Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

June 2013 Archives

4 Fireworks Laws to Know for July Fourth

From sparklers to M-80s, it's important to know your area's fireworks laws before you partake in this year's Fourth of July festivities.

All 50 states in the good ol' U.S. of A. have laws in place that regulate the legal purchase and use of fireworks.

Here are four types of fireworks laws to keep in mind this Fourth of July:

Top 10 Family Law Issues for Same-Sex Couples

While this week's historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings are giving many gay couples cause to celebrate, let's not forget about family law.

Thanks to the Court's ruling on California's Prop 8, same-sex nuptials have already resumed in the nation's most populous state. And thanks to the Court's ruling on DOMA, many married gay couples are now eligible for a wide range of federal benefits.

So celebrate first. But then, you may want to consider the following Top 10 family law issues for same-sex couples:

Immigration Bill Passes Senate: 5 Things to Know

A bipartisan immigration bill has passed the U.S. Senate. Yes, you heard right.

The Senate voted to pass an expansive overhaul of federal immigration laws Thursday, sending its landmark bill to the House of Representatives. The uncharacteristic showing of bipartisan support gives the country a fighting chance to reform the immigration system for the first time in a generation, reports Time.

As the bill moves forward, here are five key points to keep in mind:

After Filibuster, TX Abortion Battle Lives On

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis' near 13-hour filibuster stopped the passage of a controversial abortion restriction bill this week. But the battle over the proposed law is sitll very much alive.

Davis, D-Fort Worth, delivered her filibuster from around noon Tuesday until past midnight Wednesday, using up the Texas Senate's time to vote on the bill that sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, reports The Washington Post. But hours later, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called another special session, ordering lawmakers to consider the bill again July 1.

What is a filibuster and what did Davis manage to do with her more than half-day filibuster of the Texas abortion bill?

Nelson Mandela Trust Fight Raises Legal Issues

The recent Nelson Mandela trust fight involves him (his trust, at least) and his two daughters, who want to remove two appointed trustees. It also shows what can go wrong when setting up a trust.

The Mandela Trust dispute centers on who ultimately will control the trust, The New York Times reports. His daughters reportedly want to distribute much of the trust's $1.3 million in assets, against the trustees' (and Mandela's) wishes. Mandela, 94, has been hospitalized for the past 20 days.

So what can we learn from this dispute over Nelson Mandela's trust? Here are five legal issues that come to mind:

Legal How-To: Subletting Your Apartment

As you take off for a long-awaited summer vacation, you may want to know how to sublet your apartment.

Renting out your place is a great way to shoulder costs and, in some cases, meet new folks. But the subletting process can be daunting -- and in some jurisdictions, it may even be unlawful, depending on the circumstances.

Thankfully, there are certain steps you can take for a smooth(er) subletting process. Here are five steps you'll want to consider:

Supreme Court Rules on Gay Marriage Cases

Supporters of gay marriage have much to celebrate after Wednesday's Supreme Court rulings in Perry and Windsor, which effectively clear the way for gay couples to marry in California and for married same-sex partners to receive federal benefits nationwide.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court voted 5-4 to uphold a lower court's ruling that halted California's Proposition 8 -- a voter-approved measure that barred same-sex marriages in California in 2008.

In U.S. v. Windsor, yet another 5-4 decision struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented same-sex married couples from receiving recognition from the federal government as well as federal benefits.

How will these landmark decisions affect the backdrop of marriage in America?

5 Potential Ways to Reduce Spousal Support

Many divorcees wonder about how to reduce spousal support, or alimony. When are you allowed to request this?

If the conditions under which spousal support payments can be changed, reduced, or terminated aren't specifically addressed in a divorce agreement or court order, then the paying spouse may be able to go to court and show that circumstances have changed to support a reduction in spousal support.

Here are five potential ways to reduce spousal support:

Key Part of Voting Rights Act Struck Down

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a central portion of the Voting Rights Act, effectively ending the practice in which some states with a history of racial discrimination must receive clearance from the federal government before changing voting laws.

The decision to render the 48-year-old federal law ineffective is a major blow to civil rights activists.

Far from unanimous, the vote was 5-4, with conservative-leaning justices in the majority and liberal-leaning justices in the minority, reports The New York Times.

Transgender 1st Grader Wins Restroom Ruling

A transgender first grader has won a ruling against a Colorado school district that will allow her to use the girls' restroom at her school.

The Colorado Rights Division has ruled that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District likely discriminated against 6-year-old Coy Mathis when they wouldn't allow her to use the girls' restroom at Eagleside Elementary.

According to CNN, Mathis' parents were told that their child -- who was born a boy but identifies as female, and even holds a passport that recognizes her as a girl -- could only use the boys' restroom, the nurse's bathroom, or a gender-neutral faculty bathrooms, but not the girls' facilities.

Supreme Ct. Remands Affirmative Action Case

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed affirmative action to survive in college admissions but imposed a tough legal standard, ruling that schools must prove there are "no workable race-neutral alternative" to achieve diversity on campus.

The Court, in a 7-1 vote with Justice Elena Kagan not taking part, ruled that a federal appeals court did not apply the correct legal standard -- called strict scrutiny -- in deciding whether the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

The ruling may not be a sweeping pronouncement on the future of affirmative action, but it amounts to a warning to colleges across the nation that courts will treat race-conscious admissions policies with a high degree of skepticism, reports NBC News.

School Enrollment Fraud Can Be Costly

'Tis the season to enroll your child in school. And with school enrollment becoming increasingly competitive, there's a growing trend of parents committing school enrollment fraud to beat the system.

School fraud cases raise questions about school funding disparities and pit parents' pursuit of better academics or safer hallways against schools' interest in protecting their funding and quality.

Here's the low-down on what school enrollment fraud is, and how it can cost you big-time:

What Is Common Law?

What is common law? Is it a type of law or just the name of that cable TV show about cops?

Well, actually, it's both. But the focus here will be more on the former (you can check out the latter on your own time).

Common law is one of the main systems of law in the United States -- the other main kind being civil law. With that said, what exactly is common law?

Is It Legal to Open Bags, Eat Food in Stores?

What is grocery store shoplifting, exactly? The answer is obvious if someone takes something without paying for it, and leaves the store knowing they didn't pay. But what about everything in between?

It's not uncommon to see a customer tear open a bag of chips to munch on while shopping, nab a couple of grapes from a bunch, or sample a jelly bean or two from the bulk foods section. Most of the time, store workers may not even bat an eye or give this a second thought.

But is it actually legal?

'Landlords From Hell' Guilty of Theft, Stalking

And you thought you had a landlord from hell. Count your lucky stars that you didn't have ex-San Francisco landlords Kip and Nicole Macy. The couple, dubbed by prosecutors as "landlords from hell," pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes, including stalking and burglarizing their tenants, reports the Associated Press.

The pair wanted to evict their tenants from an apartment building in the city's South of Market neighborhood, so that they could raise rent.

Their case is a reminder that you have tenant rights and shouldn't be afraid to protect them. Here's a rundown of what these landlords did wrong:

What Happens If You Die in a Foreign Country?

Worrying about dying in a foreign country is not something that should eat up your free time, but as the family of James Gandolfini learned Wednesday, a death outside the United States can be tricky.

"Sopranos" star Gandolfini died in an Italian hospital following a suspected heart attack, reports Reuters. Gandolfini was 51.

Even a short vacation abroad may leave your family wondering how to handle your funeral, but there are things you can do to prepare.

Legal How-To: Dealing With Bounced Checks

Do you know how to deal with a bounced check? Everyone is vulnerable to bouncing a check or receiving a bounced check. Sometimes, it's not really anyone's fault and just a matter of circumstance. The point is, it can happen.

When it does, it can often be an embarrassing situation, especially if it's one of your own checks that gets bounced back. But don't fret. In most cases, the issue can be fairly resolved without having to pay too many hefty fines.

Here are some helpful tips in dealing with bounced checks:

House Passes Abortion Bill, but to What End?

The House abortion bill, which passed 228 to 196 on Tuesday, seeks to prohibit abortions 20 weeks after fertilization. But it's unlikely the bill will become law anytime soon.

Republicans control the House of Representatives, but Democrats control the Senate, which is unlikely to consider the bill. The White House is threatening to veto it if it gets that far, Reuters reports.

But House Republicans' passage of the bill, while largely symbolic, may still have political consequences.

Leaving a Job? What Can You Take With You?

When you're leaving a job, what can you take with you? You might know to leave the desk and the ugly office plant, but other items like documents and electronic data are a whole other matter.

From e-mail messages to bathroom keys to the office supplies in your filing cabinet, there are a number of items you may need to account for.

So what belongs to you, and what belongs to your employer? Here are a few legal issues to consider before you clear out your desk:

Top 5 Neighbor Disputes and How to Resolve Them

Love thy neighbor? It may be more like "love thy neighbor dispute." According to a new FindLaw.com survey, 42% of Americans say they've been involved in a dispute with their neighbors.

While most neighborly arguments don't turn into Hatfield v. McCoy-type feuds, they can still be difficult to deal with. Some can even land you in court.

So what are the Top 5 types of neighbor disputes, and what are the best ways to resolve them?

With Twitter Disclaimer, You Can Still Get Fired

Twitter disclaimers are not magical mithral chainmail for your tweets. Even with such disclaimers, you can still get fired for "your own" salacious opinions in tweet form.

NYU professor Geoffrey Miller almost learned this the hard way after tweeting that "obese PhD applicants" wouldn't finish their dissertations if they lacked the "willpower to stop eating carbs," reports Forbes.

Although Miller did some quick damage control and saved his job, we aren't all college professors. Many employees are putting themselves at risk under the false protection of their Twitter disclaimer.

Ariz. Voter 'Citizenship' Law Struck Down

An Arizona voter law requiring proof of citizenship has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 vote, justices ruled Monday that Proposition 200, an Arizona voter-registration provision enacted in 2004, was pre-empted by federal law -- namely, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

The Arizona law required voters to prove their citizenship by providing documentation, The New York Times reports. But that went far beyond what the federal law requires, the Court explained.

E-Cigarettes: 5 Burning Legal Issues

E-cigarettes are selling like inhalable hotcakes since their approval in the United States, but these "safe" cigarettes still face challenges from state and federal laws.

These nicotine-vapor devices are currently regulated similar to other tobacco products, but there are some hot legal differences.

Here are five legal issues affecting e-cigarettes:

How Job Loss Can Affect Child Support

When you lose your job, your child support order doesn’t just go away. You still owe the unpaid amount in arrears, which can’t be discharged in bankruptcy and usually can’t be reduced retroactively.

But the court can modify your support obligation when you experience a change in your financial situation.

If you are unable to pay the current child support amount due to job loss, you may be able to secure a child support modification, which is a particular type of court order.

What Is a FISA Court?

With NSA surveillance all over the news, you may be wondering: What is FISA?

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) regulates the government's conduct of intelligence surveillance inside the United States. The law generally requires the government to seek warrants before surveilling "agents of a foreign power" engaged in espionage or terrorism. In practice, it grants the government wide surveillance authority.

Below is a general overview about what FISA is and what the FISA court does.

For Flag Day, 5 Laws You May Not Know

You may not know this, but today is a holiday. That's right: Happy Flag Day! June 14th commemorates the adoption of our national flag.

On this day back in 1777, a resolution of the Second Continental Congress selected an early version of Old Glory as our official U.S. flag. Since then, lawmakers have added more stars -- and unfurled dozens of federal flag laws.

Flag laws? That's right, this country does not take those lovely stars and stripes lightly. So in celebration of Flag Day, here are five flag laws that you may not know about:

Deadbeat Dad With 22 Kids Sued Over Child Support

The reigning king of deadbeat dads, a Tennessee man who's fathered 22 children is being sued for child support -- a lot of it.

Orlando Shaw, 33, admits to having 22 kids by 14 different women. Like an informal class action lawsuit, the 14 women have taken Shaw to court for tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid child support over the years, but to no avail.

Shaw's reaction to the ordeal suggests he subscribes to the "Don't hate the player, hate the game" worldview.

Top 5 Legal Tips for New Dads

Being a new dad isn't easy, but keeping a few legal tips in mind can help make life easier for you, your little one, and your growing family.

With Father's Day just around the corner, and summer being the peak time for births, there will definitely be many an occasion to celebrate all the new dads out there, and their beautiful babies, of course.

So while new dads may be overwhelmed trying to figure out the whole diaper situation, they should also be aware of some potential legal pitfalls of fatherhood that can get beyond messy, if they aren't too careful. Here are our Top 5 legal tips for new dads:

What Are E-Signatures? Are They Legally Valid?

E-signatures, or electronic signatures, are replacing their pen-and-paper cousins as a new form of legally valid marks on agreements.

What are the laws governing these e-signatures, and are they always just as good as a written one?

Legal How-To: Adopting as a Stepdad

Adopting your partner's children is often a big step in your relationship with your new partner, and it can be a big legal step too.

Stepdads can adopt in every state, but the laws for adoption in each state are slightly different.

Here are the basics on how stepfathers can adopt stepchildren, with particular areas to focus on in your home state:

Plan B Age Limits Will Be Lifted: Justice Dept.

A federal judge's Plan B ruling is finally being accepted by the Obama administration.

The Department of Justice is abolishing age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception pills, making the morning-after pill available to women and girls without a prescription, reports The Washington Post.

This is a big step for the government, which previously decided that only women and girls age 15 and over would be able to buy the Plan B "morning-after pill" without a prescription.

Does Child Support Continue After Parent's Death?

Questions about child support get even more complicated when a parent dies. Do child support payments continue even after a parent’s death? What is the protocol supposed to be?

While child custody laws vary by state, the general answer is that child support does continue after a parent’s death. There is a very strong public policy reason for the child to continue being cared for in the manner agreed upon. This, of course, will require a modification to the child support order after the death of a parent.

Where does child support come from after a parent dies? Courts generally look to a few sources.

Equal Pay Act at 50: 5 Things You Should Know

The Equal Pay Act marks its 50th anniversary today. On this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to prohibit wage discrimination based on gender.

The EPA is an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act and was enacted to rectify the pay inequity that existed -- and still persists today -- between men and women who perform the same job duties.

To commemorate the milestone, here are five things you should know about the Equal Pay Act:

3 Potential Ways to Challenge Paternity Tests

Looking to challenge a paternity test? While that's not a very romantic question, it's still a reality (and with Father's Day right around the corner, pretty relevant, too). Because even though love and marriage are in the air these days, that doesn't mean that, well, fleeting love isn't.

Determining paternity can be crucial. It helps determine who else is going to be involved in the upbringing of the child and who else is going to help pay for child support.

Of course, then, it's also natural to want to challenge alleged paternity if you're pretty sure the baby-daddy accusation is completely false. Here are three potential ways to challenge a paternity test:

Donating Food to Charity? Chew On This Law

Ever wonder what happens to all the leftover, untouched food at that huge event you were at? Wouldn't it be nice if the organization decided to donate the food to charity? It would be, except this is generally not done.

This is not because these organizations and caterers are cold-hearted and actually enjoy seeing others go hungry. It's likely because many charities are reluctant to accept leftover food donations, even with a federal law in place that's aimed at shielding them from liability.

Why is that?

Surgery Abroad: 5 Legal Risks for Medical Tourists

Surgery abroad may be the new study abroad, as higher medical costs and insurance payments are driving "medical tourists" to sign up for cost-saving surgical procedures outside the United States.

But before you decide to book your flight to Panama for a cheap appendectomy, keep in mind these five legal risks of getting work done abroad:

Can You Copyright a Recipe?

Can you copyright a recipe? Sure, recipes come in various forms -- from grandma's best chocolate chip cookies ever to that world-renowned chef's secret signature sauce that no one's able to figure out. It seems as if everyone has their own special recipe.

As foodie culture has shown no signs of slowing down in its popularity, what can be said about the recipes behind every dish?

Here's what you may or may not know about what it takes to copyright a recipe.

Legal How-To: Revising Your Will

Are you unsure about how to revise your will? Don't worry, you're not alone.

The exact requirements to revise a will vary state-by-state and can be tough to grasp. As a general rule of thumb, check your state's laws before you attempt to amend or revise your will.

Here's a general overview of the dos and don'ts on how to revise your will:

Are Guns Allowed at Amusement Parks?

First there was a dry-ice bomb at Disneyland, now, a loaded gun at Disney World? When a grandma and her grandson boarded a ride in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom, they weren't expecting this kind of thrill when a loaded gun was found on her seat.

The woman immediately reported the gun to a park attendant. It was later discovered that the gun's owner had a valid concealed weapons permit and didn't realize that his gun had fallen out of his pocket when he was on a supposedly bumpy ride.

What the gun owner also didn't know was whether or not guns are actually allowed at amusement parks. Are they?

A Tenant's Summer To-Do List: 6 Tasks to Take On

Summertime doesn't mean tenants should start slacking when it comes to their apartments; the summer heat and excitement can mean even more to worry about.

To ease your summer anxiety, here's a short summer to-do list that may come in handy for tenants:

1 in 3 U.S. Marriages Begin With Online Dating

Online dating leads to marriage more often now than ever before. More than one-third of recent U.S. marriages began with online dating, according to a new study.

That finding is based on a survey of nearly 20,000 people who tied the knot between 2005 and 2012. The survey also found that married couples who met online are also slightly happier and less likely to end up in divorce compared to those who met offline, USA Today reports.

Don't get too click-happy just yet, though. Here are three precautions that you may want to consider when it comes to online dating:

Teacher Gets Schooled Over 5th Amendment Warning

An Illinois high school teacher's self-incrimination warning to his students is getting a warning of his own. Batavia High School teacher John Dryden might face disciplinary action for reminding students that there is a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the Daily Herald reports. He gave the quick constitutional reminder before passing out a school survey with questions about alcohol and drug use.

Since Dryden is a public school teacher, the school may be violating the First Amendment for disciplining a public employee for speech on a matter of public concern.

Unlike! Online Posts Affect Youth Job Prospects

Here's a new study many teens and young adults won't "like": Some 10% of young job seekers are rejected because of what's on their social media profiles.

Perhaps just as problematic, the On Device Research study also found that two-thirds of young people -- that is, ages 16 to 34 -- aren't concerned that their social media use could harm their future career prospects.

Maybe they should be.

Powerball Winner Gambling With Legal Deadlines

The mystery Powerball winner is taking his or her sweet time to claim the jaw-dropping $590 million jackpot. It may be a wise move -- or it may be a gamble, as a some important deadlines are fast approaching.

It's been two weeks since lotto officials announced the winning ticket was purchased in Zephyrhills, Florida, reports the Associated Press. Apparently, no one expected a winner to come forward immediately. But now some are raising their eyebrows.

The delay could be dicey, because there is a legal time limit on how long you can wait to claim a lottery prize.

The 5 Most Common Credit Report Mistakes

Credit report mistakes are more common than you may think. So if you've run into problems with your credit report, know that you're not alone.

In fact, according to a new FindLaw.com survey, nearly a quarter of Americans -- 23% -- say they have experienced problems with their credit report.

Here are the five most common credit report mistakes, according to the FindLaw.com survey:

Dog Tattoos Controversial, but Are They Legal?

People tattoo everything, even their eyelids. But should the law allow them to tattoo their dogs?

Before you run to the tattoo parlor to give your bowser a "Pug Lyfe" tattoo, consider whether tattooing dogs is animal cruelty.

Top 5 Airbnb Home-Rental Horror Stories

Airbnb, a home-sharing service, has struck start-up gold. However, the popular service has seen its share of home-rental horror stories, with some people renting out their beds to strangers... and coming home to disasters.

Here are the top five Airbnb nightmares, and the lessons we can learn from them: