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

January 2016 Archives

Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry. This was great news for same-sex couples in states that previously prohibited gay marriage, or those that were already married but living in a state that refused to recognized same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. This means that no state can prohibit same-sex marriage (although some keep trying), and every state must recognize legal marriages no matter where the ceremony was performed.

And while the federal government has given tax breaks to married gay couples for a few years now, all states must follow suit, and some states (mostly those that banned gay marriage previously) are playing catch-up.

Can I Be Sued for a Fender Bender?

Your phone was buzzing and you just had to check the text. Next thing you know, you miss a light change and plow into the car in front of you. Nobody seems seriously hurt at first, so you trade information with the other driver, apologize, and soon return to the preoccupations that led to the accident.

A fender bender refers to a minor collision, so generally speaking these are resolved through auto insurance claims. Technically speaking, these are tiny accidents. But molehills can become mountains with time and you may find yourself sued for negligence due to an injury caused by your fender bender.

If you listen to the ads for all the free software and tax filing systems, you don't need a certified public accountant to do your taxes. But there are cases where a second set of eyes on your tax filing is not just recommended, but necessary. And not just from a CPA, but from an experienced tax attorney. As some experts have noted, accountants fill out the forms, but it's the tax lawyers that set up the legal structures that affect your tax liability.

So how do you know when to hire a tax attorney instead of a CPA? Here are a few clues:

Abortion Laws by State

Last week marked the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. And while that ruling made abortion legal nationwide, it also allowed states to regulate abortion, to a certain extent. Since Roe was decided in 1973, states have passed their own abortion laws, some of which require parental notification for minors, mandate waiting periods or counseling prior to the procedure, and restrict late term abortions.

And, as recent cases have shown, not only do these laws vary greatly by state, but they are almost constantly in flux. In fact, the Court will be hearing arguments on Texas's restrictive abortion laws this March. So where do these laws stand now, and are they likely to change?

Clock's Ticking: Obamacare Deadlines and Penalties

It's the start of a new year and you have resolved that in 2016, you will get a handle on administrating your life. But the stars have not quite aligned and you find yourself at the end of January with much to do, including choosing a health insurance plan.

Open enrollment for Obamacare -- officially known as the Affordable Care Act -- ends on January 31. The clock is ticking and consequences for missing this deadline could be severe, so here's help to get this year off to a healthy start.

Are Schools Using Student Privacy Laws to Cover up Crimes?

Laws that protect student privacy can also harm efforts to discover and investigate campus crimes. And they may be abused by schools to shield themselves, rather than students. Preferring to keep statistics about sexual assaults undercover, some schools may be relying on student privacy laws to keep campus scandals hushed.

A recent editorial in The New York Times asks how much a university should have to reveal about sexual-assault cases, and whether schools are using student privacy laws as a means of covering up sexual crimes on campus. Let's examine the contentions.

Working out a custody and visitation schedule with your ex was hard enough -- the least they could do is abide by it.

Unfortunately, when one parent is interfering with custody or visitation, there are no easy answers to such a complex emotional and legal problem. But there are some better and worse things to do if your ex is denying visitation time.

2015 was a big year for employment and wage law. Gig workers got unions. Cheerleaders got employee status. Heck, even Walmart raised their wages.

And a whole bunch of cities and states followed suit. So who's got a new minimum wage this year? Let's take a look:

Can Facebook Contact Violate a Restraining Order?

You're online and your social network serves up a profile. It's someone you know and loathe: that person who also has a restraining order against you. Can you tag or comment or contact them in any way?

No. It is far better to be safe than sorry when it come to no-contact orders. Contact via social media is most definitely contact. A judge in New York last week ruled that commenting on a Facebook page can violate a protective order even if the post has no profanity or threats, the American Bar Association reports.

The El Nino weather system is already wreaking havoc on the nation's roads, and it's just getting started. Some areas of the country are expecting historic amounts of rain and snowfall, and where there is that much precipitation, floods are sure to follow. So are you prepared?

You should already have a homeowner's insurance policy, but does that protect you and your home against floods and natural disasters?

The Legal Rights of Stepparents

Stepparents get a bad rap. From the very start, even in childhood fairy tales, we hear about strangers taking over families and torturing kids that are not their own. In fact, many step-parents are nice people -- or as nice as anyone else -- who show genuine love when caring for their partner's child.

It is reasonable then for stepparents to wonder what rights, if any, they may have with respect to these children they live with ... and what rights they might have if the family splits up again. Let's take a look.

Yosemite Park Trademark Dispute Prompts Name Change

Nature enthusiasts were disappointed to learn that last week Yosemite National Park announced the change of some building names on its land due to a trademark dispute with Delaware North, the former park concessioner. Called "a fairly pedestrian contract dispute" by Mother Jones, the case has grown important to many because a beloved national park is at the heart of this matter.

It feels to many like an attack by business on a sacred space. And that is how the National Parks Service (NPS) wants us to feel. But what is really at stake?

Sometimes, whether you win or lose your legal battle will depend just as much on the attorney you hire as the law and the facts of your case. That's why choosing the right lawyer is so important. 

Most people will tell you to hire an attorney with a great reputation. But how do you research a lawyer's reputation? Two main sources: the state bar and word of mouth. 

Do You Inherit Your Parents' Debts?

Losing a parent is difficult. The loss of an elder makes your mortality clear. But what is much less obvious is whether, with this death, you have inherited debts.

The answer is that for the most part in most states and under most circumstances you, the adult child, do not personally inherit the debts of your elders. But there are some exceptions, and of course everything depends on the details of their finances.

Self-Driving Cars to Have Rules in 6 Months, Feds Promise

In the not-too-distant future, all tedious tasks will be on autopilot. Tech devices will answer our mails, regulate our homes, and do our chores, as well as our actual jobs. At that point, we'll be totally free to transport automatically in self-driving cars, exploring our connected world.

It sounds like sci-fi but it's real life, which is why federal regulators today announced that they are giving themselves six months to come up with a set of rules for automated vehicles.

"It's a bold step automakers and others working on self-driving tech are likely to welcome," writes Wired, "because they've long fretted that states would do what the feds have not, and create a patchwork of rules and regulations that could hamper development of the technology."

When writing about broad legal topics for these blogs, we often bring up specific examples to explain the law. For instance, we used Bill Cosby's wife to talk about when spouses can be forced to testify. Of course, Camille Cosby and her husband are public figures, so that comes with the territory, so to speak.

Not everyone whose case we write about is famous (yet), and we often get angry calls, emails, or tweets, when someone sees their name or legal case on our websites. Here's the thing though: almost all civil and criminal legal filings are public records, and the First Amendment protects publishing them.

We live in an increasingly DIY society. With easy access to information, a strong work ethic, and a healthy dose of optimism, we think we can solve any problem ourselves.

But part of knowledge is knowing what we don't know, and which situations we can't handle on our own. While some legal issues, like traffic tickets, are easy enough to handle without legal assistance, others are just too complex or important to go it alone. Here are ten of those times when you need a good lawyer:

Appropriation or Art? Instagram Print Sale Sparks Copyright Suit

If you print and enlarge a photo that someone posts on social media and display it in a gallery, is it art? Perhaps more importantly, is it your art?

Photographer David Graham does not think so and is suing Richard Prince and his gallerist Lawrence Gagosian for copyright infringement. The suit raises questions about fair use in the age of social media. But the notion of fair use is not new to Prince who made his name in the seventies "rephotographing" other artists' works. He is, according to Photo District News, an "appropriation artist."

State Powerball Laws

$1.5 Billion. With a very capital B. That's a billion dollars PLUS another 500 million dollars. That's the current estimated Powerball jackpot and that is a nigh unfathomable amount of money. The kind of money that has people crossing state lines in hope for a shot at being set for life.

But not all states offer Powerball, and the ones that do may tax it a bit differently. Here's a rundown on state Powerball laws.

5 Easiest States to Get a Divorce

If you are planning to get divorced, don't decide where to file based on cheap fees or fast processing times alone. Getting divorced is easier or harder in different states, and there are various waiting periods and restrictions depending on the location.

But your major considerations will depend on the specifics of your situation -- whether you have children or property to split and whether you will be seeking spousal support, among others. Still, let's look at the 5 easiest places to get divorced, based on the combination of cheap filing fees and fast processing times, according to the Huffington Post.

Commercial surrogacy sounds like a simple plan on the surface: a person or couple who can't otherwise have a child agrees to pay a surrogate mother to carry a baby through pregnancy. The person or couple now has the child they always wanted and the surrogate mother has been compensated.

But it's not always that easy, as recent cases in California have shown. There, two women carrying triplets were asked to abort one of the fetuses. One was even threatened with legal action if she didn't, and filed her own lawsuit to prevent a forced abortion. So what rights do biological parents and surrogates have under surrogacy contracts, and do those cover abortions?

Last year, same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, and Black Lives Matter made the most legal headlines. But what about in 2016? Many new statutes are set to go into effect this year, and in January alone, the Supreme Court is hearing cases on labor rights, free speech, and double jeopardy.

So which new laws are going to make the most news in 2016? We've got a few guesses:

Can I Drive With Earbuds in California?

You love your podcasts and you just can't miss an episode, especially not when you are on the road. But if you are driving in California, make sure you're not listening through headphones or more than one earbud, whether you're driving a car or riding a bike.

Among the 801 laws that went into effect in the new year is California's two-earbud driving prohibition. While it has long been illegal to drive with headphones that cover your ears, the little buds that are nestled in the ear were excluded from the rule. No more.

Nothing can ruin a wedding like a good scam. A bride's happiest day could quickly turn into a nightmare if it turns out the wedding dress is a sham. And it turns out vendors themselves should be on the look-out for phony brides and grooms.

Here are three of the biggest wedding scams and how to avoid them.

The Basics of Creating a Trust

Trusts are created to distribute property. They can be used to supplement or replace a will. But that is, of course, not their sole purpose, and many people contemplate and create trusts long before they expect to pass.

There are different types of trusts, all used for different purposes. Generally speaking, however, creating trusts allows you to manage and distribute assets. Also, and importantly, a trustor can impose conditions on receipt. Trusts are often used to protect vulnerable beneficiaries or to ensure that a beneficiary only uses assets transferred for a particular purpose, like education.

Ordered Deported: Are Immigration Raids Legal?

Undocumented immigrants in New York are panicking over reports of raids by authorities, according to the New York Times. But an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official confirmed that no unusual enforcement actions are happening in that state.

That said, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did arrest 121 people in the US over the weekend, targeting Central American migrants who arrived in 2014. All reportedly already had orders of deportation issued after their asylum claims were denied or they failed to appear in court. Authorities can legally remove people whose legal process is complete. But the government does make mistakes.

Six months after the Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the constitutional right to marry, whether same-sex couples in Alabama can get marriage licenses remains an open question. That's because Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy. S. Moore, either unconvinced by the United States Supreme Court's ruling or unaware of the supremacy clause, has, for the third time, ordered probate judges in the state to cease issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Is his order valid? And will Alabama probate judges follow it?

No one likes losing a job, and complaining about getting fired can seem like sour grapes. But you do have rights when losing a job and not every firing is legal.

So how do you know if you've been wrongfully terminated? And, more importantly, how do you prove it in court? Here are some legal keys to a successful wrongful termination claim:

What to Do When Your Ex Stops Paying Alimony

You are divorced and receive alimony ... normally. But now your ex is not paying and you are in a financial bind. What can you do?

You can turn to the courts to get your alimony order enforced. Failure to pay court-mandated spousal support can subject the violator to contempt charges. But unlike child support, failure to pay alimony will not result in wage garnishment, liens, or some of the more extreme enforcement tactics. So what do you do to get the alimony order enforced?

What Are the Consequences of Breaking a Lease?

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as the saying goes. So, it's not unusual that your plans have changed and now you want to leave your apartment.

The consequences of breaking your lease depend on a number of different factors, most notably the reason for your departure and state laws where you live. But generally speaking, a lease is a contract or a legal agreement, and what will happen if you break the contract depends on the terms for termination outlined in your deal.

Love knows no bounds, especially not those of international borders in the Internet Age. It is now possible to meet and fall in love with a person on the other side of the world, all from the comfort of your couch and laptop.

This might make you think that we sometimes call "mail-order brides" are a new phenomenon, gaining popularity as the world has become more interconnected. But getting a spouse via the mail dates back to the 1800s. There are some new legal regulations, however, so while finding a bride abroad is legal, there are some requirements to make it so.

5 Signs of Employment Discrimination

There are many different types of discrimination and a slew of signs that might indicate a discriminatory work environment. But often discrimination is subtle, even unconscious, and it's hard to prove.

You may have a sense that something is just not right, but you know that pointing it out is not going to win you allies at work. And the environment already feels hostile to you. Are you being paranoid or are you rightly suspicious of discrimination? Here are five signs a workplace may be discriminatory or that you are being targeted unfairly.

Love is international. Unfortunately, so are some of the disputes that arise after the love is gone. And for love stories that included chapters on children, figuring out custody issues across international borders can be a tough read.

So here are some frequently asked questions, and answers, regarding international child custody laws: