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

September 2014 Archives

Legal How-To: Burying Your Pet

No owner wants to think about burying his or her pet, but it's often necessary to find a final resting place for your furry friend.

But before you get a shovel and a large cardboard box for your pet's backyard burial, you should know about the kinds of laws you may be violating. This is especially true if you're thinking about burying your pet in a public park.

Before you say your goodbyes, check out our legal how-to on burying your pet:

To Change Child Custody Agreement, Lawyer Must Pay $10K to Ex

A Pennsylvania court has ruled that an attorney is bound by the terms of a child custody agreement that requires him to pay $10,000 to his ex-partner every time he files a court action to modify the agreement.

In a somewhat ironic twist, it turns out the attorney drafted the agreement himself, reports The Patriot-News. Although a lower court had ruled in the attorney's favor, finding that the agreement was void as being counter to public policy concerns, the state Superior Court -- one of two statewide appellate courts -- disagreed.

How might this lawyer's own legal work end up costing him?

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'K'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

In the event that someone ever uses sticks and stones to break your bones, not only will words never hurt you, they can actually be very helpful in pursuing a lawsuit to recover for your injuries.

Learning the specialized language of the legal system, known as legalese, gives you the ability to understand and use the law to your advantage, either on your own or with the help of an attorney.

To help you get a grasp of this legal language, our series Legalese From A to Z breaks down legalese letter by letter. This week, we look at some legal terms that start with the letter "K":

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Texas

Yours truly is a Texas native, but we won't blame you if you're just arriving or simply here to visit. What Texans won't appreciate is someone who's clueless about the laws in the Lone Star State.

So before your Southwest flight lands, check out these 10 laws you should know if you're in Texas:

Neighbors and Trees: 5 Common Disputes

Even those who follow the advice of the Bible to "love thy neighbor" may not necessarily share the same warm feelings for their neighbor's trees.

It turns out that disputes between neighbors regarding trees are fairly common. And being that Sunday is the annual "National Good Neighbor Day," what better time to explore some different branches of the classic neighbor-tree dispute?

Here are five common sticking points when it comes to neighbors and trees:

3 Things Immigration Sponsors Must Know About Affidavits of Support

For those sponsoring an immigrant to become a citizen, you will likely need to sign a Form I-864, otherwise known as an Affidavit of Support.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this document is required "for most family-based immigrants and some employment-based immigrants" to show the federal government that they will have a means of support when they arrive. If you are petitioning for a relative or spouse to come to the United States, you will probably be required to sign this affidavit.

But there are three important things sponsors should know about these affidavits of support:

5 Things You Can't Do While Collecting Unemployment

When a worker loses his or her job, unemployment insurance is designed to provide income while the worker looks for a new job.

For those who are eligible to receive unemployment insurance, it can often be the only thing preventing them from falling behind on bills, car payments, mortgages, and other financial obligations. But along with each state's eligibility requirements for receiving unemployment benefits, there are typically additional requirements for keeping benefits once they've started.

How might you lose out on employment benefits or even potentially face criminal prosecution for unemployment fraud? Here are five things you can't do while collecting unemployment:

Legal How-To: Deciphering a Cease-and-Desist Letter

"Cease and desist" has a commanding and alarming ring to it, one that makes recipients of cease-and-desist letters quake in their figurative boots.

But there's really nothing magical or legally damning about a cease-and-desist letter. Often they are just a cheap way for one party's lawyers to shock or bully another party into "ceasing" or "desisting" without actually filing suit.

Don't be fooled by angry words in legalese. Here's how to decipher a cease-and-desist letter:

Going to Work Stoned? 3 Legal Points to Ponder

With recreational marijuana becoming decriminalized and even legalized in an increasing number of states and cities, marijuana use may not be the clandestine activity it once was.

But what about showing up to work high on pot? A new poll conducted for the website Mashable by SurveyMonkey found that nearly one in 10 American workers have shown up to work stoned at least once.

But what should you consider before going to work high? Here are three legal points to ponder:

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'J'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

To understand how the law applies to your situation, you first need to understand the specialized terms used by lawyers and judges to describe the law.

Known as legalese, these legal words and phrases can often seem obscure or overly complex, but that's why we're here. Our ongoing series Legalese From A to Z breaks down these words, letter by letter. This week, we take a look at some legal terms beginning with the letter "J":

  • Jail. Jails are just like prisons right? Actually there's a big difference between jail and prison. Jails are short-term facilities under the jurisdiction of a local government or a county. Prisons, on the other hand, are facilities run by either the state or federal government where those convicted of more serious crimes go to serve longer sentences, typically of longer than one year.

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in New York

Ah New York, there's really no way to fake the Empire State. And that's certainly true of its laws.

But even if you're not a native New Yorker and are just visiting or passing through, you should definitely have a basic understanding of New York's legal structures.

Don't be one of those out-of-town yokels who gets a ticket for texting while driving in Manhattan. Check out these 10 laws you should know if you're in New York:

5 Things a Domestic Violence Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't)

Victims of domestic violence can often feel trapped in the situation because of the presence of children, a lack of resources, or simply fear of more severe abuse if the victim tries to leave.

There are, of course, many self-help resources for victims of domestic violence, such as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which recently announced it has partnered with the NFL to promote and fund its domestic violence hotline and other programs. Victims of domestic violence can, and should, also call the police if they are subject to physical violence or threats of violence.

In addition, victims of domestic violence may consider retaining a domestic violence attorney. So what can a domestic violence attorney do that might be otherwise difficult for you to do on your own? Here are five ways a domestic violence attorney can help:

Is It Legal to Pick Fruit Right Off the Tree?

When you're walking along and you see a fruiting tree, are you legally allowed to take your pick? Even if it's on private property?

A group of New Mexico preschoolers were dismayed earlier this month to find that their pumpkin patch had been raided over the weekend. While fruit shouldn't be left to rot on the vine (or branch, or bush), growers shouldn't have to let the fruits of their labors be picked bare either.

So when, if ever, is it legal to take fruit right off the tree?

5 Quick Ways to See If Your Lawyer Is Legit

Lawyers can seem "all that" during a consultation, but potential clients may want to do a little extra research before pulling the trigger on hiring them.

Just a quick trip over to the lawyer's website or state bar profile can reveal information that he or she may not have disclosed. In addition, ranking-and-review websites like Yelp provide oodles of sensitive information on attorneys from past clients.

So if you're curious, use these five quick ways to research whether your lawyer is legit:

Not-So-Free Speech: 5 Limits on 1st Amendment Rights

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from "abridging the freedom of speech." But what does this freedom of speech encompass?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), freedom of speech doesn't necessarily mean you can say whatever you want whenever you want to.

When might your freedom of speech be limited? Here are five examples:

Can Facebook Force You to Use Your 'Real Name'?

There are a few entities that require you to disclose your true legal name, but you may be surprised to know that Facebook is one of them.

In a strange twist, Facebook has been deleting the profiles of drag queens in an attempt to enforce its "name change" policy. According to The Huffington Post, individuals operating on Facebook under pseudonyms and stage names (or anything other than a legal name) were treated to Facebook temporarily suspending their accounts.

Can Facebook require you to use a real legal name for your account?

Think You Know Your Constitution? Prove It With These 5 Questions

As we celebrate Constitution Day here at FindLaw, we like to reflect on how much (or how little) the average person actually knows about his or her constitutional rights.

Sure you may be able to list off some of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, but do you know how free speech actually applies? Or the right to a jury of your peers?

Test your constitutional mettle with these five challenging questions:

Legal How-To: Writing a Cohabitation Agreement

If you're an unmarried couple living together, sharing property, and maybe even sharing finances, a cohabitation agreement is a great way to make sure your interests are legally protected.

Also called a "nonmarital agreement" or a "living together contract," this type of legal document can provide unmarried couples with the same legal protections often provided to married couples via prenuptial agreements and state laws governing the division of property at the end of a marriage.

But how do you write a cohabitation agreement on your own? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Stepchildren & Your Will: 3 Questions to Ask a Lawyer

With today being National Stepfamily Day, it's a good time to remember that if your family includes stepchildren, you may need to revisit your estate plan.

Stepchildren are often considered by their stepparents to be on equal footing with any biological children that parent may have. But legally, a parent's natural-born children may be treated differently than stepchildren for purposes of distributing your property after your death under the terms of a will or through your state's intestacy code.

What do you need to know when your estate planning involves stepchildren? Here are three questions you may want to ask a lawyer who's familiar with your state's laws:

Supreme Court to Consider 5 Gay Marriage Cases at Fall Conference

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for the opening conference of its October 2014 term, the Court is set to consider whether or not to hear cases from five states dealing with the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

The cases -- from Wisconsin, Utah, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Indiana -- will be among the first cases considered by the Court when justices meet on September 29, reports USA Today.

Does this mean the Supreme Court is going to rule on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage?

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'I'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

It's time for another installment of Legalese From A to Z, explaining the plain-English meanings of some common (and some uncommon) legal terms that non-lawyers may find confusing.

What is legalese? It's the specialized language of the legal profession -- words typically used only in legal documents and in court. Here are five legalese terms you may not know that begin with the letter "I":

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in California

Moving to the Golden State? Just visiting? Or maybe you've been a California native all your life.

California has a rich legal history, and because of it, the state has a unique set of laws. So before you decide to join the Raider Nation and grab some In-N-Out on the way to the beach, check out these 10 laws you'll want to know if you're in California:

5 Things a Wage & Hour Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't)

Angry and frustrated at your employer? Ready to make them pay by going to the public library and studying up on wage and hour laws? Hold on there, slick.

Before you go barreling into a legal bout with your boss over the overtime you weren't paid for and the unpaid time you were forced to work, try and consider all the ways an attorney could do it better.

For starters, here are five things a wage and hour lawyer can do that a non-lawyer probably can't:

Do You Need a Psychiatric Advance Directive (PAD)?

Advanced directives are legal documents allowing you to express your wishes regarding your medical treatment in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself. But along with living wills and durable powers of attorney, there's another form of advanced directive that may be useful for long-term planning: the psychiatric advance directive.

What can a psychiatric advance directive do? Here's a general overview:

3 Legal Ways to 'Skip' Lines at the Airport

Waiting in line at the airport can be a soul-sucking experience, but not following the rules can land you in serious legal trouble. Fortunately, there are ways to "skip" the lines and be on the level.

One of them was released just a month ago: a free iPhone app which allows travelers passing through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to blow through customs like a hot, carefree wind. And the winds of change are blowing with regard to air travel.

Be stuck in airport-line doldrums no longer with these three legal ways to "skip" lines at the airport:

Did Newlyweds, 95 and 96, Have Mental Capacity to Get Married?

It's a love story that seems too good to be true: Two nonagenarians, alone in their later years, get married after a chance meeting in line for lottery tickets.

But as it turns out, it may indeed be too good to true -- or at least to be legal. The bride, 96-year-old widow Edith Hill, was declared mentally incapacitated several years ago, reports The Associated Press. And now a Virginia judge -- who called her marriage to 95-year-old widower Eddie Harrison "improper" -- has appointed an attorney as Hill's guardian. The lawyer's task: to determine whether the marriage is in Hill's best interest.

Why is this elderly couple's seemingly storybook marriage being subjected to such legal scrutiny?

5 Things to Consider Before Suing Your Relative

Wondering whether or not you should you sue your relative?

Everybody fights with their family from time to time. But what if a family dispute gets to the point where you're considering taking legal action and filing a lawsuit against a family member? There are several ways in which lawsuit involving family members may differ from those involving strangers or even those with professional or social relationships.

Here are five things to consider before suing your relative:

Worker Fired Over Medical Pot Appeals to Colo. Supreme Court

A Colorado man who was fired for using medical marijuana is taking his case to the state's supreme court.

Brandon Coats, a former phone operator at Dish Network, was fired by the company after he tested positive for marijuana. Despite being a quadriplegic and a medical marijuana patient, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in April 2013 that despite state law, Dish Network could still fire Coats for having prescribed pot in his system.

Coats has appealed to Colorado's highest court. What arguments might the court need to consider?

Legal How-To: Responding to a Temporary Restraining Order

If you are involved in a domestic dispute, you may find yourself served with a temporary restraining order.

A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a court order directing an individual to do or not do specific acts for a specific time period, generally until a court hearing regarding issuing a permanent order. TROs are typically used to prohibit someone from making contact or coming near a specific person, although they can also include a range of other directives, such as continuing to pay certain bills or to refrain from possessing a firearm.

What should you do if you are served with a TRO? Here are five steps you’ll want to consider:

What Is Wage Theft? When Can You Sue?

It's long been a sad reality that "business as usual" for many hourly and low-wage workers meant getting shorted on overtime pay, getting paid for fewer hours than actually worked, and being forced to work through breaks.

However, an increasing number of workers have discovered a powerful tool for fighting back against being shortchanged by employers: a wage theft lawsuit. According to The New York Times, lawsuits seeking to recover wages illegally withheld from employees are increasingly paying off for employees of companies big and small.

What is wage theft, and how can you legally enforce your rights as an employee?

Is It Legal to Text-Message at a Stoplight?

Is it legal to text message at a stoplight?

By now, you're probably well aware that texting while driving is against the law pretty much everywhere, with every state except Montana having some form of texting-while-driving prohibition on the books.

But what about text messaging while behind the wheel of a car that isn't actually moving, such as a car waiting at a stoplight? Is that still considered "texting while driving"? Here's what you need to know:

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'H'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

You're probably familiar with terms like heir and hit-and-run, but what about some lesser-known examples of legalese?

In today's installment of Legalese From A to Z, we once again turn to FindLaw's Legal Dictionary to help explain the plain-English meanings behind five more legal terms you may not know. Here are a few highlights you'll find listed under the letter "H":

  • Half blood. A half blood is the legal name for persons with only one parent in common, commonly called half brothers or half sisters. References to half blood relatives and their descendants are typically found is the context of state intestacy codes, which control the distribution of estates for those who die without a will or those whose wills fail.

Are Do-It-Yourself Tattoo Kits Legal?

When you think of someone giving tattoos, you likely picture a vinyl seat in a tattoo parlor, where a gloved-up tattoo artist is preparing his tattoo machine with a sterilized needle.

However, the popularity of ultra-affordable do-it-yourself tattoo kits is increasing, especially among those in their 20s and 30s, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. These kits allow intrepid artists to tattoo themselves or their friends from the often-unsanitary comfort of their own homes.

Beyond the potential health hazards presented by these DIY tattoo kits, are they legal?

What's the Difference Between Support Animals, Service Animals?

You may think that "support animals" are just another name from "service animals," but there's a fine legal distinction.

A recent federal court decision put a fine point on the difference in a man's legal battle with a Florida homeowner's association. His HOA's "no pet" policy couldn't be applied to the man's service animal because service animals are not pets -- especially when they are trained to address a condition like PTSD.

So when is an animal a "service animal" and when is it a "support animal"?

Don't Be a Victim in Your Divorce: 5 Empowering Legal Tips

Often in divorce, one ex-spouse can become shellshocked by the process. Paralyzed by fear over family and financial woes, these former partners can cast themselves in the roles of victims.

Writing for ABC News, Laura Mattia of the Baron Financial Group believes that women often become financial victims during divorce because of the way they relate to their spouses during marriage. But divorcing spouses can empower themselves when it comes to financial and family situations, rather than taking a sideline in their own divorces.

For both women and men, take note of these five empowering legal tips and avoid becoming a victim in your divorce:

Gay Marriage Legal in Wisconsin and Indiana: 7th. Circuit

Wisconsin and Indiana gay couples were vindicated today by a Seventh Circuit ruling that found both states' gay marriage bans unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision, the federal appellate court found that neither state was able to provide a rational basis for the same-sex marriage prohibition, leaving it to unconstitutionally deny gay couples equal protection of the laws. The Associated Press notes that with this new decision, the number of states with legalized gay marriage jumps from 19 to 21.

What else is important about this gay marriage decision?

Legal How-To: Getting Back Pay That's Owed to You

If your employer has violated federal or state employment laws, you may be owed back pay.

Back pay is typically the remedy for wage or hour violations, making up the difference between what an employee was actually paid and what he or she should have been paid.

How can you get your hands on back pay that may be owed to you? Here are a few general considerations:

La.'s Gay Marriage Ban Upheld by Federal Judge

Louisiana's gay marriage ban has been upheld in a federal court, bucking a year-long trend of federal rulings against same-sex marriage bans.

In Robicheaux v. Caldwell, U.S. District Court Judge Martin L. C. Feldman ruled Wednesday that Louisiana's prohibition on gay marriage did not violate same-sex couples' constitutional rights because the law implicates no fundamental rights and has a rational basis. As noted by The Huffington Post, Judge Feldman is the first federal judge to uphold a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Windsor in 2013.

Why did Louisiana's gay marriage ban get upheld when so many others have been struck down?

Ed. Dept. Wants 'Borrower-Focused' Student Loan Servicers

The U.S. Education Department made a student-friendly move on Friday, announcing it would renew focus in its contracts with student loan servicers on being "borrower-focused."

Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell noted in an interview that the new student loan servicers would be put "on notice" that they have to be more consumer friendly, reports The Wall Street Journal. The new federal contracts even provide quarterly bonuses for servicers who have lower rates of borrower delinquency.

What does this shift mean for America's student loan borrowers?

Labor Day: 5 Employment Law Changes in 2014

For more than 100 years, Labor Day has been a federal holiday celebrating the role played by the American worker in shaping our nation's prosperity.

And though Labor Day remains the first Monday of every September, what have certainly changed over the last 100 years are the laws governing labor. From wage and hour rules to workplace safety regulations, employment law is constantly evolving.

To mark this year's Labor Day, here are five noteworthy changes to employment laws so far in 2014: