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

March 2012 Archives

Are Office Lottery Pools Legal?

The Mega Millions jackpot has reached $640 million -- the largest in world history. People are scrambling for a chance to win, grabbing a few lotto tickets on their way home. Others are turning to office lottery pools, hoping that a few extra numbers will significantly increase their odds.

If you're part of this second group, take a few seconds and read below. Are office lottery pools legal in your state? What about in your profession?

Even if they are, is joining one a good idea?

Brianna Moore’s pink hair got her suspended from school last week. But now the sixth-grader is back in class, after the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to teach school administrators a lesson about the law.

Officials at Shue-Medill Middle School in Newark, Del., suspended Moore because the 12-year-old’s pink-dyed hair clashed with a school policy that requires students’ hair to be a “natural color,” Reuters reports.

But when attorneys with Delaware’s ACLU heard what happened, they sprang to action. “Don’t you think this is unconstitutional?” the ACLU lawyers asked the school’s attorneys, according to Reuters.

FL Students Make Paddles Used to Spank Them

Some Florida school districts still use corporal punishment, choosing to spank misbehaving students with paddles. But at Holmes County High School in Bonifay, administrators have gone one step further. They have students make the paddles in woodshop class.

Though some may be offended by this practice, it's completely legal. School corporal punishment may have been banned in most of the country, but Florida is one of 19 states that still allows the practice.

Why Obamacare Will Be Decided on Constitutionality

If there's one thing that court watchers are agreeing on after the first day of oral arguments in the health care challenge, it's that the Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether Obamacare is constitutional.

Though this seems like an obvious outcome, it's not. Courts cannot rule on any question they so desire. Instead, their power is governed by a set of legal principles and statutory law. In this particular instance, there has been some question as to whether the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) prevents the states from bringing the health care challenge before April 2015.

New York City’s $340 license fee for keeping a handgun at home does not violate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Seven handgun owners and two gun owners’ groups sued the city over its handgun license fee, claiming it placed a burden on a basic constitutional right, the Associated Press reports.

But a judge disagreed, saying the gun-rights advocates failed to prove New York City’s license fee was a burden.

Trayvon Martin's mother is standing her ground when it comes to the commercial use of her son's name. Sybrina Fulton wants to trademark two popular slogans that reference the unarmed teenager's killing.

Fulton filed trademark applications last week for "I am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon," sayings that have appeared on T-shirts and hoodies in the wake of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's shooting death in Florida, the Associated Press reports.

The Trayvon Martin killing has received worldwide notoriety. But his mother's trademark applications are not meant to make money off the tragedy, her lawyer told the AP.

Facebook executives apparently don't "like" it when job interviewers ask for a job seeker's Facebook password. The social-networking giant is now threatening to sue employers who do so.

"We'll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action," Facebook's chief privacy officer announced in a statement Friday, according to UPI.

Sharing a Facebook password, or asking for someone else's password, violates Facebook's user agreement. An employer who requests such information may face "unanticipated legal liability," Facebook's statement said.

Killing Bald Eagles: Feds Give First-Ever Permit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made a bold -- and bald -- move. For the first time ever, agency officials will permit a Native American tribe to kill bald eagles for a religious ceremony . Members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe plan to use the two birds as part of the Sun Dance, an annual summer ceremony.

The move is unprecedented and is thought to be in response to a federal lawsuit. Members believe laws prohibiting the killing of bald eagles violate their right to religious freedom.

If You Find It, Can You Really Keep It?

"Finders keepers, losers weepers" is a taunt that many American children have grown up with. But is it really the case that if you find it, you own it?

A recent incident shed some light on the issue of found-property laws: A "lost" prototype iPhone created quite a stir in California. It also netted criminal charges for the two men who found the phone, Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower.

How to Hire a Divorce Attorney

So your marriage is ending. The last question you probably want to tackle is how to hire a divorce attorney. But inevitably, you may need to find someone to handle your case.

First figure out if you want to hire a lawyer. If you have a complicated divorce, or if you think there will be contested issues you may want to consider getting an attorney. But just know that there are drawbacks. Getting an attorney might make the process more emotional or antagonistic.

Now that you've decided that you want an attorney, there are several considerations you should think about.

Student Loans Stay With You For Life

Generally speaking, you cannot discharge student loans.

Bankruptcy law--more specifically, section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act--treats student debt as a priority debt, requiring it to remain after bankruptcy whether it was acquired from a private lender or the federal government.

However, if you can show that your student loans would impose an undue hardship, you may be entitled to an exception to this rule.

Job Interviewers Asking for Facebook Passwords

There’s a growing trend in the working world, and unsurprisingly, it involves Facebook. More and more job interviewers are reportedly asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords, hoping to get a little more insight before they offer anyone a position.

Public agencies are also getting in on the trend, especially when hiring individuals for law enforcement positions. They want to ensure there are no gang connections or photos of illegal activity. Law professor Orin Kerr calls the request “an egregious privacy violation.” But is it legal?

10 Worst States to Get a Divorce

So, you want a divorce. And you probably want it now. Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen. But you can try and game the system.

Below is a list of the worst states for divorce. Yes, the worst. They include waiting periods of up to 540 days, and boast price tags that come close to $400. Divorcing in one of these states will only prolong your misery.

But hey, consider some of the below-mentioned perks as well.

Spring Break Abroad? Get a Power of Attorney

When you travel abroad (for Spring Break or any kind of travel), you probably remember your passport, visas and vaccinations.

But you probably don't think much about emergencies that may arise when gone. But what are you supposed to do when paperwork needs to be signed? Or you need to appear in court?

These things are difficult to do while on holiday abroad, which is why you may want to consider setting up a power of attorney. You can give a trusted friend or family member the ability to take action while you're in a foreign land.

Legal U.S. Gun Sales Arm Mexican Cartels

Recent focus on the relationship between U.S. guns and Mexican cartels has been limited to the ATF's "Fast and the Furious." That plan had agents selling assault rifles to Mexican gun runners so that they could track high-ranking cartel members.

Though the ATF's actions are a bit questionable, there's actually a completely legal -- and perhaps more harmful -- way the U.S. is arming Mexican cartels. It's called "direct commercial sales" and it's operated by the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).

So how is taxpayer money paying to arm drug dealers? 

Baby Boomer Rental Tips: Going From 4 Bedrooms to 1

Statistics have shown that the size of the rental market has been steadily increasing, much in part to the number of Baby Boomers renting smaller homes and apartments in response to limited retirement incomes and empty nests.

Coming from a generation of homeowners, many Baby Boomers may be renting for the first time in decades, unaware of just how much renting differs from owning a home.

If this is your situation, the following are four key things that you should remember.

Which Spouse Gets to Claim Child as Dependent?

Most Americans know that you can claim a dependent and get a tax exemption. But when you're divorced, does the tax exemption still apply?

This question can become tricky especially in cases where both parents have legal rights with regards to the children. After all, the child can only be claimed once. Both ex-spouses cannot claim the child as their dependent on their tax returns.

In many situations, the custodial parent -- the one the child lives with -- will be the one who is able to claim the exemption.

Men More Likely To Go to Court Than Women

A new survey suggests that almost 40% of Americans have set foot in a courtroom -- either as a plaintiff or defendant. Respondents had different reasons for entering the halls of justice, but traffic infractions (18%), custody and divorce issues (11%) and criminal complaints (7%) came out on top.

Results also indicate that men are more likely to go to court than women. Forty-four percent of male respondents have been to court, while only 31% of women have done the same.

But why?

Not All Charitable Donations Are Tax Deductible

Tax season is upon us, which means it’s time to talk charitable donations. This time, we’re going to address the commonly held misconception that all charitable donations are tax deductible.

They’re not.

Charitable donations must meet specific criteria to be deductible. And even then, there are situations when the entire value may not be subtracted from your returns.

Feds Block Texas Voter ID Law

The U.S. Department of Justice has rejected Texas' voter ID law, which would require all residents to present photo identification at the polls. Voters would need to acquire a driver's license, a state-issued ID card, a military ID or a passport. A concealed handgun license would also fit the bill.

Despite the number of eligible documents, the Justice Department believes the legislation would have a discriminatory impact on Hispanic voters. They are between 46.5% and 120% more likely than non-Hispanic voters to lack identification, according to state data.

Some tenants in South Los Angeles are seeing red over their landlord’s efforts to go green. A new rule forcing tenants to pay rent online is actually a ruse to evict elderly renters, the tenants claim.

The low-income tenants are suing their landlord, Jones & Jones Management Group Inc., alleging the mandatory online rent payments are illegal and unfair, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“I am 86 years old and I am computer illiterate,” one tenant, who has lived in the building since 1963, said in the lawsuit.

An undocumented-immigrant day laborer hit the jackpot Thursday, when a jury declared him the owner of a winning lottery ticket in a dispute with a Georgia businessman.

Jose Antonio “Tony” Cua-Toc, 27, of Guatemala, sued business owner Erick Cervantes over ownership of the winning lottery ticket worth $750,000, The Sun News reports.

Cua-Toc and Cervantes offered dueling stories about who purchased the winning ticket. But store surveillance video ticket clearly showed who the rightful winner was, jurors said.

Whitney Houston's will has been discussed a lot this week. How will the late singer's assets be doled out to her daughter Bobbi Kristina? And just how do trusts work anyway?

A judge in Atlanta validated Whitney Houston's "Last Will and Testament," a 19-page document that leaves everything to her daughter, the gossip website TMZ reports.

Whitney Houston's money will go into a trust for Bobbi Kristina, 19, who won't see any of it until she turns 21, according to Inside Edition.

So how exactly does a trust like this work?

The Wedding is Off. Who Keeps the Ring?

Ever wake up next to your fiancĂ© and suddenly realize that you can't bear to spend the rest of your life with them? A broken engagement can turn into an emotional fiasco. Financially, it can also be a nightmare if you already shelled out thousands of dollars for that piece of jewelry.

This might make you start to wonder whether or not your ex is required to return the engagement ring. Or, if there are engagement ring laws that will allow you to get that shiny band back.

Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer. It depends on how courts in your jurisdiction view the issue.

More than 1 in 4 borrowers are likely delinquent in repaying their student loan debts -- much higher than the 14.6% delinquency rate suggested by previous calculations, according to a new federal report.

The 14.6% delinquency rate comes from comparing the total number of people with student loans (about 37 million) to the number of people with at least one past-due student loan account (about 5.4 million), the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said in its report.

But that undercounts the actual rate of student loan delinquencies, reports the Los Angeles Times.

It Might Be Time to Revise Your Will

As time goes on, life situations change. You may divorce, get remarried, or have children. If you already had a will before these changes occurred, it's probably a good idea to revise your will. One method of revising a will is to simply revoke the old will and draft up a new one.

Another way to revise a will is to create what's called a "codicil." This is essentially an amendment to your will.

Is Your Debt Collector Breaking the Law?

Debt collectors are not our favorite people in the world. Times are tough, people get laid off, and bills go unpaid. It's a difficult situation, especially when you experience illegal debt collection practices. But there are debt collection laws that protect consumers.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), for instance, was enacted to help safeguard consumers against certain unfair and abusive practices.

However, the law only applies to debt collectors, not creditors. Debt collectors are individuals or companies who collect debt on behalf of others. Creditors are often covered by state law. So, what are some actions that might qualify as an illegal debt collection practice?

Recent outbreaks of deadly, destructive tornadoes raise questions about insurance coverage: How does tornado insurance work, and why do homeowners often get stuck paying most of their tornado repair bills?

Most homeowner, business, and auto insurance policies include tornadoes as part of standard coverage for wind damage and severe weather, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In general, homeowner's and renter's insurance covers property damage from tornadoes.

The type of insurance policy, and the amount of insurance purchased, affect how much an insurance company will pay for tornado damage. But even with tornado insurance, tornado victims will likely have to dig deep into their own pockets to rebuild.

Must a Landlord Provide Heat?

It's pretty cold outside, which means it's time to turn on the heat.

But alas, it doesn't work. You've asked your landlord to fix it, but he hasn't. What do you do? Must landlords provide heat?

They don't have to pay for it, but they must usually provide a way for you to heat the unit. Tenants are generally entitled to heat under the implied warranty of habitability -- an unwritten promise that requires residential landlords to maintain the premises.

And when the warranty doesn't apply, local law probably does.

Qualifying Relative as Tax Dependent?

It’s nearly tax season. That means you should be in the midst of pulling all your documents together. One thing you may be wondering about is what the rules are with regards to qualifying relatives as tax dependents.

Most Americans are familiar with general tax rules. One regulation allows for parents to claim their children as dependents on their tax return. This gives them an exemption. And it lightens their tax bill.

So do you have a relative living at home? It may mean you could claim them as your dependent. But in order to be a qualifying relative, they must meet four tests:

Sometimes a marriage just doesn't work out, or you need some time apart from your partner. So when is it a good idea to pursue a legal separation instead of a divorce?

In a legal separation, you and your spouse are still married, but living apart. Some states require this before you can file for divorce; other states allow for a separation but don't require it, while a few states don't recognize legal separations at all, according to a financial planner's column for Forbes.

If your state recognizes legal separations, there are a few scenarios in which you may want to stop at a separation and not pursue a divorce. Here are three reasons mentioned in the Forbes article: