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

February 2013 Archives

5 Ways to Forfeit Your Security Deposit

The pain of forking over the money for a security deposit when you sign a new lease is only manageable because you assume you'll get it back when you move it. But between moving in and moving out, you might forfeit the deposit without even realizing it.

Money paid for a security deposit isn't really yours anymore and it isn't really the landlord's. It's in this weird limbo meant to cover costs when you move out.

But that money can't be used for just anything. So if you want that money back when your lease is up, here are some important things to avoid.

Common Law Marriage: How to Divorce?

You may know about a common law marriage, but what about a common law divorce?

Just as couples who have an official ceremony may eventually divorce, couples who enter into a common law marriage may also divorce.

But while it may not have taken any special planning to get married, it may take some special planning to end that common law marriage, reports Yahoo!

A Labor Law Primer for Employees

Labor law isn't a neat package of rules and regulations that is easy to reference. Rules protecting employees and employers are scattered in different laws and regulated by different agencies.

That means it can be hard to figure out what kinds of protections are available to employees. In many situations, it won't be your employer telling you.

When it comes to enforcing rights, it's good to know what you're entitled to. Don't waste time playing detective; we've covered most of the basics.

Harassment During Eviction: How to Avoid It

Getting an unruly tenant to leave is complicated, but be careful how you do it. Your actions could be considered harassment.

There's a legal process for eviction that landlords are supposed to follow. Trying to get a tenant to leave without following that process can result in a lawsuit.

But how do you know where to draw the line between trying to get rid of a terrible tenant and actually breaking the law? We've put together a list of common things landlords aren't allowed to do during eviction. Check it out below.

Landlords Can't Dictate Where Kids Sleep

Does your landlord have a say in whether you have kids? Or your kids' sleeping arrangements? Or whether kids can live in your apartment?

Happily for families, the answers to all these questions are no. That may not stop some landlords from sticking their noses where they don't belong, but it's nice to know that when push comes to shove, the law is on your side.

But what law exactly is that? And how much does it protect you? Those are good questions and luckily for you, we've got your answers.

Divorce, Taxes and the Fiscal Cliff

The fiscal cliff loomed ahead and then vanished into thin air with the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act on January 1, 2013.

While the ATRA seemed to wipe away many potential tax woes, the Act had some implications for those with impending divorces.

So as one Forbes writer put it, some of the provisions of the Act could put those people in the midst of a divorce over a fiscal cliff of their own.

Got Questions? 5 Ways to Get Legal Help

When people talk about getting legal help, it’s usually for serious issues like a lawsuit or a divorce. But real people need legal help all the time.

How do I write a will? Can I make my neighbor stop blasting music at 3 am? Is my employment contract going to come back and bite me? What about my lease? All of these are important everyday questions and all of them have a legal answer.

Assuming that you didn’t go to law school and don’t have a subscription to expensive legal research services, how do you go about finding these answers? We have some suggestions.

FBI Combats 'Rash' of Employee Sexting

After a "rash of sexting cases," the FBI issued a confidential internal disciplinary report to its employees to deter future misconduct.

The FBI took this unusual action as a way to get its message out to its employees and teach them about what is appropriate and not appropriate use of FBI BlackBerries, reports CNN.

The federal agency wants its employees to know that sexting is not appropriate for the workplace and that work BlackBerries are for official use only.

7 'House Rules' to Look Out for in HOA Agreements

When you want to move into a condo or housing development, you typically have to sign off on an HOA agreement specifying the rules of the development.

With so many other things to worry about when it comes to buying a home, the homeowners association agreement is often an afterthought.

It's usually not until you're comfortably settled in to your new home when you come to realize that your HOA agreement is actually quite restrictive, and may set some "house rules" that you wish you hadn't agreed to.

Here are seven things to look out for in your HOA agreement:

Does Your Will Executor Need to Be Bonded?

Choosing your will executor is a daunting, and somewhat morbid, task. You're essentially picking the person who will distribute your estate after you die. That's why there are many considerations that come into play.

But aside from choosing who your executor will be, there are other issues you may need to address as well -- such as, whether or not your executor needs to be bonded.

Why would your executor need to post a bond? And, is this required under the law?

'No. 1' Deadbeat Dad Pleads Guilty, Owes $1.2M

If there were a contest for the most deadbeat of deadbeat dads, Robert Sand with his $1.2 million in owed child support would be a serious contender. Prosecutors have even called him the government's "most wanted" deadbeat parent.

Sand has owed money for a long time to three children whom he fathered from two previous marriages. On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to pay child support. The child support orders have been "in arrears," meaning overdue, since 2002.

To avoid paying, Sand fled from New York to Florida, and then lived in Thailand for years. But when he came back in November of last year, he was immediately arrested.

TX Teen Sues Parents Over Abortion 'Coercion'

A Texas teen who sued her parents for the right not to have an abortion has been granted an injunction that will last for the term of her pregnancy.

The 16-year-old girl is 10 weeks pregnant. She and her boyfriend want to keep the baby and get married. But the girl's parents allegedly wanted her to terminate the pregnancy. The lawsuit claimed they pressured her to get an abortion.

The parents denied the allegations in the lawsuit but just in case, the court granted a long-term injunction based on the girl's claims.

Do You Need a Living Will?

Did you know that most Americans don't have a living will?

A living will is not the same thing as a "conventional" will, which is a document that lays out your wishes for the disposition of your property. It can contain other "dying wishes" as well.

A living will doesn't necessarily relate to your dying wishes. It relates more to your living wishes. That's why it's called a living will.

Now, why would you need your living wishes spelled out?

In a Disaster Zone? Get a Tax Deduction

For many living on the East Coast and in other recent disaster zones, the past year has been horrendous. But at least there's a tiny light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to your taxes: You may be eligible for the disaster tax deduction.

That's right, there's a tax break disaster victims may be able to claim, as reminds us. It's a little-known tax break, but for those who have weathered the storms, it's a little piece of good news.

5 Rules for Social Media Use During Divorce

You might not want to broadcast everything that is going on in your divorce via social media.

All too often, disgruntled spouses take to sites like Facebook and Twitter to express their frustration with their ex-partners.

But if you hit “post” too hastily, you could be digging an even deeper hole for yourself — and you may have to explain yourself in court. Here are five social media rules to keep in mind as you go through your divorce:

3 Things to Know About Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy. For those who have only heard the word without more, it can mean many things.

Some equate it with poverty. Others think of it as a fresh start. The truth is that many people don't fully know what bankruptcy is all about. Yet more than 1.2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy in 2012, according to the federal court system.

Whether it's affecting you, a friend, or a loved one, here are three things to know about bankruptcy:

Man Slaps Kid on Plane, Gets Fired From Job

Being seated next to a crying child on an airplane can be frustrating, but no one is condoning the man who slapped the kid seated next to him on a Delta Air Lines flight.

Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, of Idaho, was arrested and charged with simple assault after he allegedly used a racial slur when referring to a fussing child and slapped the child across the face. Then Hundley lost his job as an executive at AGC Aerospace and Defense.

The two events aren't coincidence; the company chose to fire Hundley after the news came to light. But Hundley was on a personal trip at the time, so why is he getting in trouble?

Who Should Be Your Will Executor?

One of the toughest parts of estate planning is choosing a will executor. This is the person who will go through your belongings, make difficult decisions and ultimately dispose of your property.

It's a hard decision to make, and may cause some squabbling amongst your loved ones. But it has to be done, and you need to find the right person to take care of your affairs once you're gone.

So when it's time to make that decision, think about the following responsibilities, and the type of personality it takes to get these things done.

Surrogacy Contracts Aren't Always Enforceable

Are you thinking about entering into a surrogacy contract? Do you know if such a contract is legally enforceable in your state?

In a typical surrogacy agreement, a couple or individual enters into a private contract with a fertile woman to carry a baby through pregnancy. After the pregnancy is completed and the baby is delivered, the surrogate will hand the baby over to the couple or individual who's a party to the contract.

If you're entering into a surrogacy agreement, you should be careful. Some states don't enforce them, and many courts are wary of surrogacy contracts because they involve payments and fees in exchange for a baby.

Gay Teen Wins Right to Bring Boyfriend to Prom

A gay teen has won the right to bring his boyfriend to the prom.

Stacy Dawson, an openly gay 17-year-old student in Missouri, wanted to take his high school sweetheart to the prom. It just so happened that the high school sweetheart was another male, reports NBC News.

Officials at Scott County Central High School initially told Dawson that he could not bring his boyfriend to the prom, set for April, and pointed to a written policy. But after Dawson and a civil rights group threatened legal action, the school district has apparently decided to revise that policy.

Sustainable? Organic? Who's Checking Ecolabels?

Making food choices these days practically requires a dictionary. With labels like sustainable, organic, free-range, natural, and fair trade, it's hard to keep track of what they all mean. Even McDonald's is now calling the fish for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches "sustainable," NPR reports.

If you're carting around a dictionary, you probably still won't have much luck deciphering these definitions. Some of these "ecolabels" are regulated by government organizations, while others are defined by private groups.

Where can you learn the legal rules behind these labels? Right here. Check out what's required for five of the most common ecolabels:

Can 'Priests' Ordained Online Officiate Weddings?

Modern families plan modern weddings, and nowadays more couples are opting to have a friend or relative officiate their ceremony after getting "ordained" online. But can an Internet "priest" or "minister" legally officiate your wedding?

Most states have laws about who can perform a marriage ceremony, limiting the officiant to a judge or court clerk, government official, or a minister or clergy member. In the age of online universities, it may not be too surprising that some seek religious credentials online as well.

Is this legally binding? Well, it depends on where you live.

Top 5 Legal Tips for Wedding Contracts

If you're going to be a summer bride, or groom for that matter, you're probably up to your eyeballs in wedding-related contracts. Between the venue, the flowers, the caterer, and everything else, there's a lot of paperwork to sign.

You know what's not romantic? Having an attorney along while you and your sweetie taste cake and look for a spot. There must be a better way to review all that paperwork.

Oh and there is. You don't always need a lawyer to look over the contracts you sign with vendors for your wedding (though that's really not a bad idea). Mostly you just need to know what to look out for.

Here are five legal tips when it comes to your wedding contracts:

Obama's $9 Minimum Wage Idea: 9 Things to Consider

The State of the Union address always gets people talking, and President Obama's call to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour certainly did the trick.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. It's been that way since 2009. That rate applies to federal employees and to anyone protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act. But many states and some cities also set their own minimum-wage levels that are higher than the federal baseline.

As business, economic, and legal experts debate the pros and cons of a $9-an-hour federal minimum wage, here are nine issues you'll want to keep in mind:

7 Common Prenup Mistakes You'll Want to Avoid

If you're planning to get married, you'll want to avoid making some common prenup mistakes. What do we mean by that?

Here's an example: Girl meets boy. The two fall in love. Boy proposes to girl. Girl says yes. Boy puts together a prenup with stipulations regarding finances, children, and even sex. Boy and girl sign the prenup, and get married.

Now the prenuptial agreement is in full effect. Or is it? Not everything in the agreement in the example above is necessarily enforceable. Here are seven prenup mistakes that couples commonly make:

Getting a Divorce? 3 Ways to Get Help

Divorce happens to a lot of people, some of whom have no idea where to go for help. Actually, there are many resources available, and some of them are free.

No matter how "mutual" the divorce decision is, ending a marriage is always difficult, both legally and emotionally. There are many questions to ask such as, "How should we divide our property?," "Which friends will stick with me?" and everything in between.

So where can you get the help you need for your divorce? Here are three options you may want to consider:

Office Valentine's Tips: How Not to Get Fired

It can be hard to find romance in today's busy world, and sometimes your office has the most available dating pool. Plus, it's almost Valentine's Day; everyone's looking for love.

But while the workplace is a convenient spot to look for a date, it may not be your best option. Many employers discourage interoffice relationships, and some go so far as to ban co-worker romances as well.

But the heart wants what it wants, and that may be the cutie who sits a few cubicles away from you. So protect your heart, and yourself, by following these interoffice romance tips:

Can Courthouse Shootings Be Prevented?

A Delaware court shooting has left three people dead, including the alleged shooter, now identified as Thomas Matusiewicz.

Matusiewicz reportedly walked into a courthouse lobby about 8 a.m. Monday and fatally shot two women. Two police officers were wounded and Matusiewicz was killed, though it's not yet clear how he died, The Huffington Post reports. (Thomas Matusiewicz is the father of David Matusiewicz, who was at the courthouse for a hearing this morning. David infamously kidnapped his children in 2007, in violation of a joint custody order.)

The shooting in Wilmington, Delaware, was the latest in a series of recent court shootings that have left lawyers and laypeople wondering whether such tragedies can be prevented, particularly in our halls of justice.

Top 5 Tips to Keep 'Flirtexting' Legal

This Valentine's Day, you may try to flirtext your way into a relationship. But whatever you do, just keep it legal!

Wait -- flirtexting?

This new form of "flirting" is all the rage. In case you can't tell, flirtexting is the combination of flirting and texting. It's flirting by text message or social media, typically through the use of a handheld communications device.

When Can You Modify Child Support?

Sometimes, circumstances may force you to modify your child support order. Your income may have dropped substantially, or something unexpected may have cropped up in your child’s expenses.

Depending on the situation, you may want to decrease or increase the amount of child support you pay.

When can you modify your child support?

3 Tricks Identity Thieves Use During Tax Season

This tax season, be extra-careful with your personal information, because criminals could be targeting you for identity theft.

And not just your garden-variety identity theft either. With millions of tax returns being transmitted by mail and via the Internet, tax identity theft can also cause problems, as Forbes recently reminded us.

How does tax identity theft work? And what tricks are identity thieves using to get your tax information and other personal data?

Can Schools Copyright Students' Creative Works?

It's possible that schools in Prince George's County, Maryland will soon own copyrights to all student works created at school. Same could go for teachers' works too.

That means everything from a first grader's butterfly to a high school senior's term paper could be deemed the school's intellectual property. Not to mention teacher lesson plans and curricula.

You'd be correct in thinking this move is unusual. If the proposal is adopted by the county board of education, it would be the first in the area to have this policy. The big question on many people's minds at this point: Is it legal?

Legal for Teenager to Move In With Boyfriend?

Teenagers are just dying to take advantage of their independence, and for some teens that means moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The problem for that oh-so-ready-to-be-grown-up teen is that mom and dad generally aren’t so keen on the idea of an underage shack-up. What’s an independent-minded teen to do?

Or perhaps more importantly, what can parents do to prevent this scenario?

5 States With 'Facebook After Death'-Type Laws

What happens to your Facebook and other social media accounts after your death? State lawmakers are pondering that question as they consider new laws about a deceased person's "digital estate."

Most recently, a New Hampshire lawmaker proposed a bill that would allow the executor of an estate to access and shut down Facebook accounts. According to Facebook's terms of service, the company will not divulge login information, even to a deceased user's relatives, ABC News reports.

If passed, New Hampshire would join five other states that have already passed laws addressing one's online accounts after death (not all of them address social media sites like Facebook, however). Those states are:

Need Help Getting a Contract Reviewed?

Even your friends who went to law school would have trouble reading half the contracts you have to sign in your daily life. That's why it's no surprise that many people look for help in getting a contract reviewed.

Almost everything nowadays involves a contract. For starters, there's your car lease, home mortgage, and even your iTunes account. Think back: How much of the fine print did you actually read in any of these legal agreements?

Free online resources like FindLaw's Contract Law section can help you learn more about the law. But you'll probably still have a lot of questions.

For Airbnb Rental, NYC Tenant Fined $30K

Listing your home for rent on Airbnb sounds like a great way to make extra cash -- until you get slapped with an enormous fine for breaking the law.

Nigel Warren wanted to take advantage of Airbnb's easy rental system when he went out of town last September. So he listed his New York City apartment on the website and made $300 on a three-night rental.

Then he came home to a $30,000 fine from the city for violating state laws. Even worse for Airbnb users, it looks like New York isn't the only place with these types of restrictions.

10 Ways the FMLA Can Work for You

The Family Medical Leave Act, more commonly known as the FMLA, was signed into law 20 years ago today. Can the law's provisions work for you?

President Bill Clinton signed the FMLA into law on February 5, 1993. It officially went into effect in August of that year, and many Americans who need time off from work have reaped the benefits ever since.

As the FMLA marks its 20th anniversary, here are 10 ways the FMLA can potentially pay off for employees:

If Unemployed, Do You Still Have to File Taxes?

It’s hard enough being unemployed, but the thought of having to file taxes when you have no income seems downright cruel.

But sadly, being unemployed isn’t necessarily a free pass to avoid filing your taxes. Don’t act too surprised. There are reasons the IRS isn’t a very popular government agency.

Even if you didn’t have a job in last year, it’s a good idea to file taxes despite the emotional sting. You could take advantage of some tax benefits for people who are unemployed. And depending on your circumstances, you may actually owe some tax money.

Can You Refuse to Pay a Mandatory Tip?

You may have heard about this in the news: A pastor in Missouri refused to pay a restaurant's "mandatory tip for large groups. He wrote on the receipt, "I give God 10% -- why do you get 18?"

The unidentified pastor scribbled out the automatic gratuity, replaced it with a big "0," and signed it "Pastor," reports Gawker.

While the pastor may have went a little overboard expressing his righteous indignation for auto-gratuities, at some point you've probably felt the same. But can you really unilaterally decide not to pay a "mandatory" tip?

3 Ways to Protect Yourself on Public WiFi

Seeing that tiny sign for "Free WiFi" at a bookstore or coffeeshop is always a little thrilling, especially if you need to get some work done online. But you may be paying the price when it comes to your Internet security.

As great as unsecured web access is, it can be a real problem if you want to keep your computer and its information safe. Unsecured access means anyone can be on the network. And it also means anyone can be snooping into what you're doing online.

If that makes you uneasy, you may just want to stop using unsecured public WiFi altogether. Alternatively, there are some steps you can take to to keep your information more secure. For example:

OK to Break Your Lease If Landlord Wants to Sell?

As the real estate market creeps back to life, many tenants may be wondering if they can break their lease if their landlord puts the rental property up for sale.

After all, once the property is sold, a tenant could be faced with a lot of uncertainties -- such as dealing with a new landlord who may have very different ideas about what he or she wants to do with the property.

While you may just want to pack up and look for a new place to live, your ability to break your lease in this situation is limited by the lease you signed, and by your state's landlord-tenant laws.

Is an Uncontested Divorce Your Best Option?

Ending a marriage doesn't necessarily mean you need to fight with a spouse. Some couples may choose to divorce amicably. Perhaps their relationship simply doesn't work. Maybe both partners have fallen out of love. That is when couples may choose to file for an uncontested divorce.

Divorce laws vary depending on what state you're in. But typically, uncontested divorce refers to a case in which both parties agree to the split.

You'll then have to put your agreement into writing.

How a History Month Becomes a Law

February is Black History Month, officially recognized by presidents and by acts of Congress. But how does a history month become a law?

More than half of the months of the year are designated by law as history or heritage months. They're meant to recognize the contributions of various ethnic and minority groups, many of which faced discrimination at some point in our country's history.

So how does a particular group of Americans end up with a month officially set aside to celebrate their historic accomplishments? It all starts with an idea.