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

June 2016 Archives

Is Feeding the Homeless Illegal?

Feeding a hungry person is good. It is simple and basic in an otherwise morally complex world. Or is it?

In many places around the nation, giving food to a homeless person in public is prohibited. Restrictions are reportedly on the rise, and the reason cited generally by those in support of these measures is that homeless people are too visible, which is bad for business and other people's enjoyment of public parks. Let's consider the issue.

There are plenty of emotional reasons to steer clear of someone who is separated from their spouse, but not legally divorced yet. They're not ready for a new relationship yet; they're using you to hurt their ex; they might get back together with their spouse; heck, they're probably still living together!

These are all good reasons, and they don't even touch on the legal ramifications of what would still be an extramarital relationship. So what do you need to know about dating someone who is legally separated?

Happy Birthday: Legal Benefits of Being 18

Congratulations on turning 18 -- you have reached the age of majority! Officially, you are an adult who can go to war and get married without anyone's consent, rent an apartment or be sentenced to prison, and other grown up privileges.

We'll raise a glass to cheer that in a few years when you can legally drink alcohol. In the interim, let's consider the many things you will now be responsible for and able to do because you are an adult.

Pledging Extra: Considering Covenant Marriages

Covenant marriage is for couples who are extra committed. They are so committed that they accept certain legal obstacles to splitting up before they have even pledged their lives to one another.

This type of marriage is relatively new under state law, but it refers to the oldest tradition in the book: a deal before God. Let’s take a look at covenant marriage.

While many think of the law as a serious institution, it can have its quirks. And it's always fun to learn about things you thought were against the law but are strangely legal -- it's like you're getting away with something.

Here are seven of our favorites, from our archives:

#USImmigrationLaw: What Issues Will Affect My Visa?

If you want to come to the US or sponsor someone else's presence here, you should be aware of certain issues that can affect visa receipt. But you should also know from the start that for many rules there are limited exceptions, so depending on individual circumstances what might normally be a bar to receiving a visa could be overcome.

Every immigration case is unique and relies on specifics. Although there are general rules, don't assume you have no options. Speak to an immigration lawyer and let them help, or even meet a few attorneys and compare proposed plans. For now, let's consider general issues that affect a visa.

Pepper Spray Dangers and State Limitations

Pepper spray is widely used for self-defense and it's legal to carry it in all 50 states. But some places do have prohibitions on the stuff, specifying the amount of spray one can hold or the power of the blast or the age at which sprays can be obtained, and other limitations.

While pepper spray can make a handy tool for self-defense, it is used as a weapon, too, so that means it can be used against you. If you are carrying pepper spray, or plan to pick some up, be careful about how you use it so that you don't end up hurt by your own self-defense mechanism or end up accidentally committing a crime. Let's briefly consider pepper spray limitations and dangers.

When Should I Change My Will?

A will is meant to make the lives of those you love easier after your life has ended. It lays out your intentions for the inheritance and disposal of your belongings, whether that includes money, property, stamp collections, or sewing machines. Whatever you cannot take with you can be passed on to the living. Whenever circumstances change such that inheritance will be impacted, you should revise your will.

What is a circumstance that demands a change? That depends. Let's look at some examples.

Health insurance is a tricky thing. Sometimes it’s tied to our employers, which can in turn tie us to jobs we no longer want. Other times, we’re insured through a spouse, which in the same way can tie us to a relationship that is no longer working.

If you have health insurance coverage through a spouse and are considering a divorce, the apprehension about how to pay for your health care after the split can be a major concern. So here are some things to keep in mind regarding what effect a divorce may have on your health insurance.

Another day, another FAA regulation on drone use. First it was frowning upon attaching flamethrowers to drones in order to roast turkeys in the back yard. Now, the man is trying to tell us that if we want to deliver beer via drone, we need something called a "pilot certificate."

The FAA issued new commercial drone rules this week, and the big news is that commercial delivery drones will be legal by the end of the summer. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

The Tricky Topic of Religious Accommodation in Public Places

The New York Times editorial board this month published a problematic opinion piece that is illustrative of the difficulties and ironies that can arise in human rights law. The editorial is about segregated swimming sessions for women in one Brooklyn swimming pool, and it expresses outrage that a public location accommodates the needs of its community's religious women.

Citing city humidity and human rights law, the newspaper's editorial board demands that the city swimming pool cease the accommodation --- a few sessions a week reserved for segregated sex swimming in recognition of the needs of Orthodox Jewish women. The editorial, like the issue itself, reveals just how tricky the topic of religious accommodation can be.

Funeral Protest Laws

When the Westboro Baptist Church will picket the funerals of U.S. servicemembers because it believes those soldiers were punished for a government that recognizes the civil rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans, it shouldn't be shocking to learn they plan to protest the funerals of victims of the nation's worst mass shooting that happened earlier this month at a gay nightclub in Orlando. What may be surprising, in a good way, was how effective a counter-protest of "angels" was in silencing the WBC.

You might think it would just be easier to ban funeral protestors entirely, but even groups like the WBC had First Amendment rights. Here's how those rights are restricted when protesting a funeral.

Benefits to Setting Up Grandchildren's Trusts

You love your kids, but let's face it -- they have already done the greatest thing they will do for you, which is give you grandkids. Now you're over the next generation but very excited about the one following, your youngest family members with all their potential.

You hope to live long enough to see them fulfill it and you want to ensure that you will be able to help even after you are gone. Do it with a grandchildren's trust, which is great for your grandkids and for you, too. Grandchildren's trusts are advantageous to grandparents as they have certain tax benefits. So let's consider these grandchildren's trusts and how to set one up.

Women May Soon Be Required to Register for the Draft

Last week, the US Senate approved a military policy bill that would require young women to register for the draft at age 18, just like young men. Americans have not been drafted into the military since 1973, but passage of the bill reignited a national debate about women, fighting, and equality, most notably among the many men in government.

That debate has been going on for decades. In 1981, the US Supreme Court ruled that women did not need to sign up for Selective Service because at that point they were not active in all aspects of military service. As of this year, The New York Times reports, the ban on women in combat roles has been completely lifted and female soldiers are on the front lines, in the trenches, and everywhere else. In light of this, soon it could be that everyone who turns 18 will have to register.

Top 5 Alimony Questions

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is money paid from one ex-spouse to another following a divorce. Not all divorces include alimony agreements and the amount of spousal support can vary depending on your particular circumstances as well as state law.

But there are some general guidelines to paying and receiving alimony, including how long spousal support payments will last, how to adjust the payment amount, and what to do if your ex stops paying. Here are the biggest questions, and some answers, to alimony questions from our archives:

#USImmigrationLaw: How Do I Do an Immigration Inmate Search?

If you know someone who is being held in immigration detention but you don't know where, you can search for them using an online tool. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement division has an Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS) that you can use to find someone with only a minimal amount of information.

You can find someone by their A-number (short for alien registration number) and country of birth. This, according to ICE, is the best way to search. But even if you do not know the A-number, you can input a name and birth country and use the tool to locate an inmate in immigration detention. Let's consider what information the tool will provide, and what you will not find.

When summer arrives, that means it's time to get a tan on those toes, no matter what the hoity-toity fashion folks from New York City say. It's hot out there and no one likes the smell of sweaty feet. Plus, more and more of us are working from home, so throwing on a pair of slips, slaps, or slippers (as they're known in some parts of the world) can be a sensible sartorial choice.

But what about in the car? While driving barefoot isn't illegal, it does come with safety risks. Is the same true for driving in flip flops?

We all love our pets, but often that love doesn't extend to other people's pets or strays; especially if they're straying onto our property and leaving a little something behind. Feral, stray, or wandering cats can be a nuisance -- one that tempts us to engage in some extreme behavior. But taking matters into your own hands might be a little too extreme.

So if you're thinking about killing a cat on your property, you should think about this first:

Homeowners' How-To: Spotting a Foreclosure Law Fraudster

Sometimes you hit a bad run of luck, which is what happened to Southern Californians with homes in foreclosure who were also bilked by their lawyers. Two Orange County law firms are accused of depriving distressed homeowners of $15 million in fees in one year alone, while providing few if any legal services.

The firms -- Brookstone Law and Advantis Law, both with multiple offices in Orange County -- targeted vulnerable clients and hooked them with false promises, guarantees that lawyers ethically cannot make. So it's no wonder that the Federal Trade Commission called the firms "shark tanks" and is seeking to freeze assets, rescind contracts, bar the lawyers from practicing law, and more. Let's examine the case, reported by Courthouse News Service, and consider how to spot a fraudster.

How to Prevent a Child Abduction

A parent's worst nightmare is losing a child, especially to abduction. For better or worse, abductions are not just perpetrated by strangers driving scary vans and luring kids with candy -- sometimes family members abduct a kid or hire someone else to do so.

Knowing this, you wish you could keep your kid by your side at all times. But you cannot. Still, there are steps you can take to prevent tragedy and to ensure that law enforcement can do all that's possible to find your child should the worst occur.

In the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting, Hillary Clinton wondered aloud on Twitter: "If the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you shouldn't be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked." It's a fair enough position, given Omar Mateen, the man who massacred 49 people that night, had previously been investigated twice by the FBI for connections to terrorist groups. (Both investigations turned up too little to charge Mateen.)

Clinton's proposal prompted some interesting questions, like the one from Townhall Political Editor and Fox News contributor Guy Benson: "Tough, serious Q: What level of suspicion (but not proof) is sufficient to deprive a US citizen of a constitutional right?" So could states actually deny gun permits to people who've been suspected of having terrorist links? And if so, how would that suspicion be defined?

Should Schools Have a Medical Marijuana Policy?

Schools in Colorado have an unusual mandate that may be coming to your state soon. They have been ordered to formulate policies allowing medical marijuana possession by students who use cannabis to treat illness.

The law applies only to non-smoked marijuana, so it's not like the Colorado schoolyards will be packed with blunt-puffing kids. It is intended to protect children with serious illnesses who rely on cannabis and, before the passage of this law, were technically violating policy by consuming it in school.

The massacre of 50 patrons at a gay club in Orlando over the weekend focused debate on many legal, political, and moral issues: homophobia, homegrown terrorism, and, of course, gun control. Depending on which database you use, there have been between 133 and 176 mass shootings in the 166 days of 2016 alone.

Gun control laws are just one aspect of the horrifying shooting in Orlando, but they are a persistent discussion topic after every mass shooting. Here are seven of the biggest questions regarding gun control laws from our archives:

#USImmigrationLaw: What Is the US Visa Bulletin?

The US Visa bulletin is issued every month by the government to inform people with pending applications about visa availability. There are different bases for immigration, such as work and family, and some types of visas are limited. Not everyone can get them immediately, even if they qualify for the visa generally, so the bulletin basically lets people know where they stand in line.

Some family-based immigrant visa applications -- immediate relative petitions -- do not require a wait and are issued when the petition is approved. Others, like certain family visas and employment-based applications, are much more limited. Those who must rely on a visa becoming available should check the bulletin to determine when they can take the final steps required to obtain a visa.

You're not divorced yet, and maybe you're still not sure whether you want a divorce at all. All you know is that you need a little breathing room, and you don't want to be the one shacking up in a motel for the night or longer. You want your spouse out of the house, but how do you make it happen?

As with many life issues, there are legal and non-legal remedies, and even the legal remedies can vary depending on where you live.

How to Change the Deal in a Divorce Agreement

When you first got divorced, you were just relieved to be done with your spouse. But now your initial relief has been replaced by dismay. You believe a mistake was made in the lower court or your circumstances have changed and the court ordered arrangement will not work for you.

You want to challenge or change the terms of your divorce or modify the decree to accommodate changed circumstances. And you can. Let’s consider your options.

Benefits and Privileges of Domestic Partnerships

Civil unions, or domestic partnerships, give committed couples benefits, legal recognition, and official status with the state. Traditionally, only married people were awarded these types of benefits.

In the US, civil unions became popular in great part because same-sex couples could not marry, which is no longer the case. But these unions are actually for any couple who can't or won't get married for political or personal reasons yet is truly together, ostensibly forever. Let's consider what domestic partnership offers, legally.

A California law allowing terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to receive a prescription for a lethal dose of "aid-in-dying" drugs went into effect today. The California End of Life Option Act makes the Golden State just the fifth state to allow physician-assisted suicide and was hotly debated but ultimately unopposed by the California Medical Association.

Now that the law is in effect, who can ask for aid in dying and how will physician-assisted suicide be regulated?

As long as zombies remain a fictional trope of movies and television, they're pretty fun. But a real-life zombie would be horrifying. It's pretty much the same with zombie debt: not so threatening in theory, but when put into practice it can have catastrophic consequences on your life.

So what kind of debt can rise from the grave and try to feast on your brains wallet? Here's a breakdown of zombie debt, and whether the companies trying to collect on it are doing it legally.

Can I Get a Restraining Order Against My Neighbor?

Restraining orders do what they say, which is restrain the movements of someone who is endangering another. But because you are seeking to restrict someone's freedom, it's not easy to get a restraining order and you will have to show evidence that contact is dangerous or threatening before a judge can order someone to stay away, especially your neighbor.

When the person who you want to restrain is your neighbor, the proximity of your living spaces certainly complicates matters. It's likely you will have to show fairly extensive evidence that your neighbor poses a threat before you get an order demanding maintenance of a safe distance. Still, it can be done, so let's consider.

Basic Legal Advice Every Pet Owner Should Know

Hanging around with animals is said to be good for human health, reducing heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol, improving emotional wellbeing, and even warding off the development of allergies in children. Pets can help people feel better and deal better.

But there are certainly some risks to owning an animal, and there are some responsibilities you will have to accept. And you do have certain rights. So before you pick up your next pet, let's talk about basic legal advice every pet owner should know.

We want our kids to get the best education possible, and to be nurtured and safe while they're in school. So how do schools balance the educational, interpersonal, and safety concerns of their students, while also taking into account their legal rights and Constitutional protections?

Here's what you need to know about a student's rights in school, and what to do when legal issues arise on campus.

#USImmigrationLaw: What Is Family Based Immigration?

There are different ways to legally immigrate to the United States and one of them is based on family relations. Citizens and legal permanent residents with family members have the option to sponsor certain relatives for visas under certain conditions in recognition of the importance of family unity.

Family-based immigration petitions generally fall into two major categories: immediate relative petitions and family preference petitions. Let's consider what they are, the differences between them, and who can apply.

Proposed IL Forensic Evidence Rule Change Sparks Controversy

Humans make mistakes. We miss things, get confused, and misremember details. That is why the rules for handling forensic evidence in a criminal case are very strict and dictate how materials pass through police hands.

The strict procedure is meant to ensure the quality of convictions, and it allows defendants to challenge admission of evidence that is admitted against them without proof that proper procedure was followed. Now legislators in Illinois are considering a new law that would allow state crime labs to hide mistakes that technicians make, according to defense attorneys. Police say that the law ensures quality results. Let's consider the controversy reported by ABC News.

Not everyone feels comfortable with the body in which they were born. And not everyone identifies as the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. Therefore, many people choose to change the gender on their birth certificate and other official documents to more accurately reflect their gender identity.

Unfortunately, making this change isn't always as easy as it sounds, and can require a variety of legal documents and procedures. So do you need a lawyer to officially change your gender?

Is Limited Scope Representation Right for My Child Custody Case?

It used to be said that the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. In child custody cases, which can be contentious and emotionally difficult, there is good reason to seek representation. But times are tough and if you're looking to cut costs, then you may be considering Limited Scope Representation, or unbundled legal services.

There are risks to limited representation. It's not right for everyone. Let's look at guidance from the California courts on how to decide if LSR is right for your child custody case.

The Aloha State's already stringent gun regulations may get even tougher soon, with proposed legislation that would allow state officials to keep tabs on gun owners or applicants via an FBI database. The bill would only affect Hawaii residents who own guns or apply for gun licenses, but it create an alert system to notify the state if such residents are arrested in another state.

Here's how the FBI system works, and how it might affect Hawaii gun owners.

How to Divorce a Spouse in Jail or Prison

You get married and promise yourself to someone forever without knowing quite what that means. But when your spouse is arrested for a crime, charged, convicted, and imprisoned, then maybe you rethink your original plan and you decide to divorce. What impact will your spouse’s incarceration have on the process?

Well, that depends. State divorce statutes vary and different locales have different grounds for divorce, as well as distinct processes for terminating a marriage. Let’s look at some examples.