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

May 2016 Archives

After celebrating Memorial Day and honoring those who died serving in the nation's armed forces, many may be wondering how the military and the legal system interact. In some cases, like the court martial process, the military has its own separate judicial system. In other cases, like divorce, military personnel are subject to the same judicial proceedings as everyone else.

Here are the top five legal issues facing military personnel and their families:

#USImmigrationLaw: 5 Things to Know About a I-601 Waiver

There are many rules in immigration law that govern who can apply for what benefit and under what conditions. Then there are the exceptions, special situations when the government recognizes a general rule should not apply.

The 1-601 waiver -- commonly referred to as the 601 waiver -- is the name of the form of form used to ask the government to make an exception and grant you an immigration benefit although you are otherwise ineligible. When you apply for a waiver of grounds of inadmissibility, you are asking the government to consider the special circumstances that make it important for the general rules not to apply to you. Here are five things you need to know about applying.

Can I Hire a Family Member to Be My Lawyer?

If you have a legal issue, it's only natural to ask the lawyer in the family some questions. Whether you want to hire family as counsel is another matter, however, and one to consider carefully.

There are advantages to knowing your lawyer well and to having counsel that really cares about you. But family relationships can be complicated, and mixing it up is not always wise, even if it is allowed. So let's take a look at why you might not want to hire your cousin Vinny to be your counsel, although technically there is no prohibition.

Top 5 Child Abuse and Reporting Questions

Child abuse can manifest in physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological cruelty, or a combination of these. States define abuse in statutes, and there may be some variation in the wording of the law from place to place, but all states prohibit cruelty to kids.

Children are especially vulnerable to abuse and less able than adults to articulate complaints, which means that adults in certain professions have an obligation to look out for and report suspected mistreatment. But we should all be aware of child abuse and do what we can to stop it. Let's consider the top five child abuse and reporting questions.

Can You Change Your Name Back to Your Ex's?

The Kardashians are hard to keep up with, but Kris Jenner wants to make it easier by going back to the family name. It's a little strange because Jenner was not born a Kardashian. She become one through marriage and the man she married is deceased, but some of her children do have the now-famous family name. Can she do that?

The answer is most likely yes. Although states have different statutes that outline the process of reclaiming a name or changing a name, generally speaking people are free to change their names within some limitations. Let's consider.

#USImmigrationLaw: What Can a Notario Do and Not Do?

A notario, or notary public, is not a lawyer and cannot practice law in the United States. Confusion about what a notary public can do in the US is common for many immigrants, however, because in some other countries, notaries can act as attorneys.

Not so here. But some notary publics take advantage of immigrants, leading them to believe that a notary can advise them on the law. Do not hire a notary to handle your immigration matter -- for that you need a lawyer. Here is what a notary can and cannot do for you.

LGBT Protection Amendment Fails in Dramatic House Vote

Yesterday on the House floor in Washington DC, lawmakers took their cues from TV, after an amendment intended to protect LGBT rights was narrowly voted down. Shouting, "Shame! Shame!" Democrats blamed Republicans for extending the vote until it failed, pressuring representatives, and snatching "discrimination from the jaws of equality."

Shouts of "shame" were in reference to a dramatic scene from Game of Thrones in which a queen is forced to walk naked in the streets. Never mind whether the reference really works here. What's clear is that our lawmakers appreciate drama. The scene was reportedly wild and an interesting illustration of civics at work.

Preparing to Meet a Real Estate Attorney

When you are meeting a lawyer for the first time on a real estate matter of any kind, it's a good idea to make a list. Before your appointment, know your concerns and questions.

That's the first step. But it is a big one and will help with what's next, which is meeting your lawyer. So let's break down this list. Don't worry, it's not complicated.

Don't get mad, as the saying goes, get even. That sounds like great personal advice right after a nasty breakup, but it's not always great legal advice. While you may want to put your ex on blast on social media, putting personal information out there could be illegal.

So what kind of secrets can you reveal on social media, and which might get you into trouble?

Buying a Home: Get to Know the Rent-to-Own Process

You share the American Dream and want to own a home but your savings are minimal and your credit is ailing after years of economic insecurity. There is a dream deferred option -- it's called rent-to-own and it allows people to work towards home ownership gradually.

Renting to own is a little like moving in together or having a long engagement before marriage. It's a commitment but gradual. While state laws vary and individual contracts will have their own conditions, let's look at how rent-to-own agreements generally work.

While some states have been suing the federal government for the right to discriminate against transgender people when it comes to bathroom access, California is going in the other direction. The same state that led the way on transgender student access to bathrooms in schools just passed a bill requiring all public, single-occupancy bathrooms in the state be gender neutral.

The new law would allow anyone to access these bathrooms, regardless of gender identity. So will the Golden State's take on transgender bathroom access be the norm, or remain an outlier?

Life Changes: Seeking a Child Support Modification

When married couples get divorced, the non-custodial parent must contribute financial support. Child support can be agreed upon between parents or court ordered, depending on how contentious the divorce is and the extent of disputed issues.

The amount a non-custodial parent will have to pay is determined based on the family's financial circumstances, or ability to pay, and statutory guidelines. When circumstances change the support order can be adjusted to reflect new realities.

A restraining order or order of protection can be a person’s last resort against threatening or harassing behavior. They can also be a person’s only means to stop domestic violence or abuse. In some cases, restraining orders can save lives.

In other cases, they can ruin lives or be a tool for harassment. There are two sides to every restraining order, and cops and courts are often caught in between. When properly administered, restraining orders are an important tool in keeping people safe. So here what you need to know about restraining orders:

#USImmigrationLaw: Handling a Credible Fear Interview

If you have a credible fear interview, do not be afraid. This is an opportunity for you to tell your story to the immigration authorities, provide proof, and answer questions that will convince them you must stay in the US for humanitarian reasons. It is your chance to defend against removal.

This is important when it comes to an asylum claim, which is based on persecution at home. If you have a credible fear that you will be persecuted or tortured if you are forced to return, you will say so to an actual person with the power to help with your defensive asylum application. And you don't have to tell your story alone, or even speak English. You can have an interpreter to speak on your behalf and a lawyer to represent you.

Payday lenders prey on those in financial need, offering quick money with interest rates as high as 300 or even 1,000 percent. But it's about to get a bit harder for those lenders to find their next victim. Google announced this week that it is banning advertisements for payday loans and related products from its AdWords system.

The search (and everything else on the Internet) company positioned the new rule as protecting users from fake or harmful products and misleading advertising, and civil rights advocates have supported the move.

What Is Welfare Fraud?

When you think about crime, you probably think violence -- murders, robberies, that kind of thing. However, a lot of crime is committed by people you would never consider criminals, and who don't see themselves that way.

Every day, regular folk at all socioeconomic levels commit fraud on the government by misreporting information to avoid making payments or to receive benefits. Welfare fraud is among these crimes, and the consequences when caught can be severe. Let's look at a recent Connecticut case that illustrates welfare fraud.

Most of us don't think about where our food comes from. We see something tasty in the veggie aisle at the supermarket and toss it in our basket. Even those of us who are members of farm shares or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs don't always consider the labor it takes to get food from the ground to our doorstep.

And sadly, many of the workers who take care of our food have not enjoyed the same legal labor rights as other workers. But that might be changing as some states seek to enhance and enforce farmworker rights.

How Does Remarriage Affect Child Support?

If you are divorced with kids and either parent is contemplating remarriage, then you must be thinking about child support, too. You are wondering if the court will change the existing child support order or if a new spouse becomes financially responsible for the kids.

The answer is generally no, remarriage does not change a parent's obligations to their children. But child support orders are not fixed in stone, and there are limited situations in which a court will change support based on step-parent financials, or a change in parental status. Let's explore.

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Catholic-run hospitals regularly deny female patients certain reproductive health care options based on religious directives. The report also notes that in some states, 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a facility that complies with Catholic directives on health care.

Denial of certain care options can be life-threatening. So what kind of procedures are Catholic hospitals prohibiting and is it even legal to deny medical care for religious reasons?

Do Car Loan Companies Discriminate Based on Race?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Justice have been fighting for our right to fair financing, and you might be surprised by an area of recent focus. Since 2013, the agencies have been investigating indirect lenders associated with car companies and dealers, and they found their financing policies have a discriminatory impact on non-white borrowers.

The most recent target of investigation, reports JD Supra, is Toyota Motor Credit. The company this year entered into an enforcement order with the agencies -- a sort of plea deal -- to address the issue. It should be noted that the agencies did not find discriminatory lending was deliberate, yet it ended up having a discriminatory impact.

Almost all of us have had a disagreement with our credit card company. Whether it's a disputed charge, a surprise annual fee, or a shift in the interest rate, disputes are bound to happen. And when they did, most user agreements meant that consumers were obliged to resolve those disputes via arbitration, rather than lawsuits.

But those days may be over. A new proposed rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) would allow aggrieved consumers to bring class action lawsuits against financial institutions like credit card companies. So what does this mean for you and your credit card dispute?

Kent State Intrigue Continues: FBI Sued for Info on 1970 Deaths

It has been nearly five decades since four people were shot dead by Ohio National Guard members while protesting the Vietnam War on the Kent State University campus. The deaths on May 4, 1970 are the subject of a lawsuit filed 46 years later to the day, naming the Federal Bureau of Investigations and US Department of Justice as defendants.

Filed in federal court by attorney Michael Kuzma, the lawsuit comes after other efforts to uncover what the authorities knew about the killings at Kent State yielded little, reports Reuters. Much remains mysterious about the events of that day but there is one man in particular that Kuzma wants to know more about.

Nobody really wants to file for bankruptcy -- we'd all rather have the financial means to pay our debts. But for those who've suffered unemployment, a medical emergency, or other financial hardship, bankruptcy can keep your debt from spiraling out of control.

Bankruptcy is not a Get Out of Debt Free Card, and it's not exactly a bailout, either. So what is bankruptcy, how does it work, and should you file? Here are seven things to know first:

#USImmigrationLaw: 3 Things to Know About EWI Immigration

Entry Without Inspection, or EWI, is a term of art in immigration law and it means what it sounds like -- that a person has entered the country without an inspection. Foreign nationals must get permission to enter the United States and must present themselves to an authority at a port of entry.

Even if you have a visa to visit, obtained before your travels, you must nonetheless inform American authorities of your arrival. Failure to present for inspection has serious consequences, and not just for immigration. Here are three key facts to know about entry without inspection.

Workplace Privacy: Can an Employer Search My Bag?

Search at work is a complicated topic, and a lot hinges on reasonable expectations of privacy. Generally speaking, we can expect privacy at work with respect to our personal items -- bags, briefcases, and purses -- but there are certainly exceptions.

Employers can, under certain circumstances, search an employee's effects, like a locker or desk, and even a bag depending on company policy. The determination of legality or illegality is made on a case-by-case basis. Let's look at what a court considers when contemplating a search at work and whether it was an invasion of privacy.

Can a Will Be Used to Escape Taxes?

When you are writing a will and planning an estate, there are many considerations to keep in mind. In addition to making sure your assets are passed on according to your wishes, you’ll also likely want to make sure your estate doesn’t pay any unnecessary taxes.

However, a will is not the best legal instrument for escaping taxes because wills are subject to estate taxes. So, if you are concerned about your estate paying too much on taxes, you may want to consider alternate means of transferring property, such as a trust.

Estate planning is a complex topic, though, so let’s look at the basic notions, giving you an idea of what might be possible and where to start.

Sallie Mae, a company that has faced numerous lawsuits for predatory and discriminatory lending practices to students, has found a new target for school loan debt: students' parents. It's a smart ploy from the lender/debt-collector -- why saddle young, unproven, and possibly unemployed kids with debt when you can put it on older and employed versions that are more likely to pay it back?

So if you just got done paying off your student loans, and are feeling that empty nest melancholy double whammy of no kids in the house and no loans on the books, fear not. Sallie Mae has a way for you to continue paying off student debt for maybe your whole life.

Amazon Sues Sites Selling Fake Reviews

Do you rely on reviews by other online consumers to decide what to buy? Have you ever been nudged toward a particular product based on the amazing reviews? Well, if so, you may have to reconsider how you choose your products and whether you can really rely on the rating you see online.

A lawsuit filed by Amazon last month targets websites that sells positive reviews, reports Geek Wire, in an effort to crack down on what the company calls "an unhealthy ecosystem developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews." So those in the business of selling ratings, beware.

Sure, marriage is about two people who love each other confirming their commitment with an official (or not-so-official) ceremony. But there are some legal prerequisites and ramifications to getting married, and they're serious enough to consider before you say, "I do."

Here are a few of the most important legal things you should know, and a few things you should do, before you get married:

#USImmigrationLaw: What Does Continuous Residence Really Mean?

To become a US citizen you will have to show continuous residence in this country. How long you must live here depends on the nature of your immigration application.

Because people's citizenship applications are based on different grounds -- for example: work, humanitarian grounds, or marriage to an American spouse -- the rules vary somewhat, and there are also limited exceptions to the continuous residence requirement. Let's look at the obligations, and when the clock starts ticking.