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

August 2009 Archives

Arbitrator Clears Jeremy Piven in Contract Claim

After meeting the with an arbitrator to avoid fees associated with breaching his employment contract to appear in a Broadway musical, Jeremy Piven was vindicated from blame and a potentially-costly payout.  The sushi is still at large.

Piven was slated to appear in "Speed-the-Plow" by David Mamet but abruptly left the production two months before it ended, after feeling exhausted from elevated mercury level.  The self-proclaimed sushi lover thinks maybe the uncooked sea-life may be the real culprit.

Senator Ted Kennedy's Legislative Legacy

15,235 votes in the Senate.  2500 bills authored.  552 cosponsored pieces of legislation passed into law.  The numbers chapter the story of the U.S. Senate's leading liberal lion.  Senator Ted Kennedy, formally Edward Moore Kennedy, passed away this week after battling brain cancer.  He has inspired a legacy of championing health care reform, civil rights, equal rights, education, and a breadth of laws in the public interest over his 46 years as a Massachusetts senator.

His history as a U.S. Senator was built one vote, one bill, and one act at a time.  Here is a sampling of a few of the many laws he helped bring to bear:

Top 10 Posts on Avoiding Home Foreclosure

Home foreclosure is still a hot topic on the minds of many Americans.  Mass layoffs, furloughs, and salary cuts have given cause to worry for millions of homeowners who are tightening purse strings to budget for monthly mortgage payments.  Over the past months we have covered the topic from various angles to inform consumers about the state of foreclosures and homeowner options to avoid foreclosure.

Here is a rundown of our top 10 posts:

1. California Foreclosure Moratorium Goes into Effect: Which Mortgages are   Covered?

For lenders deemed to have less than comprehensive loan modification programs, the new law places a 90 day delay on some foreclosures...

2. What is the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)?

HAMP allows eligible mortgagees lower their monthly payments to 31% of their pre-tax income, or lower, through a loan modification...

USPS Offers Employees Resignation Bonus

The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that it is offering up to 30,000 employees a $15,000 resignation bonus to leave their jobs.  The initiative would cost the USPS $450 million but could save another $500 million over the next fiscal year.   

Trimming back and going lean.  It's like the Atkins diet, for the post office. 

Adoption Option: Agency, Attorney... or Both

In our ongoing series, Adoption Option, we are going over the basics of adoption to help guide you through the life-changing, family-forming decision to adopt.

After asking yourself whether you should adopt and taking a look at types of adoption available, you may now be ready to get professional assistance in making this dream a reality.  With so many options available, it is important to know about what is available.

1. Adoption agencies can help you with the child-finding process. 

An adoption agency is a state-licensed organization that screens prospective parents and then takes on the task of locating a child who may be a good fit.  The adoption agency then guides the adoptive parents through all parts of the process--including offering services such as support groups, financing options, parenting classes, child counseling, and foster programs.  The agency will prescreen parents and likely only introduce parents to a potential child's profile if they think it will be a good fit. 

3rd Party Guardianship Petition OK in "Octo-mom" case

Why are we so fascinated with multiple births?  You can ask Nadya Suleman.   With a name she has now trademarked, "Octo-mom" gave birth to octuplets by in vitro fertilization in January, adding to her litter of 6.   Suleman has been in the news and in court on various occasions over her sizeable brood. 

In the latest court filing, a California state court ruled last week that a third party could indeed bring a petition for guardianship over the finances of her 14 children.  And to be sure, the Orange County judge denied Suleman's attempt to block the court appointment.  The octuplets are slated to star, alongside their now-famous mom and siblings, in a reality television series projected to net them a total of $250,000 over 3 years.

What About Your Clunker Appliances?

The Cash for Clunkers program (CARS) may be taking its final bow this evening, but all the cash-for-clunkering has just been too fun to give up altogether.  The federal government has earmarked $300 million towards supporting the sale of energy-efficient home appliances including refrigerators, washers, and dishwashers.  Promising rebates of $50-$200, the program-- nicknamed "Cash for Refrigerators"-- hopes to spark a turnaround in the slowed production of appliance manufacturers such as Whirlpool and Electrolux.

Unlike the popular CARS program, the Cash for Appliances won't require a trade-in of an inefficient appliance. 

The Adoption Option: Types of Adoption

You have answered the critical question, "should you adopt", and are ready to continue researching and finding out more about the process.  The next step is learning about the two broad types of adoption.  

Open vs. Closed Adoption: How much interaction you wish to have with the child's biological parents determines how "open" the adoption is, and it becomes an important factor as you consider types of adoption. 

How to Cash in Your Clunker Before Monday

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced yesterday that the popular government car trade-in program, CARS also known as Cash for Clunkers, will end Monday, August 24th 2009.

Answering dealer complaints of slow rebate-processing, turnaround time, and technical difficulties, the Department of Transportation reiterated that the program has been an overall success with 457,476 new cars sold and rebate applications submitted, totaling upwards of $1.9 billion in new car sales.  It also claims that it has processed at least 1/3 of the rebate applications and is working to round out the rest.   To alleviate the cash flow problems of dealers waiting for their CARS rebate checks, GM and Chrysler have agreed to provide cash advances to hold the dealers over until the government payments come in.

The Adoption Option: Should You Adopt?

The decision to start a family is a major one.  And a follow-up consideration to wanting to have kids is whether you should adopt.  Adoption is increasingly becoming a popular avenue for people looking forward to family life.  Adoption can be rewarding and fulfilling but can involve a lengthy application process and can be cost-intensive.  Is it right for you?

Here are a few considerations to take into account in deciding whether to adopt a child:

What is a Loan Workout?

No, it's not the latest taebo-pilates-zumba routine.  But if you're weighed down by foreclosure, a loan workout may be just what the debt doctor ordered to help put your loan back on track.

A loan workout is plan of how to restructure debt in the face of foreclosure.  It is also called loan modification or mortgage modification.  In loan workouts, the home owner sits down with the lender to discuss modification of terms to the loan in order to make monthly payment minimums and sidestep foreclosure.  The parties must mutually agree on modified loan terms for the loan workout to be successful. 

What does the lender look for?

What Is a Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce?

By the time a couple decides to divorce there have likely been tense conversations and various rounds of blame-game play to identify the marriage's point-of-no-return. In the midst of going different directions, is it better to file for a fault or no-fault divorce?

  • Fault-based divorce

A fault divorce is granted in instances when at least one spouse requests a divorce based on fault and where one of the required grounds is present. Fault-based divorces are not available in all states.

Robin Wright Penn Files for Divorce

Sometimes turbulence in a marriage is just a passing part of the journey, a time to re-fasten your seatbelts and lock in your tray tables; however, after one, two, or a few bouts of tumultuous crosswinds, it may be time to make an emergency landing and evacuate.

Two-time Academy award winning actor Sean Penn and wife Robin Wright Penn have negotiated the fine line of fighting to stay together and fighting to go their own ways on a few occasions, having initiated divorce proceedings in 2007 and earlier in 2009.  However, this time it was Robin Wright Penn who filed the papers in a Northern California court in Marin County.

Top 3 Things to Know if You Are Going on Strike

Yesterday San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) averted a strike that would have halted the City's Monday morning commute.  The parties involved appear to be settling on terms of a proposed contract, but the incident brings up the topic of striking workers.

What rights do striking employees have?  Are they entitled to unemployment insurance?

Top 3 Things to Know if You Are Going on Strike:

No BART Strike, Tentative Agreement Reached

Just hours before a planned strike was scheduled to take place, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) reached a deal with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 (ATU) putting Northern California's Monday morning commute back on track.  Both sides made concessions including salary lock-ins in exchange for caps on healthcare and cessation of BART's contribution to secondary pension plans, and a reduction in paid holidays. 

ATU, a 900-person union, rejected a contract proposal last week and was ready for its members to disembark and step away from their positions as train operators and station agents with the mass transit system.  General Manager Dorothy Dugger projects that BART will be able to reduce labor costs by $100 million, and meet its financial goals if the tentative agreement is approved. 

White House Opting Out of Public Option?

After weeks of focus on President Obama's healthcare reform plan featuring a public option alternative, offering consumers a choice between government-run insurance and private insurance, may not make the final cut.   Weekend murmurs from the White House suggest that it is considering a compromise and may opt for non-profit health cooperatives instead of a public insurance alternative. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, in a CNN interview, that the public option was not the essential piece of healthcare reform, suggesting that it was a bargaining chip that President Obama's team was willing to work with.

President Obama is also distinguishing the public option as a part, rather than whole, of the healthcare reform initiative.  The New York Times reports President Obama addressing an audience in Grand Junction, Colorado in a town-hall style and clarifying that "the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."

Bobby Brown Arrested on Contempt Charges

The Grammy-award winning singer with a stormy past-- who busted charts with "Don't Be Cruel", "Every Little Step", and "My Prerogative"-- is $45,000 in arrears for owing child support to former girlfriend Kim Ward.  And now the R&B singer-songwriter has something new to add to his collection.

An arrest warrant. 

Massachusett's Norfolk County Probate and Family Court will be ready for Bobby Brown next time he rolls through town.  This after he failed to appear for a June 29th court date on a child support contempt complaint.  Brown is overdue in his $5,000 monthly child support payment for the two teenage children he has with his former girlfriend.

U.S. Foreclosures Up 7% in July

Home foreclosures for July 2009 numbered 360,149, a 7% increase from June and 32% increase from July 2008.  The report comes from RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosure properties.  The report also showed that one out of every 355 housing units in the U.S. was on the receiving end of a foreclosure filing in July.

Which states topped the home foreclosure list?

Fired for Facebook Use: Numbers are Up

Unless you work at Facebook, should you be on the social media website during your work hours?  Survey seems to say no. 

In a study conducted in June 2009 by online security firm, Proofpoint,  it appears that Facebook-inspired dismissals have officially made the map.  The study, of more than 200 email decision makers at U.S. companies with more than 1000 employees, found that 8% of those surveyed reported terminating an employee for Facebook use during company time.  And that is double of the 4% dismissal rate reported last year.  Firing employees for using social media such as Facebook may be an extreme, but 17% also reported taking issue with an employee's use of social media while on the clock.

What is Public Option Health Care?

Healthcare reform has been stealing the spotlight like a shotgun celebrity wedding. With headlines abuzz, you may be wondering about one of the terms that has been getting the most play, public option health care. 

You've heard President Obama mention it, but what exactly is public option health care?  Read on to get in the know.

What is Single Payer Health Care?

As healthcare reform captures a top spot in daily headlines these days, we want to get back to the basics and learn about a term that is being tossed around like a tennis ball lately...single payer health care.  What is it all about?  Read below for the 411.

Single payer insurance refers to a government-run healthcare system that is nearly universal.  Examples of existing single-payer health care include nationalized programs seen in Canada, Australia, Taiwan, and England.  Single payer health care would eliminate private insurance companies and institute a Medicare-esque system in which the government foots all healthcare bills.

Smartphones, E-Mail and Overtime Laws

You clock in and work all day.  Then you clock out, go home and answer calls, reply to text messages and emails on your phone all night.  Should you be getting paid for overtime?

Just last month 3 individuals sued T-Mobile on the basis that they were required to respond to work messages after hours using their company-issued smartphones.  On submitting the extra hours to management for compensation, they were told that they should expect to work the extra hours as part of T-Mobile's "standard business practices."

And that's not the first case of technology-meets-overtime-laws, this past March a similar suit was brought against CB Richard Ellis Group, Inc. in which a maintenance worker sought pay for receiving and responding to messages on his work cell phone after hours.

Will these claims hold water in court?

Who Makes Health Care Decisions for Your Child?

When a child is sick, parents bear the initial responsibility for their medical care.  But, what if you disagree with the doctor's orders?

As a civil rights case that started seven years ago, which was decided in favor of the parents, and then recently overturned in favor of the State shows, there is no definitive law on the issue.

In 2002, the Mueller family, then living in Idaho, negotiated the tough scenario when their five-week old daughter fell ill with a 100+ degree temperature.  Corissa Mueller, the baby's mother and a chemical engineer, disagreed with the doctor's order to conduct a spinal tap of the child to determine whether the baby had meningitis.  A spinal tap is an invasive procedure that bears some risk to the patient.  Her refusal to consent to the procedure prompted a call to Child Protective Services (CPS) and a not-so-neighborly hospital visit by Detective Dale Rogers.

No More Child Support for Freed Childless Man

A Georgia man has been released from his child support payments after serving over a year in jail despite the court knowing he was not the child's father.

Welcome to the Kafkaesque story of 50 year old Frank Hatley. As reported by CNN, Hatley spent a total of 13 months in jail for non-payment of child support after being declared not the father. Though he had been "relieved" of future child-support payments, he was jailed for failing to pay all the old child support back-payments.

Now, after finally being freed from jail, Hatley has been released from making all child support payments.

2009 College Tax Credit & Tuition Tax Deduction Tips

2009 federal tax rules would make anyone want to do a keg stand. While that is probably not the motivation, the government has introduced significant tax breaks during a time when graduates are finding it tough to find a job and families are feeling strapped with covering college expenses.

14 Do It Yourself Divorce Resources

If parting is sweet sorrow then divorce must be candied heartache. And while emotions may run high and uncoupling couples may find themselves rounding the turn of a slow-motion roller coaster, there are great incentives to working together for an amicable exit. Tackling the legal black box of a do it yourself divorce can be just the collaborative project that both sides can get fully behind and commit themselves to-- allowing the door to close gently into a new beginning.

We have compiled a primer on do it yourself divorce for the savvy soon-to-be-singles to begin researching their options and devising a gameplan.  Peruse through the steps and resources and cherry-pick the options that work best for you.

Cash for Clunkers Extended, in Overtime

The U.S. Senate approved a measure to extend the CARS program ("Cash for Clunkers") by $2 billion late last week in a 60 to 37 vote.  This, after the sweeping success of the initial nearly $1 billion allocation surprised not only critics, dealers and consumers, but even White House officials.  Just five days after officially launching the program aimed to incentivize car sales as well as edge gas-guzzlers off road, funds were already running low. 

Congress, on rush-order, reviewed an emergency extension to refuel the cash-for-clunkering for another another $2 billion and passed the extension before the Capitol Hill bell released them for August recess. The legislation moved to the Senate, where it was anticipated to meet some resistance from opposition.

What is the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)?

Foreclosure worries cramping your style?  Consider applying to President Obama's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which is part of his larger initiative to make waves in home affordability.  Though it's off to slow start--which could mean long wait times--it could allow you to keep your home and live in it too.  

So, what is HAMP anyway? 

The government program makes available $75 billion in funding to help 3-4 million homeowners at risk for foreclosure stay in their homes.

HAMP allows eligible mortgagees lower their monthly payments to 31% of their pre-tax income, or lower, through a loan modification.  Modifying the home loan must equal net more value than foreclosing would.

The adjustments are introduced on a temporary basis but are made permanent after the homeowner makes three on-time payments.  Why would lenders go for it?  The Obama administration is offering up thousands of dollars in incentive payments not only to lenders but to homeowners and mortgage investors as well.


Do I qualify for a HAMP loan modification?

Home Affordable Modification Program - a Tortoise Start

Foreclosure prevention is off to a slow start.  The $75 billion White House initiative to save up to four million homeowners from foreclosure woes over the next three years through various programs, including incentivizing mortgage modification, is well behind its projected goals and Washington is on the case.

An initial progress report of the "Home Affordable Modification Program" (HAMP) revealed that only 9% of delinquent borrowers-- or just over 235,000 loans-- are in trial loan modifications thus far.  With President Obama's goal of having 500,000 loan modifications in the pipes by November 2009, administrators have their work cut out for them.

So it was back to the board room last week when lawmakers met with loan modification servicers in D.C. to discuss the plan and ways to improve implementation.  The Obama camp wants to speed things up and has heard earfuls from borrowers complaining that loan servicers have been sluggish to process applications.  Foreclosures are up by 15% from last year, with 1.5 million foreclosures processed in the first half of 2009 alone.  

Good help is on the way, according to the White House, as Treasury officials are collaborating with lenders to streamline processing.

Trade Adjustment Assistance Helps 2000 Autoworkers

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced this week that it has certified 2000 autoworkers making them eligible to apply for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

According to the Department of Labor, Trade Adjustment Assistance is designed to "... assist individuals who have become unemployed as a result of increased imports from, or shifts in production to, foreign countries. The goal of the Trade Act programs is to help trade-affected workers return to suitable employment as quickly as possible." The DOL certification is just the initial step in the TAA process.  The state will contact certified workers with instructions on how to apply for individual benefits and services.  Autoworkers applying for the federal assistance could receive re-employment services, occupational skills training, and trade readjustment allowances to assist supplement income.  Job search and relocation allowances may also be available.

The workers certified are in Michigan, Indiana, South Carolina, and Mississippi---states that have been hit hard by slumping car sales in the troubled economy. 

Annie Leibovitz Sued for Breach of Contract

Annie Leibovitz has reached superstar status for her work behind a camera lens, but after defaulting on repaying a $24 million loan, she has become the latest subject of bright lights, big headlines, and a lawsuit to boot.  Art Capital Group brought a breach of contract claim against her last week to recover the loan amount and associated fees which come due on September 8th. 

On the line is more than money and reputation-- having leveraged her entire life's work she stands to lose rights to all of her photographs if a judgment is found against her.

Swine Flu Vaccine Gets Ready for School

Back-to-school lists just got a little longer. 

The U.S. anticipates the first batch of swine flu vaccine, projected to be over 100 million doses, to be ready for release in late October and to be earmarked for school-aged children.  That is, of course, pending final tests on the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Clinical trials for swine flu vaccines are being rush-ordered by pharmaceutical companies.  The first trials in the U.S. will begin in August with 2400 volunteers being tested in a compressed two-month time-frame.  They will be conducted by European pharmaceutical manufacturer, Sanofi-Pasteur and Australian CLS Biotherapies.  Novartis will also be testing its vaccine in a separate trial for FDA approval.

Pet Custody in Divorce and Separation: Who Gets Fido?

A New Jersey ex-couple's fight for their dog might be a game-changer for state pet custody law.

Like a cars, books, and lawnmowers, animals are currently treated as property under the law.  So, when the door closed on the engagement of a New Jersey couple in 2006, their vie for possession of their pet pug, Dexter, was viewed by the deciding court as a straightforward assignment of possession. The pug was pegged to go to former fiancĂ© Eric Dare and his former-blushing counterpart, Doreen Houseman, awarded $1500--the cost of the animal.  However, after $40,000 and three years of proceedings, the couple's  continued fight for Dexter found its way to appeals' court.

And it was there that history was made.

Polyamory--"Ethical Non-Monogamy"--and the Law

Derived from the the Greek prefix "poly" for many and the Latin word "amor" for love, polyamory is the unconventional practice of being in and consenting to multiple romantic relationships at a time.  Termed "ethical" or "responsible" non-monogamy, the practice has been gaining more attention and more followers in recent years.

How does polyamory tie into law and is it a form of polygamy?