics-related data.

When Jaquith received a Knight News Challenge grant in 2011 worth $165,000 to develop coding for other states, Rick Hirsch, the Managing Editor of the Miami Herald, requested that Florida be first.  Sunshine Statutes is currently in “public alpha” testing, which means the site is live and accessible, but still being updated  Once Jaquith moves on to another project, it will be up to the Florida Society of News Editors and the First Amendment Foundation to share the responsibility for keeping Sunshine Statutes updated and maintained, a task that Hirsch states they are committed to make happen, and also doesn’t think will be hugely expensive to do so.


Last year, the vote to pass Orlando’s domestic partner registry was not only quick, but uneventful as well.  However, extending the registry to cover the whole county, turned into a tumultuous political battle.  On Friday when the vote was taken for the measure, neither the county commissioners nor Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs showed.  Nevertheless, the measure passed the commission by a 6-1 vote.  Comptroller Martha Haynie, who advocated for both registries, was the one who the official rollout was left to, and will be the person who will catalog all the relationships recorded by  the registry. 

Haynie stated that “we can acknowledge and celebrate that now anywhere in Orange County more families can be protected and respected when they face illnesses, accidents or end-of-life decisions.”  She also described the registry as an “important milestone in recognizing gay and lesbian families.”

One couple who has been a committed couple for more than two decades, became the first couple to sign up for Orange County’s new domestic partner registry.  For Phil Windsor and Gary Ashland, their relationship wasn’t legally recognized by the town of Edgewood where they reside, until Friday.  Now the couple will share some of the same rights that their married neighbors have always enjoyed.

Gary Ashland said that the registry is the “first step towards actual marriage,” with his partner, Phil Windsor stating that this is a “big step from when I was growing up in West Virginia.”

Couples who desire to register as domestic partners can register in person downtown at Orlando City Hall for $30.00, or they can print a form from the city or comptroller’s website, have it signed and notarized and send it in with a fee of $18.50 and they will officially be registered as a domestic partner couple in Orange County.