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

February 2016 Archives

Unless you are a citizen by birth, gaining U.S. citizenship can be a long, extensive, and complicated process. And while it may not be legally required for you to hire an immigration lawyer to file for citizenship, it may be a good idea to have someone with some professional experience on your side to guide you through the process.

Whether you have difficulty understanding English, need assistance gathering the necessary documents, or just want to know why some applications are denied so you can avoid the same fate, there are times when you might want a lawyer to file for citizenship.

Can I Go to Jail for Failure to Pay Child Support?

You work hard and try to pay all your bills on time, but it happens that you fall behind on one. Maybe this happens a few times. Before you know it, you're all messed up and you just missed some child support payments! Are you going to jail?

Probably not. Mothers and fathers who fail to pay child support do face punishments of all kinds, including fines and jail. But the idea is to ensure that kids have what they need, so except in egregious cases, parents who are in arrears on child support are not incarcerated.

Cross Country Survey: 5 Strange Traffic Laws

We all know that there are some basic rules of the road that we should follow. Whether you're in Alaska or Alabama, a red light means stop and green means go. But there are some pretty strange rules that are on the books in some states that you just can't anticipate.

Let's take a look at some of the strangest traffic laws around the country, collected by Kupper Automotive News.

Building a Home -- Do You Need a Lawyer?

It is common in this country to dream of owning a home, whatever our class or politics, identity or education. Whether it is a cabin or mansion, from the modest home of Henry David Thoreau to the lavish casinos of Donald Trump, building property is a longtime national preoccupation.

Now you're living the dream too and wondering what to do. Is there any need for a lawyer when building a home? Yes, and here's why.

Car repairs can be a scary prospect. First there's the cost, the time it will take, and then the worry about the repairs being done right. Most mechanics do good and honest work, and care for our cars like they were their own. But other mechanics on the other hand...

So what happens if you get one of the bad guys? When can you sue a mechanic if they don't take good care of your car?

Check the BBB Scam Tracker Ahead of Online Deals

We book rooms in people's houses rather than stay in hotels, and we get rides from strange drivers in their personal vehicles instead of grabbing a cab, so of course we buy stuff online, too. With new technology making it possible, every year we grow more accustomed to doing deals a little differently.

But the ease with which we now exchange with strangers also makes us more susceptible to scams. Enter the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker. The online tool allows people to report suspected illegal schemes or frauds, and warn others what to watch out for when they've been scammed.

Stories of 97-year-old cancer patients being evicted from their long-time homes by greedy landlords are shocking, and becoming more and more common. That's especially true in places like California's Bay Area where property values are skyrocketing. Many tenants are caught off guard by eviction notices, and are unaware of their legal rights.

The good news is there are ways to fight an eviction, and there are lawyers who can help.

Safe Deposit Tips: What Goes in Safe Deposit and What Does Not

The whole point of a safe deposit box is to ensure that certain items are, well, safe, meaning not easy to access. Still, not everything that needs safeguarding ought to be kept in a safe, so before you lock away your precious items -- hiding the only existing copy of some critical documents -- check out this guidance from Safe Bee on what exactly goes in a safety deposit box and what does not.

Checklist for Renting out Your Home

There are many reasons to rent out a home rather than sell it. Say you have a new professional opportunity in a different city but are not yet certain that you want to commit to a lifetime move, or the sales market is not as strong as you'd like. Those are times when renting out your property might be preferable to selling, among others.

Before you list your apartment or home as a rental, however, here are some things to consider. Going through this checklist, based on guidance from BiggerPockets, will help to ensure that you get what you want from the rental situation, rather than just a new headache.

Harper Lee, Old Age, and Capacity to Contract

The novelist Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird and last summer's release Go Set a Watchman -- died last week at age 89. She reportedly died peacefully but her passage doesn't put to rest the controversial questions surrounding Lee's most recent publication and whether she was of sound mind, giving her permission to publish. It only makes them more pressing.

Lee was a private woman who led a solitary life, out of the spotlight for decades. But in the last year, she repeatedly made headlines with the announcement of a new book's release and the making of a musical of her classic novel. Many wonder whether Lee really wanted all this.

Living on Farmland? Cut Your Property Taxes

Spring is almost here and that is very exciting indeed. No doubt we're all ready for a little warm weather and more light. But spring brings more than a new season. It's also tax time.

This is a time of year when you should be looking for ways to pay the least possible while following the rules. To do this, we seek credits on all different kids of taxes based on who we are and what we do. If you are on farmland, you may find that tax time brings pleasant surprises. Rules vary from state to state but there are certainly places where you can get property tax breaks for farming, according to Hobby Farms.

Fired for Being Gay -- Can You Sue?

No matter how hard you worked, it seemed you were under-appreciated and you were always passed up for a promotions. And now you've been fired!

You had your suspicions for some time, and now you find others with similar productivity and metrics are still working. So you suspect that there is more to this story than just your work. It seems like you were snubbed for your sexual orientation. Is this discrimination? What can you do? Can you sue?

Scams are all around us. Fake wedding vendors; fake office supplies; and even fake grandchildren in distress. And now fake jury duty?

Most people do everything they can to avoid jury duty, and now they have to tray and avoid a jury duty scam so convincing it almost duped an experienced lawyer. Here's how it works:

Before a New Jersey court tackled the question earlier this month, most people had never heard of "tri-parenting." But the unique family arrangement may be gaining steam, especially now that restrictions on gay marriage and adoption have been relaxed.

So how does tri-parenting work, and could it work for you?

When Should a Lawyer Look at Your Mortgage or Closing Documents?

Buying a house is a big deal for most people. It is a dream come true but it can turn into a nightmare, too, if you don't get help. Although state requirements vary widely and in many places you are not obligated to have an attorney for closing, you should consider hiring one anyway. It's best to have a professional look over your mortgage agreement before you sign.

Even if you trust the people you are dealing with, closing on a home is complicated. It involves numerous documents -- financial and otherwise -- and getting a careful professional review can save you money down the line, as well as minimize stress while buying a house.

Supreme Court justices are appointed to life terms, which in some cases means they serve on the court until they die. This is what happened over the weekend when 79-year-old Justice Antonin Scalia passed away at a ranch in Texas on Saturday.

So what does the Court do now? How will Justice Scalia be replaced, and what will happen to the cases pending in the Court until then?

Self-Driving Car Computers Are 'Drivers'

Lately the news from the Department of Transportation reads like science fiction, and last week was no exception. The DOT declared that it would count computers as drivers in cars driven by software systems, adding another delicious detail to the unfolding story of an auto-piloted USA.

The announcement came just shortly after the DOT announced that, within six months, it will have model regulation for autonomous cars that it hopes states will adopt. The department is also addressing the questions of carmakers, according to Wired.

The stereotypical retiree moves south for better weather and a more relaxed lifestyle. (Picture couples playing shuffleboard in Fort Lauderdale.) But there might be some better reasons to change states after you retire.

Some states are known for having more friendly tax laws for retirees. So where should you take your shuffleboard skills and your IRA? Here are a few suggestions:

Can I Dispute My Property Taxes?

Your home is your castle but you'd rather it didn't actually cost as much as one. So you're wondering whether you can dispute your property taxes. Good news! You can.

But beware mixed blessings: unless the assessment is erroneous, a successful reduction in your taxes will mean revealing flaws. Your property tax is based on relative value, meaning other homes in the area, and specifics, such as your home's size, condition, features, defects, and more. Let's look at different bases for challenging an assessment.

CA DMV Chief Sees Self-Driving Cars on Streets in 3-5 Years

Someday soon -- possibly within the next 3 to 5 years, according to predictions of the California Department of Motor Vehicles' chief counsel, Brian Soublet -- autonomous cars will be a regular feature on the streets. Once the dream of geeks and sci-fi fans, this will be everyone's reality and lawmakers are preparing for our brave new world.

Last month, the Department of Transportation announced that it is working on model legislation for autonomous cars within 6 months, and plans to spend $4 billion on auto-pilot projects. The hope is that states will adopt the federal government's as-yet-unformulated model laws and that a uniform approach to self-driving cars will exist nationwide. But right now there is concern that if the government does not get up to speed soon, carmakers will just self-certify the safety of their new rolling computers, taking a "trust me" approach to transportation of the future.

5 Worst Things to Wear to Court

You know that tiny voice in your head that loves your style and is always encouraging you to follow your sartorial instincts? Most of the time, that's a great voice to listen to. But sometimes you need to listen to that other little voice saying, "We need to be on our best fashion behavior here." And one of those times is going to court.

Whether you're appearing in court as a juror, witness, plaintiff, or defendant, you will be judged, fairly or not, on your appearance. But you can have a say in how you're judged when you get there, especially by avoiding these five courtroom fashion faux pas:

Pregnancy Discrimination Warning Signs

You have been working for a while and you're ready to have a child, so when you find out you're pregnant, you're thrilled. And you think your boss and colleagues will be too -- after all, they know you and how capable you are, so they know you'll manage with aplomb.

But it turns out that after the initial exclamations of congratulations, people in your office start changing their behavior. It feels weird. You know pregnancy discrimination is illegal but how do you know if it's happening? Here are some signs to look out for, according to Parents.

4 Legal Tips Ahead of Remarriage

You are divorced and you swore you would never marry again. But then time passes and you fall in love and this new mate seems really great. Should you just cohabitate for the rest of your life so as to avoid another divorce?

Or is there something you can do to ensure that you do not repeat past mistakes while still enjoying what is sweet about being together? Here are some legal tips for remarriage that may help you avoid trouble down the line.

While not specifically listed in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has recognized that certain reproductive rights are fundamental. But exactly what those rights are, and to whom and how far they extend, is still a matter of intense legal, moral, and political debate.

Here is where the law on reproductive rights stands now, and we're sure there are a few rights you may not have known about.

Checklist for Creating a 'Living Together Contract'

You are not ready to tie the knot but you and boo want to take your relationship to the next level. You plan to move in together. Do you just go with flow or do you need a written agreement?

If you create a contract, are you undermining the romantic aspects of your evolving union? In other words, is it just too weird to turn your love into a business deal?

When he's not berating his imprisoned staff behind closed doors, Dr. Phillip Calvin "Phil" McGraw has a popular television show on which he berates invited guests. He also has a website, and via this website Dr. Phil dispenses a list of "Divorce Survival Tips."

Dr. Phil is not an attorney, although contributing author Areva Martin is. But that didn't stop her from posting some words of not-so-wisdom under the Dr. Phil banner.

Tax Tips for Single Parents

Raising kids on your own is not easy and you need a break. Luckily, you may just get one … or a tax break at least.

Tax experts say that the key to getting the proper credits on your taxes is not the divorce decree but reality. Although you may not be the official custodial parent, if your kids sleep under your roof for more than six months of the year, you can claim them as dependents. And here are a few more tax tips for single parents.

Immigrant Rights: What to Do When Stopped by Immigration Agents or Police

There is a lot of confusing information about rights in this country. It is difficult for Americans to know their rights or to respond appropriately when stopped by authorities. This is all the more true for immigrants, who are less likely to speak English as a first language or to understand how to interact with law enforcement.

But it is extremely important to know your rights, as well as your responsibilities. Learning what you can and should do when you encounter authorities could mean all the difference between a positive or a negative experience, and can have a serious impact on your life. So let's look at this guidance for immigrants, adapted from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Know Your Rights campaign.

While getting a school loan is fairly simple, paying off that loan is another matter entirely. And discharging the loan through bankruptcy? That's rarer than a unicorn.

Or so we thought. While the prevailing wisdom has been that you are stuck with federal student loans until you pay them off, some new cases might be indicating there are ways out for debtors that can't afford their student loans. One such exit is the often overlooked "borrower defense" provision. Does it apply to you?

Haven't Filed Taxes in Years? Here's What to Do

Plenty of people have tax problems, rich and poor, and many people, no matter how much money they have, take a similar approach. They ignore the problems for as long as possible.

So if you are one of these people, you have company. But you should address your issues and the Internal Revenue Service is certainly willing to accept late filings.

As soon as the skies became littered with unmanned aircraft systems, or, as most users call them, drones, legal regulations were sure to follow. While most drone users are just hobbyists who think they're cool, there are legitimate security and privacy concerns that accompany drone use.

To address these concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration has begun requiring registration of drones (and has already been sued for it). So how do you know whether you need to register your drone, and how do you do it?

Will Social Security Benefits Be Cut in 2016?

There is always talk of budget cuts to social programs, but the fate of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is especially threatened this year, according to reports. The program provides workers who have paid in with coverage benefits to support them during disability, but how long it will continue to do so is unclear.

Last year, it was revealed by program trustees that Disability Insurance, which so many rely on, is at risk. The program will not be able to pay out benefits at the same rate as it has by the end of 2016, as funds are dwindling. Beneficiaries face substantial cuts in benefits checks if the fund is not fortified.

Musician, actor, and cultural icon David Bowie passed away on January 10, and the details of his will are now being released. While his arrangements were fairly straightforward -- the bulk of his estate went to his family -- there were a few quirks that can shed some light on the estate planning process.

Here's what David Bowie's will can teach you about writing your own:

In Divorce, Am I Entitled to Half of My Spouse's Retirement?

When you got married you imagined that you and your true love would retire together in Florida after a long and fulfilling marriage. But things did not work out and now you and boo are splitting up your lives and cutting your losses.

Are you entitled of a share of the money that your spouse put into a retirement plan when you were together? And if so, how will you collect, considering the many years left before this plan is tapped?