The Christmas season can be a magical time, especially for children. Every child deserves to have a fun and happy Christmas, and if The Spirit of Giving Foundation has any say, they will have one.

The non-profit organization specializes in giving kids a good Christmas, and has done so for more than 15 years. How they go about it is by finding families in need, and taking their parents to Walmart, where they are given a gift card in order to buy their children gifts.

What makes the Spirit of Giving Foundation special is that they do not ever take family history into account when deciding which families to help. While other charities might exclude a family because one of the parents has a history of drug abuse, The Spirit of Giving Foundation believes that children in those situations deserve a happy Christmas just as much as anyone else. They like to say that even kids of naughty parents deserve presents.

Their track record proves just how successful the charity has been, as well. There are hundreds of letters of thanks, some from mothers with a single misdemeanor, to single parents who work so many jobs that they never see their kids, all the way to fathers with multiple burglary charges.

The important thing, according to Spirit of Christmas Foundation founder Jim Jamieson, is that “those people need help and that’s all we really care about is that people need help. I meet the people. I listen to them. I take to heart what I see, what I hear. Then I decide if I would like to help them.”

The spirit of the season is alive and well in Florida, it seems.

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Many remember the old playground song, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Mary (or any child’s name) with a baby carriage.”  Though in days gone by, this adage may have been true, in recent years the sequence of steps to marriage has been quite different.

Recent research has shown that for many Americans, first comes college, then a good job, a house and a savings account, and then comes marriage.

Experts say that compared to past decades, the number of Americans who are getting married today  has decreased dramatically, and the demographics of those marrying have shifted dramatically, as well.

Those individuals with a college degree in today’s world are the ones more likely to marry and stay married than those people with less education.  These marriage trends, according to some experts, reflect what’s happening in the economy of our country today. 

Susan Brown, a university sociology professor, said, “What we’re seeing with marriage trends today mirrors what’s happening in our broader economy, where we’re seeing diverging fortunes for those at the upper and lower end of the spectrum, with rising inequality.”

Not all agree with Brown, however.  Some experts say that those with higher education with the potential to earn higher incomes look for a spouse who is well educated and thus has the potential to earn a higher income, as well.

Research has shown the more education you have, the better earning potential you have, and the more likely you are to marry and stay married.

Experts have found that not only do higher educated people marry each other, they are also more likely to choose marriage than those of lower education and less income.  The rapid decline of marriage among those with just a high school diploma experts believe is because less educated people feel marriage is out of their reach because their lack of education leads to lower paying jobs which makes it difficult meet the higher standards of marriage today. 

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Many times those couples who have enjoyed a long, happy marriage, find discord in their marriage once they retire.  Instead of enjoying their “golden years” these couples are experiencing serious marital problems that can actually threaten their marriage. 

According to a 2013 Fidelity Investment Couples Retirement Study, one of the reasons marital satisfaction drops and conflicts rise is because the married couple disagrees on how, when and where they will retire.  The survey discovered that:

  • Thirty-eight percent of couples disagree as to the lifestyle they expect to live once they retire
  • Thirty-six percent of couples do not agree on where they plan to live in retirement
  • One-third of couples approaching retirement don’t agree on whether they will continue working in retirement

When a couple retires, the dynamics of the marriage changes.  Instead of spending just a portion of the day together, the couple will now spend the majority of the day and night together.  The newly retired couple will need to not only work out how to spend time together, but also learn to give each other space, too.

Experts in the field have found that for some couples spending extended time together in retirement can bring out habits and characteristics in a spouse that are irritating and annoying.  These annoying traits were always there, but once a couple spends so much time together, they become more apparent and more aggravating.

When a couple retires, their life changes.  Many people view retirement as a loss of roles, income and productivity. A married couple needs to plan for retirement in more ways than financially.

When a couple retires, they initially find themselves in each others space as well as having too much time on their hands.  To successfully navigate retirement, the couple will need to grow both together and individually.  Looking for activities to do individually and as a couple, enrolling in a college course or volunteering will help keep a couple busy. 

Although it may take time to adjust to retirement, by keeping busy with new activities and by communicating openly and honestly with each other, a married couple can successfully navigate and enjoy this new phase in their lives.

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Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a marriage survey last year in which they interviewed 22,000 men and women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four.  Forty percent of those interviewed  in the study were married.  In their study, researchers found that the growing trend of living together before marriage no longer plays a role in predicting divorce as it has in the past.

The trend of living together before marriage is so common – approximately sixty percent of couples live together before they marry – that “it’s not surprising it no longer negatively affects marital stability,” stated  Wendy Manning, the co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

CDC researchers found those couples who were engaged and living together before they married were just as likely to have marriages that lasted fifteen years as those couples who did not live together.  Researchers also found those women who either lived together and were engaged or who did not live with their future spouse before the wedding had a sixty percent chance of their marriage surviving for at least fifteen years.

However, the study did reveal the marriages of those couples who lived together but were not engaged were less likely to survive to the ten-to-fifteen-year mark. 

The explanations for these findings could be more lax attitudes concerning commitment, lower education levels or family histories that may have created pessimism about marriage in these couples.

One professor of Human Development and Family Science at Oregon State University, Richard Setterson, Jr., said  cohabitating before marriage is different for each individual.  Those living as a couple may see the experience “as a trial marriage, usually without kids, that often ends in marriage.”  However, there are those people who put off marriage because they are pursuing an education or have just started a new career or who just move from “one living-together relationship to another.”

This study by the CDC did report one statistic than many other studies have recently reported – nearly half of all first marriages in this country will end in divorce within twenty years.

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When two people are united in marriage, they simplify their lives by combining financial assets such as checking and saving accounts, a move which, according to one marriage therapist, Beth Erickson,  brings “greater intimacy.” 

Erickson’s view is shared by the majority of Americans as showed by a recent survey conducted by  Merrill Lynch in February.  According to Merrill Lynch’s Affluent Insights Survey, “89 percent of married couples manage their money collaboratively.”  The survey revealed, however, that 57 percent of these married couples argue over money.

Not all financial experts believe pooling finances in a marriage is a wise move.  Financial adviser Nick Scheumann said, “It would be better if more people split it out.  When it comes to commingled assets, a lot of married people can’t handle it.”  The survey conducted by Merrill Lynch reports that money disputes are the significant contributor to one in three divorces.

Listed below are five benefits of keeping finances separate in a marriage.

  • Separate Accounts Add Flexibility and Safety of Diversified Investments – A married couple can insure more when each person sets up a separate account.
  • Credit Scores Stay Single – Credit scores are tied to single individuals, not couples.  Opening a bank account in your own name is the first step in establishing your credit score.
  • Shared Money Means Shared Responsibility – When a couple pools their money, neither person takes full responsibility for the account, and that makes it easier to spend and harder to save.
  • Marriage Is Not Always a Tax Benefit – An accountant can figure out if you would reap more savings by filing single or as a married couple.
  • Self-Employed and Small-Business Expenses – Again, an accountant would be needed to assess whether it would be beneficial to have separate or joint accounts come tax time.

One compromise for couples deciding whether to pool finances or not would be to keep some accounts separate while establishing a joint account both spouses contribute to for covering household expenses.

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With June, the most popular month to get married, just around the corner, many couples are planning to tie the knot.  According to two wedding sites, the cost of tying the knot has been inching upward and is now close to an all-time high.

An annual survey by TheKnot.com and the WeddingChannel.com discovered the average cost of a wedding in 2012 was $28,427, the highest average since 2008’s $29,334.

In the survey, 17,500 couples were questioned on their wedding budgets, style preferences and other features related to their wedding.  According to TheKnot.com, the main factor that contributed to the rising cost of a wedding was the couple attempting to create a more “fulfilling experience” for guests.  Anja Winikka, site director for TheKnot.com, said that although guest size was slightly down at weddings in 2012, spending was up.

A few of the ways couples spent more on their guests were paying for transportation to the ceremony and reception, paying for rehearsal dinners and morning-after brunches.   Many couples also spent more on guest entertainment by including photo booths or caricature artists, instead of just having a band or a DJ for entertainment.  These extras, according to Winikka, pushed the average up to $204 per guest.

A break down of weddings costs were: $1,211 for the bride’s dress; $230 for the rental of a groom’s tuxedo; and $560 for the wedding cake.

Where you live can really affect the cost of your wedding.  This survey discovered those couples living in Manhattan spent the most on their wedding with an average wedding coming in at $76, 678.  Alaska was the least expensive place to be wed, with an average wedding cost of  $15,504.

Complete story can be found here.

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A recent wedding trend that is occurring more often is weddings for two.  A wedding for two involves just the bride and groom, and according to Kelly Karli the owner of Frosted Pink Weddings, these type of weddings are popping up more and more.

Regardless of the fragile state of the economy, two people in love still want to get married.  To cut expenses, some couples are not cutting out the bride’s gown, the flowers or photographer, but they cutting out the guests from their wedding.

One bonus of having a wedding that only involves the bride and groom is the absence of stress in planning the wedding.  There are no seating charts, no bridesmaids dresses to choose, no worries of offending relatives or friends, and no catering of food.  The whole focus of a wedding for two is the bride and groom.  The couple chooses what to wear, where to get married and what to eat. 

One newlywed 35-year-old Las Vegas wedding planner Andrea Eppolito, stated it’s one of her favorite trends.  Andrea showed her fondness for the new trend by choosing a wedding for two for herself when she married last year.  “It’s about you, your life, your relationship, and what matters to the two of you.  At the end of the day, it’s what your marriage should be about.” 

Although this trend may be popular with many couples today, it isn’t always popular to those friends and family members who are left out of the wedding.  Many fathers want to walk their daughters down the aisle; mothers want to see their daughter or son married and have a big reception to celebrate their union.  Family members and friends may be hurt or resentful when a loved one opts for a ‘just us’ wedding.

Regardless of one’s opinion to this new type of wedding, wedding planners say the trend is becoming more popular and is here to stay.

Original article here.

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When a couple has divorced and tax time rolls around, the question may arise as to who will be able to claim the child as a dependent on their tax return?  This question needs to be answered before the divorced parents file their returns to avoid running into problems with the IRS. 

For tax purposes, a dependent is either a qualifying child or other relative.

Typically, the custodial parent, the parent who has the child the greater part of the year, as a result  of the divorce agreement, can claim the child as a dependent and thus receive the beneficial tax credit. 

When parents have joint physical custody of their child, problems may arise as to who will get to claim the child as a dependent.  To solve this problem, parents can agree in advance on who will take the exemption and then have their ex-spouse sign a release of exemption.  This exemption must be attached to the parent’s tax return for every year the parent will be claiming the tax credit.

Medical expenses can be deducted from your taxes for your child if the expenses are more than a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income.  The parent who is paying the medical expenses is the one who will be allowed to deduct these expenses by the IRS.

The rules regarding tax credits and exemptions are quite complex and confusing.  Although filing your tax deductions properly can save you money, filing them wrong can cost you much more in fines, penalties and stress.  To make sure you file your taxes properly, talk with an experienced tax attorney or go to the IRS website and read Publications 503 and 504, which deal with child and dependent care expenses, and divorced and separated individuals.

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The divorce process is a particularly emotional and stressful time for all involved.  A parent’s divorce can be a very damaging process for a child, one that is made even more so when one or both parent(s) do not take the child’s emotional well-being into consideration by attempting to cause a deliberate rift between the other parent and child.  This rift could be caused by parental alienation.

Parental alienation occurs when a child expresses feelings of unjustified dislike or even hate towards one parent.  These feelings are often the result of derogatory or hurtful comments made by one parent against the other. 

When a couple divorces, both parents need to take their children’s emotional well-being into consideration, and when one parent acts in an uncooperative and unhelpful manner by attempting to alienate his children from the other parent, this is unacceptable in the eyes of the law.

Children should not be used as pawns and placed in situations where they  hear demeaning statements about either parent.  If your ex-spouse is deliberately causing a rift between you and your children by making unkind or untrue statements, or by blocking your access to them, it is time to contact your family law attorney to deal with the situation.

A parent’s unreasonable behavior can cause emotional damage to their children by affecting not only their relationship with the other parent, but by causing difficulty in future adult relationships as well.  The court recognizes the rights of the children as the most important of all in a custody case. 

When your ex-spouse is deliberately attempting to cause a rift in your relationship with your children, a Florida family law attorney can file a motion for contempt to stop your exes’ behavior.  If the parental alienation behavior does not cease, a child custody modification and visitation order may be served. 

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When two individuals marry to circumvent U.S. immigration laws, this is considered a fake or sham marriage.  For a marriage to valid under the law, even though a couple may have gone through a marriage ceremony and received the proper government stamps on their marriage certificate, this may not be enough to constitute a “real marriage.”  The couple has to intend to live in a real marriage relationship following the marriage ceremony.  If a couple does not intend to establish a life together, but just married so one partner could obtain a U.S. lawful permanent residence – a green card – this marriage is a sham.

Thirteen Central Florida residents have been indicted in a marriage fraud scheme that authorities say was used to help  illegal immigrants get around immigration laws and gain U.S. citizenship.  The Department of Justice caught suspects from not only Florida, but from Louisiana, New York and Colorado in Operation Knot So Fast.

According to Department of Justice authorities, Bethania Deschamps, 49, of New York, recruited American citizens to marry immigrants in order for the illegal immigrants to fraudulently become legal U.S. residents.  Deschamps would receive a recruiting fee once the American citizen and the immigrant were married.  These immigrants also paid a fee to Ender Rodriguez, who had spent time in prison in 2008 for conducting a similar scheme.  Rodriguez used marriage petitions to prepare and file fraudulent documents on behalf of the immigrants.  In 2008, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration benefit fraud.  The 21 people charged in Operation Knot so Fast, could face up to five years in prison if convicted of marriage fraud.

U.S. Immigration officials have become quite adept at discovering  fraud by examining what looks like insignificant details of people’s lives.  Officials have learned to cross-check dates and facts within the application forms and between the forms and people’s testimony.  Those who enter into fraudulent marriages often trip themselves up just trying to get through the standard process, and Immigration officials catch a lot of people who thought that a fake marriage was going to be easier than it really is.  Both partners in a sham marriage face possible criminal prosecution for their fraud.

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