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

September 2015 Archives

Banned Books Week: Wild Works That Shaped Our Rights and Minds

Literature provokes and exposes readers to new ideas. But some books make us uncomfortable for that very reason. So, each year, American libraries and literary institutions celebrate Banned Books Week to remind us that freedom of expression is a constitutional right, guaranteed by the First Amendment.

"Art certainly cannot advance under compulsion to traditional forms, and nothing ... is more stifling to progress than limitation of the right to experiment with a new technique," wrote Judge Augustus Hand in his opinion in United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses, a 1934 case that shaped censorship in the USA.

The Facebook privacy notice is a hoax. Just like it was in 2012, just like it was in 2014, copying and pasting a nonsensical disclaimer into your status is absolutely meaningless. So please, for the sake of all your "friends," please stop doing this.

Unfortunately, Facebook users can't dictate privacy controls to the company, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to control what personal information Facebook has access to.

Can I Sue for Mortgage Fraud?

Mortgage fraud victims can sue. But be warned, these are complex cases. In the context of real estate fraud, it is imperative to speak to a real estate attorney who is comfortable with complicated financial transactions.

Mortgage fraud often involves sophisticated con artists -- people who necessarily know more about obtaining property than you. If you have been the victim of such schemes, you are not alone ... and you should not go it alone.

Gay marriage "outlaw" Kim Davis got a supporting nod of sorts from the Pope last weekend. When asked about a government official's duties to their office and their personal conscience, the pontiff responded: "I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."

While the Pope didn't reference Davis or her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses specifically, many have interpreted his words as support for the Kentucky clerk's defiance of the Supreme Court. So how do we balance Davis's human right to object to the law with the legal rights of same-sex couples and with her duties to execute the duties of her office?

It was around the time people operating on the Internet black market Silk Road started getting arrested that the Tor network landed on the casual observer's radar. It sounded great -- an anonymous way to surf the Internet. But it was already tied up with criminal behavior.

This left many people wondering if using Tor is even legal. And while it may not get you into trouble, it may also not be as good at keeping you out of it as previously believed.

10 Times You Should Revise Your Last Will and Testament

Many people have difficulty managing money in life and don't give much thought to what will happen to their assets when dead. But obviously, you don't want to wait until it's too late to make a will.

A last will and testament is simply an expression of your final wishes, legally preserved to protect your beneficiaries. After you make a will, you will still need to update it whenever circumstances in your life change. Here are ten situations that likely require will revision, plus some basic estate law vocabulary to get you thinking long-term:

If he wasn't famous before this week, Turing CEO Martin Shkreli is certainly infamous now. Shkreli caught the wrath of the Internet and AIDS and cancer patients when his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, jacked up the price for a life-saving medication about 5,000 percent.

While reports now suggest Shkreli has reversed course and will lower the price of Daraprim, the price hike left many wondering whether there are regulations in place to ensure the affordability of essential medication. Sadly, many drug price controls don't exist yet.

5 Legal Tips for Hiring a Home Contractor

Your home is your castle. When your castle starts to crumble, it's time to call in a contractor. Before you begin fixating on bathroom fixtures, prepare yourself.

Hiring a contractor means entering a binding agreement that impacts a major investment: your home. So take a look at these five legal tips for getting the job done right.

The struggle for LGBT equality continues, and while there has been some progress in certain areas, like employment, other areas, like housing, have been more resistant to change. As it stands, the federal Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity protections. But that doesn't mean landlords are free to discriminate against LGBT tenants.

What it does mean is that asserting your rights as an LGBT tenant may be more difficult. Here's a look at the legal protections in place, as well as legal resources for discrimination claims.

LGBT Worker Protections Missing in Mississippi and Most States

Workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation is common in Mississippi, according to a report released by the Williams Institute of UCLA Law School. More than a third of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers in that state report being harassed at work, while a quarter say they have experienced discrimination.

Mistreatment takes many forms -- from name calling to wrongful termination -- and for the more than 40,000 LGBT workers in Mississippi, it can make work a nightmare. The state has no protections in place for these workers, which is more common than not. Less than half of American states have employment non-discrimination laws covering both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Child custody issues are usually resolved as part of divorce proceedings. But what happens before the divorce is finalized? How do you sort out child custody if you and your spouse are separated?

Fortunately, most child custody decisions are made on a single legal principle. Unfortunately, divorcing parents still tend to fight bitterly over custody. Here are your child custody rights before a divorce and some ideas for making child custody decisions during a separation.

September 22 is National Voter Registration Day, an effort to make sure everyone who would like to vote gets properly registered. At the same time, a theme of not-so-properly registered voters taking part in elections has emerged over the past ten years.

Many states have been enacting strict voter ID laws to combat voter fraud. But is voter fraud really that big of a problem? And do these laws actually do anything to curtail voter fraud?

How Can I Prove Employer Retaliation?

Employers shouldn't retaliate against their workers. It's bad for business. In many contexts, it's also illegal. For example, employers cannot retaliate when workers complain about protected activity.

Proving that you were penalized for making a complaint (or for whistleblowing) can be difficult because you must show a connection between your actions and your boss's reaction. You must have actual evidence that the employer retaliated as a consequence of you speaking out.

3 Legal Tips for Hiring a Nanny

Of all the jobs that you can hire for, the job of nanny tops the list in terms of importance. You don't want to leave the care of your children up to someone incompetent or potentially negligent.

There are the obvious hiring factors such as experience and personality to consider when hiring a nanny or babysitter, but there are some legal considerations you'll want to take into account as well. Here are three of them:

Borrowed Till You're Blue? Student Debt and Marriage

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest, according to Benjamin Franklin. But many students in the US must borrow so much for education that they will be paying interest on knowledge long after school is over, sometimes decades later.

If you are one of those people -- or considering marriage to someone with student debt -- here is what you need to know about how you and your partner's education loans will impact you financially. While you will not be responsible for a spouse's student loans per se, the amount of debt you and your true love carry, and how you handle it, will certainly influence your economic lives together.

Lucky Dog: Checklist for Adopting a Shelter Pet

Adopting a dog is an amazing and occasionally challenging experience. It requires time, effort, some money, a lot of love. But soon enough you will have a new best bud.

Still, it is daunting to be responsible for another creature, so consider carefully before committing. Abandoned animals especially need consistency and care, and you can't return a pet to a shelter like you do a sweater to the store.

With everyone from Ashley Madison, to Target, to the federal government getting hacked these days, it's no wonder people are feeling wary about where and with whom they share their personal information. And it doesn't get more personal than your Social Security number.

Those nine digits are the key to your taxes, your credit ... essentially your entire identity. So if a job application asks you for your Social Security number, should you include it?

Cottage Food Laws: Do I Need a Permit to Sell Food Locally?

You are a whiz in the kitchen and now you want to take what you make and sell it off your porch, at a farmer's market, or on the street. What will you need to do this legally?

The short answer is that you will probably need a permit. The more precise and much longer answer will depend on what, where, and to whom you are selling. Cottage food laws and regulations vary from state to state while permitting is contingent on the context of the sale.

September 17 is Citizenship Day and Constitution Day, when Americans celebrate their founding document and those who have become U.S. citizens. Signed on this day in 1787, the Constitution lays out the founding principles of the nation and the parameters for citizenship.

So how does one become an American? Some ways are automatic, while others are not so simple. Here are the four paths citizenship:

Trending Traffic Ticket Questions From FindLaw Answers

You've got questions ... we've got answers. If you have not yet asked or answered a question in FindLaw's Answers community, what are you waiting for? This amazing free resource supports a dynamic community of legal consumers and attorneys helping each other out. Simple as that.

We see a lot of great questions in our Answers community every day. Here's a look at some recent questions relating to traffic tickets from our FindLaw Answers boards:

Speaking Up for Special Needs: Autism Discrimination in Public Schools

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that impacts one in 68 children born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Kids who suffer from ASD have difficulties with emotional expression, communication, and appropriate behavior, making them difficult to manage.

But autistic children are entitled to attend public school and receive an appropriate education, and there are legal protections in place to ensure this. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees free education to children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible, so schools must accommodate an autistic child in order to receive federal funding.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem, and many instances of sexual harassment go unpunished and even unreported. At the same time, not every claim of sexual harassment is legitimate.

So if you've been falsely accused of sexual harassment at your job, what do you do? In short, you should treat it like a criminal investigation: be quiet, hire counsel, and let the process play out and vindicate you. That may not be as easy as it sounds, so read on for a more answers to commonly asked questions regarding false sexual harassment claims.

How Landlord Insurance Protects Rental Properties

A landlord's place is not in the home, which is why you need a special insurance policy when renting your place out to tenants. Your home is insured but you will still need coverage for the unique situations that arise in the context of rentals, and ignoring this need is a major risk.

Homeowners' insurance policies assume owners live in the home. If the owner doesn't live in the home, then claim coverage can be easily denied. Additionally, your landlord insurance will cover contingencies that do not apply to standard ownership situations, like loss of rent.

Try as we might, even the most attentive students can miss an important point during a class or lecture. Or you might be a parent worried about what a teacher is saying or doing in your child's classroom. Now that digital recorders are fairly small and inexpensive, and every cell phone has a sound recording option, it would seem this problem is easily fixed by just recording the teacher or professor, and then replaying it later.

As it turns out, however, many states have laws prohibiting recording someone without their consent. Does this extend to teachers and classrooms?

Handling Landlord Retaliation the Right Way

Home is where the headache is when your landlord has no heart. Although it may be easier to just move on if an owner responds to reasonable requests with threats and retaliation, you do have rights as a tenant, and you cannot be punished or evicted for exercising them.

The reason states have retaliation statutes, however, is because some owners do try to push out renters who insist on their rights. Here is a quick primer on protecting yourself in a difficult rental situation.

Last year, the Obama administration highlighted the disparate rates at which white students and students of color were disciplined, and called on schools to reduce the racial disparity in school discipline. But some teachers and administrators were unhappy that schools themselves could face discipline if they failed to close the racial disciplinary gap.

So should schools take race into account when they discipline students? Could the disparity in discipline show that they already are? And what could happen to schools if they don't?

We Do: 4 Important Newlywed To-Dos

Tying the knot does not have to feel like assuming a noose, but it does mean more responsibility. So if you and your boo just said I do, it is time to think in terms of we, not I.

Marriage is a legal partnership and there are many administrative issues to address so that conjugal bliss is not threatened by a bureaucratic mess. Planning for problems in advance doesn't sound romantic but it can save your marriage later.

Pope Francis recently announced the most radical reform to the Catholic Church's annulment procedures in centuries. Instead of taking years for the church to recognize a severed marriage, it can now take a month or two.

So does this mean it's easier for Catholics to get divorced? Not quite. Here's how the Pope's new plan and the legal status of divorce will work:

Try as we might, no person is perfect. And some of those non-perfect people are our family members. This leaves us non-criminal family members with some tough choices to make. Does a daughter need drug therapy? Should you call the cops on your cousin? Is it time to consult with a lawyer?

Here are just a few of the legal considerations you should keep in mind if you've got a family member who is in involved in criminal activity.

Snare Bnb: Learn Local Rules to Avoid Room-Rental Woes

Airbnb is all the rage for homeowners. If you have some extra space in your house, maybe you're ready to take advantage of the room rental service. Having a room to spare, however, does not make you a hotelier, and you will have to investigate local rental and hospitality industry rules to avoid legal woes.

As room-rental apps rise in popularity, municipalities are increasingly cracking down on individuals turning their homes into businesses. Find out what you need to know about local rental taxation and regulation before your money-making scheme ends up costing you.

Can My Lawyer Lend Me Money?

It may not be illegal or unethical, but it is one of the favors a lawyer probably shouldn't do for a client. Of all the fee agreements and financial arrangements an attorney can have with his or her client, lending money is one of the most problematic.

So even in cases where your lawyer can lend you money, there are serious concerns about whether he or she should lend you money. Here's why:

While most of us will be around the grill for a barbeque or on the couch watching football, the Department of Homeland Security will on high alert this Labor Day weekend. The agency tasked with everything from immigration and border protection, to monitoring cell phone service, will be keeping a watchful eye on the nation's railroads over the next few days.

In addition to asking for increased public vigilance on a busy travel weekend, DHS and the Transportation Security Administration will be stepping up their presence on commuter trains.

Like any other relationship, not every attorney-client pairing is perfect. Even if you were as careful as possible trying to choose the right lawyer, mistakes can be made and things can change.

From personality clashes to professional malpractice, here are a few reasons to ditch your attorney and find a new one:

Why Hire a Disability Lawyer?

Disability insurance may sound easy enough — you’re too sick or injured to work, you file some paperwork, and you get your benefits. But, as anyone who’s been through the disability claims process can tell you, it’s not always that simple.

Or maybe you’re stuck in the middle of the process right now — drowning in disability paperwork, trying to decipher your policy, or you’ve had your benefits claim denied and don’t know where to turn. This is when you’ll need an experienced attorney on your side. Here’s how a disability lawyer can help:

The U.S. Supreme Court granted all same-sex couples the right to marry this June, but not all county clerks were happy with the decision. In particular, Kim Davis, the County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue any marriage licenses in the wake of the ruling, citing her religious beliefs.

Late yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear Davis's appeal, allowing a lower court decision directing her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples to stand. Undeterred, Davis continued her refusal to issue licenses this morning, and now she and her clerks have been summoned to a federal court hearing tomorrow morning. So what happens now?