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

April 2016 Archives

Places Where Discrimination Happens and When to Sue

Exclusivity and mistreatment is always unpleasant, there is just no denying it. Sometimes we have to live with it and sometimes we may even choose to ignore it for our own purposes. But if you are being excluded based on who you are or a legally protected characteristic, then discrimination is a basis for legal action.

There are a number of local, state, and federal laws that mandate equal treatment in various settings, and these outline the obligations of businesses or institutions dealing with the public. But not all situations, even when discriminatory, are necessarily going to make a great basis for a lawsuit. Let's look at some places where discrimination might occur and what situations are more likely to be worth fighting for.

When a marriage goes bad, there may not be a whole lot of time for planning the divorce. In some cases, it's better to make a clean break quickly, and in other cases couples may have the time and patience to take things slowly.

Every relationship is different and there's no one way to go through a divorce, but there are some considerations worth keeping in mind when you're look for the best time to file divorce papers.

In an important step to take care of senior citizens, Congress reauthorized the Older Americans Act, a comprehensive bill providing additional services and programs for aging adults. While this is a long-awaited and positive move to take care of our elders, the government may still need to figure out how to pay for it all.

Here's what the Older Americans Act promises to do, and the steps left to fund the program.

CA Jurors Caught Using Social Media May Soon Be Fined $1,500

It is tempting in this time when we are all reporting our lives on social media to tweet or post from court if you're a juror. Your jury service is indeed interesting but it's also one time when you might not want to express yourself.

As a juror, you are part of a legal proceeding; you're not present as a spectator or a journalist. Disobeying the rules is punishable but it also can lead to a mistrial. Now a bill in California proposes to fine smart tech use by jurors, reports CBS Sacramento, up to $1,500.

Daycares Can No Longer Serve French Fries, Frosted Flakes

Tony the Tiger of Frosted Flakes doesn't think this is grrrrrrrreat but you may if you have struggled with food-related health issues. This week, the US Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service issued a final rule outlining what kinds of foods can be served in daycare centers for adults and children.It extends efforts stemming from a 2010 law to improve childhood nutrition, part of Michele Obama's Let's Move anti-obesity initiative.

Daycare centers participating in government-funded programs will not serve deep fried foods and high-sugar cereals and will limit juice and meat consumption. The final rule issued this week will impact more than three million children and about 150,000 adults, and the goal is to teach kids especially to eat healthy by cultivating a taste for the good stuff early.

Despite grumbling from consumers (and a drop in gas prices) it looks like those pesky and expensive airline baggage fees are here to stay. Airlines raked in almost $3 million in baggage fees alone last year, but paying $25 or $50 or $100 to check a bag didn't guarantee it would get to your destination on time.

Lucky for us passengers, a new law may force airlines to refund baggage fees if your luggage doesn't arrive with you. So how will the law work, and how can you get your money back if the airline loses your bags?

Snapchat Stands up for Right to Snap Ballot Selfies

Snapchatters may be relieved to know that last week the "mobile storytelling app" stood up to support your right to take selfies in a voting booth. The "ballot selfie" case arises out of New Hampshire, where a judge last year struck down a ban on ballot box photography, finding the ban curbed First Amendment free speech rights.

Snapchat disagrees with the ban, so filed an amicus brief last week. This is the first time the five-year-old company has independently filed such a brief. But snaps are Snapchat's bread and butter, so it should be no wonder that the company likened the ballot box selfie to "I voted" stickers of the past and says bans on ballot booth photography are outdated, impractical, and impossible to enforce.

Top Adoption Law Questions

For a simple act of love and kindness, the law surrounding adoption can be fairly complicated. State adoption laws can vary, international adoption laws can seem impenetrable, and that's before you even get into the rights of birth parents.

Deciding to expand your family through adoption can be a beautiful one, but one that is also fraught with legal questions. Here are five of the biggest if you're considering adoption:

#USImmigrationLaw: What Will Affect My Citizenship Application?

You're applying for citizenship in the US and wondering what issues will impact your application. There are many factors that go into a final determination about whether to grant status, and an initial denial does not necessarily mean you have no chances of becoming an American. But there are some specific matters that will impact the determination. Let's briefly examine them here.

Today is Earth Day; tomorrow, Picnic Day. With spring in full bloom, it’s the perfect weekend to spend in one of the country’s gorgeous national parks.

But along with all that majesty comes just a little bit of menace. While national parks and wilderness areas can provide the perfect backdrop to wonder, contemplation, and take the odd selfie, they can also pose dangerous pitfalls most of us aren’t used to facing in our daily lives. So if you’re celebrating Earth Day in a national park, here are some tips on staying safe.

3 Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Buying a home for the first time can be a thrilling and scary experience. There is quite a bit to it, from figuring out what you can afford and what is available to securing financing and understanding the paperwork.

At times during the process you may feel like renting forever would be easier than trying to buy. But it is worth trying if you want what home ownership can bring, which is a sense of personal stability and investment in your future. Before you launch, review this checklist of considerations.

The phrase "white privilege" comes with the same kind of contextual and cultural baggage as the phrases "gun control" or "First Amendment" at this point. And it's also becoming the same kind of conversational third rail on social media. But some people are tackling not just white privilege, but gender, religious, and class privilege in some very important contexts: teachers are talking to their students about privilege.

And now that phrase is starting to come with the same legal baggage as those other two. A Florida middle school teacher was suspended after giving her students a questionnaire on gender, sexual identity, and religion as part of a lesson on privilege. So when and how can you talk to your students about privilege, and what can you do or say about it?

First, the bad news: the filing deadline for your 2015 was three days ago. Now, the good news: all is not lost. You have options, even if you're filing late, and the IRS won't be banging down your door. (Yet. Hopefully.) And there may even be a way to avoid late filing penalties and fees.

Here's what you need to know about filing your taxes late:

What to Do When You Can't Pay Your Lawyer

If you cannot pay your lawyer, don't panic, don't disappear, and don't assume your debt will be forgotten. Lawyers often owe a lot of money for student loans and running a business means having a lot of expenses, so many practitioners do rely on every single client payment.

There are different types of fee arrangements and you may be able to negotiate a situation that will work for everyone. Even rapper Lil' Wayne talked to his lawyer about a payment plan. Here is how to handle the talk when you're stuck.

Travel Alert: EU Lawmakers Approve Air Passenger Data Sharing

Last week European lawmakers approved the Passenger Name Record (PNR) act, a scheme to keep and share airline passenger information, including credit card data, for five years. The move came after mounting pressure following terrorism in Paris last year and more recently in Brussels.

The hope is that nations will track foreign fighters and Europeans who are training or fighting in conflict areas, people who might pose a danger, reports the Associated Press. But critics say that authorities in the 28 European Union member nations already have plenty of information and were aware of many of the people linked to the attacks.

Whether you're already managing an apartment building, or thinking of buying a house as a rental investment, leasing property to a tenant can get complicated. In response to the shady landlords out there, many states have passed strict tenant rights protections, which can put new restrictions on everything from how you structure a lease to what you can do about evicting a tenant.

So how do you stay on the right side of landlord-tenant law? By following these seven legal tips for landlords:

#USImmigrationLaw: 5 Tips for Your Stokes Interview

When you and your spouse go to a Stokes interview, be prepared to answer many detailed and difficult questions about your lives together, separately. Even couples who truly love each other can get very nervous about this kind of interview, and for good reason.

A Stokes interview is when you and your spouse are separately questioned by an immigration officer about all aspects of your marriage to prove that it is not a fraud. You will be notified in advance of the interview and informed of any documentation to bring. Here are five tips on how to prepare and handle it.

Like nearly all legal questions, trying to predict a lawyer's hourly rate will lead to one accurate answer: it depends. Factors like the type of case, the lawyer's experience, and even where you live will all come into play. Is a friend of a friend doing you a favor? Or are you going to a big firm? Are you paying for an associate's time, or a partner's?

While a variety of factors can create a wide range of hourly rates from attorneys, there are some general principles that can help you figure it out. Here's what to expect:

What to Do If You Suspect Your Ex of Child Abuse

You cannot protect your children from all the dangers they will encounter in life, and all the difficult situations. But you can certainly take steps to protect them when you suspect harm coming from within the family or people close to it during visitation.

Accusing someone of child abuse is a big deal, however, so do be thoughtful before you accuse your ex or their new mate of abuse. But don't wait until someone is seriously hurt. How do you achieve that balance? Let's examine.

What a Typical Child Visitation Schedule Looks Like

You are getting divorced, trying to prepare mentally for what your life will look like when everything is divided, including time with your children. What is a typical visitation schedule and who decides what's right for your family?

Depending on your ability to agree and communicate with your spouse at this point, you may be happy to hear that a lot is up to you two. Let's consider the principles applied to child visitation in divorce cases.

Priceless. That's what most of us pet owners would tell you about the value of our dogs, cats, and other furry, feathered, or scaly pets. (Well, maybe not cats, though as a dog owner, I might be biased.) But the Georgia Supreme Court might soon attach a dollar figure to your favorite non-human -- in an upcoming case, the court will decide whether, and how much, a family should be compensated for the loss of their dog.

So how much do you think Fido is worth?

After the Skilled Worker Visa Lottery, Are There Options?

If you think Americans are lucky, kind of like lottery winners, you are right. This year, nearly a quarter million highly skilled foreign workers applied for H -1B visas to remain in the US but only 85,000 visas were available, so the government chose the recipients by lottery.

Last week, reports The Wall Street Journal, demand for foreign skilled-worker visas surpassed the entire year's mandated supply within five days. When that happens, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) awards the visas randomly among applicants. It's called a visa lottery.

Like Alabama, Puerto Rico resisted federal court rulings overturning it's ban on same-sex marriage. And like Alabama, Puerto Rico got slapped by a federal circuit court of appeals. Unlike Alabama though, Puerto Rico at least had a decent argument for flaunting a higher court's ruling -- not every civil right preserved in the Constitution extends to Puerto Ricans.

But, as the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week, the right to marriage is protected for same-sex couples in Puerto Rico. And the court was not vague about its ruling.

Teachers Challenge Law Barring Sex With Teen Students

School employees in Alabama are barred by statute from having sex with students under 19. That law is being challenged as unconstitutional for criminalizing otherwise sanctioned behavior, according to the Decatur Daily.

Carrie Cabri Witt, 42, a teacher accused of sleeping with two male students, both 17, moved to dismiss criminal charges against her based on that law. The age of consent in Alabama is 16, so aside from the school employee rule, the relationship would have been cool, legally speaking at least.

#USImmigrationLaw: What Does 'Changed Circumstances' Mean?

Changed circumstances in asylum law refers to an exception to the one-year filing requirement for applications. Usually, applicants must file their request with the US government within a year of arrival here or their claim will be considered untimely.

But because asylum is based on danger -- it's a request for protection in the form of immigration status and benefits -- there are exceptions to this deadline when there are particular changes in the law, your life, or conditions in your home country. Let's look at asylum basics and the kind of changes that qualify for the exception for the purposes of asylum applications.

As Americans, we spend more time working than any other activity. And for many of us, even time spent away from work is time spent worrying about work -- concern for coworkers, thinking about upcoming projects, or wondering if what your boss is doing is legal.

Here are nine of the most common legal questions employees ponder, and where to find answers:

You found the perfect home. You negotiated a good price. You signed all the paperwork. All that's left is to wire the closing costs and you'll be good to move in. But you might want to be careful about that last part -- a new scam has hackers intercepting closing costs and ruining new homeowners' dreams.

Fortunately, these scams can be avoided, if you're careful.

Can I Record a Conversation at Work?

You can always record a conversation if you let everyone know it is happening and all parties consent. Even if people don't affirmatively agree, when they keep talking to you after you gave them notice, you've received a kind of consent.

But if you want to secretly record someone that is a whole other ball of wax and whether you can do it legally depends on several factors. Let's consider them.

Parents Can Record Kids' Conversations, NY Court Rules

Parents can record their kid without consent when it's in the child's best interests, the New York Court of Appeals ruled this week. The decision stems from a father recording his 5-year-old son being threatened by the mother's boyfriend. The recording was admitted over objection in a criminal case as contradicting wiretap laws.

But there was a dissent, joined by several justices, pointing out that changes to the law should be made by the legislature, and that there was little guidance as to age and maturity of the child required to record without the consent of at least one other person. Meanwhile, family law attorneys, reports the Associated Press, are concerned that the ruling will lead to confusion in future civil cases, particularly divorces. Let's look at some details.

Last Friday, thousands of teachers took to the Chicago streets, demanding a new contract and an overhaul of the city's school funding system. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner called the strike illegal, while Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis accused Rauner of trying to destroy the city's schools.

The strike only lasted a day, but affected some 400 students, highlighting the unique impacts of teacher strikes and the legal rules and agreements that govern them.

Abortion Pill Label Change: A Legal Overview

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced revised labeling for what is commonly called the "abortion pill." The new label acknowledges the use of the pill in a manner that doctors have long been prescribing it, and may undermine legislation based on the old labeling.

The "abortion pill" is medically known as mifepristone, and since 2000 it has been prescribed "off-label." Now the FDA is acknowledging with the revised label that the drug is safe and effective when prescribed at lower dosages than initially recommended and later in a pregnancy. This expands the window of time for women to terminate a pregnancy using the pill and makes early stage abortions less expensive. But the pill's label is a political issue too.

It's an election year, so the topic of voter fraud will be all over the news from the primaries to the presidency. And the debate doesn't just center on what kind of voter fraud laws to pass, but whether the relative risk of voter fraud is high enough to justify such statutes.

With politics being politics, and so much on the line in the next presidential election, it's worth examining how prevalent voter fraud really is, what laws are in place to prevent it, and whether those laws are effective.

Content Creation Nation: Lobster to License Your Facebook Photos

We are all content creators now, even if we do not consider ourselves creative, and Lobster has just announced a way that you too can monetize your Facebook photos. The new integration between the tech companies will allow users on the social media site to license their posted photos on a per use or subscription basis.

It sounds exciting for amateur photographers and may be the basis for the next Internet sensation -- the Justin Bieber of photography -- some kid who shoots amazing images with his phone. But should we be wary of entering the stock photography market without expertise? Let's consider the issues.

Property values in some areas of the country haven't just bounced back -- they're soaring. This can put tenants in some untenable positions as landlords try to increase rental revenues. And even if your landlord isn't trying to squeeze more money out of you (or squeeze you out of your apartment or house entirely), you may be having a more mundane landlord-tenant disagreement and you want to know what your legal rights are.

Here are five big tenant rights questions and answers to help you figure out where you stand with your landlord:

What Is a Tax Haven?

Edward Snowden called it the "biggest leak in the history of data journalism" -- over 11 million documents, collectively called "The Panama Papers," detailing how companies, government officials and their families, and even some heads of state hide money in tax havens and offshore accounts to avoid detection and taxation.

So what is a tax haven, and how does it actually work?

#USImmigrationLaw: Affirmative and Defensive Asylum Applications

An affirmative or defensive asylum application is based on fear of persecution. An asylum seeker asks the government for protection, in the form of permission to remain in the United States legally, because they are being persecuted at home.

People who apply for asylum must prove that they can't go home because their lives are threatened based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political affiliations. Unlike refugees, who apply for protected status from the United Nations before they enter the US, asylum seekers apply while on America soil. There are two types of asylum applications -- affirmative and defensive. Let's look at both briefly.

Is It Illegal to Marry a Third Cousin?

Albert Einstein married his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, and we can probably all agree that he was a pretty smart fellow. So why is marrying a first cousin frowned upon in this country and outright barred in half of the states?

Some say that this is based on outdated notions that predate modern genetics and that the rules should be thrown out. Indeed, in many other countries marrying cousins is not considered at all problematic. In fact, about 20 percent of marriages, or one in five worldwide is between cousins, according to the Huffington Post. So let's examine the myths and facts about cousin marriages.