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

December 2016 Archives

Starting January 1, 2017, Alabama will no longer recognize new common law marriages. For couples that get common law married before the end of the year though, the state will still continue to recognize those marriages as valid. And, most importantly for those couples that common law marry before the end of 2016, they will likely be able to utilize the courts for a divorce if they ever decide to part way.

Now before cohabitating couples start to panic, don’t; it takes quite a bit more than simply cohabitating to become common law married. Despite the common belief that after a certain number of years a cohabitating couple is automatically married, this belief is false. It is important to note that only eight states, and also Washington, D.C., still recognize new common law marriages. Alabama will become one of six states that only recognize common law marriages if they were entered into before a certain date.

Warning: the video embedded below may pull at your proverbial heartstrings. When 11-year-old Landon Ryan Rice opened one of his Christmas gifts this year, despite his superhero pajamas, and despite the gift being a framed certificate, he couldn’t stop the tears of joy. The gift was a framed certificate stating that Landon would be adopted by his stepfather.

When Landon was an infant, his mother met (and later married) Landon’s stepfather, who always regarded Landon as his own. Now, come this February 2017, he will become Landon’s full adopted father. The couple has two other younger children, and Landon always felt something about not sharing the family’s last name. But along with the adoption, his last name will be changed too. His mother was expecting Landon to be happy about being officially adopted, but the gift moved the child much more than she expected.

Being a surrogate mother is an amazing and selfless act. Even for surrogates that receive compensation, the act is still one of extreme generosity. However, the law surrounding surrogacy is still not fully developed as science routinely advances faster than the law.

Below, you’ll find seven of the top legal questions surrogate mothers ask.

Whether your aunt doesn't know what size sweater you wear or has no idea that you wouldn't be caught dead in that sweater, your holiday gifts this year might not have been perfect. But a lack of perfection shouldn't be a problem -- you can always return or exchange the gift, right?

Not so fast, my unfulfilled friends. Absent a clear warranty or exchange policy, returning gifts to a store may not be as easy as you think. Here's what you need to know (and do) if a store won't take back a gift.

As helpful a resource as the internet can be, it can also be a forum for online abuse. And perhaps nowhere on the internet is that abuse more prevalent than Twitter -- a social media app that, at best, allows one voice to project to millions of interested followers, and at worst allows minions and trolls to attack users.

Kurt Eichenwald, journalist and writer for Newsweek and Vanity Fair, was the victim of one such heinous attack -- a tweet embedded with "a multicolored strobe that was going at a speed that was designed to cause a seizure." The tweet had its intended effect: Eichenwald, who has written extensively about his epilepsy, suffered a serious seizure and was bedridden for 24 hours afterwards. Now Twitter has agreed to track down the troll who sent the tweet.

Prenuptial agreements can cover a lot of ground, most of which is concerned with the assignment of rights to financial assets and physical property. But what about your intellectual property? Does your ex have rights to the good ideas you came up with before or during the marriage? Or can you set aside those ideas as yours and yours alone in the case of a divorce?

You can easily protect your intellectual property with copyrights, patent, and trademarks -- can you also protect it with a prenup?

Can I Legally Live in a Garage?

A garage is a wonderful addition to any home. Even for people who don't drive or have cars, a garage can provide useful space for storage, creative pursuits, or even a home gym. In dense, urban environments, garages are often converted into separate apartment units, commonly referred to as "in-law" units. However, the many uses for garages can be limited by state and local laws, as well as home owners' association bylaws.

Recently, a family in a Michigan neighborhood sparked some local controversy after turning their garage into an indoor/outdoor living room. In some cities, it may be illegal or a violation of building codes to use or to rent out a garage space as a living space if it does not meet code. In these situations, a renter can be evicted if they are living in an illegal in-law unit, even in places with very strong protections for renters, like San Francisco.

When you've got a bundle of joy on the way, the last thing on a long list of concerns and worries is how your life will change legally. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea to ignore the legal ramifications of motherhood.

So in case these weren't on your mind already, here are the seven biggest legal issues faced by pregnant women and new mothers:

In our nation's capital, private sector employees, particularly those in low-paid hourly jobs, should be rejoicing as D.C.'s Council voted to approve the nation's most generous paid-family-leave law. Under the new law, private sector employees, both full and part time, will now be entitled to eight weeks of paid time off after the birth of a child, as well as six weeks to care for a sick family member, and two weeks of sick leave for the worker. The new law does not apply to federal or district government employees.

The paid family leave provides for employees to receive up to $1,000 per week from the city, which is provided for by a payroll tax that employers will be required to pay. It is unclear, however, whether these benefits will supplement, replace, or just be in addition to those provided by private employers. Unfortunately, the new program is not expected to roll out until 2019, and much work still needs to be done to finalize the program.

A New York City developer and landlord is being sued for allegedly tricking an elderly woman into signing an agreement to vacate her rent controlled apartment in the coveted Upper West Side neighborhood. The former resident's lawsuit claims that when she signed the agreement to vacate, she believed that all she was signing was a receipt to prove that she received documents about renovations that were planned for the building. Unfortunately, the documents stated that she would move out while renovations were being done.

Surprisingly, after she signed the documents, the landlord cut off heat to her unit, which ended up causing her medical problems. Additionally, while the documents she did sign stated the renovations would only last nine months, it has now been over a year, and it does not look likely that she will be able to move back home before the holidays. From the current reports, it is unclear whether the resident has been permanently or just temporarily ousted from her home.

In 2012, current President Barack Obama issued an executive order regarding the U.S.'s immigration policy, granting renewable, two-year deportation deferments for certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children. In 2016, President-elect Donald Trump promised to overturn Obama's executive orders, including those on immigration policy.

Now, some immigrants' rights groups are warning those protected under the order to avoid international travel following Trump's inauguration, fearing that they could be barred from re-entering the U.S.

In the state of Kentucky, a mentally incompetent person cannot access the legal system except through their legal guardian. For 88-year-old Elmer Riehle, that means that in order to get a divorce, his wife, who is also his legal guardian, would have to file the divorce paperwork on his behalf. Talk about awkward. His wife does not want a divorce and wants to be able to protect Riehle from himself and from squandering the family's finances.

Riehle challenged the 1943 precedent set by the state's highest court that had basically stopped any mentally incompetent individuals from getting divorced since then. However, the state's Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of his wife, and denied his divorce filing.

The impermanence of seasons can often remind us of the impermanence of relationships. Whether it's the heightened stress of the holidays straining a marriage or the optimism of a new year that shows unhappy spouses a way out, online searches for divorce attorneys and in-court filings of divorce papers spike following the holiday season.

Divorce is not something to take lightly, however, and even if you've already decided to get a divorce, there may be good reasons to delay that decision and better ways to prepare for a divorce once it comes time to file.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, filled with plenty of cheer. Gift givers and receivers delight in the surprises that those brightly wrapped and decorated boxes contain. However, there are some gifts that you might want to be extra careful about giving.

Below you'll find a list of 7 types of gifts that might have some unexpected legal consequences.

If parents are separated, but not necessarily going through a divorce, or unmarried, they may still need to make decisions about child custody. Even without all the emotions and vitriol of a divorce, child custody decisions can be fraught with many of the same complications. While there may be some minor differences between a custody dispute during divorce and one between unmarried or separated parents, for the most part, the process is the same and the court will be looking at the same factors.

For unmarried parents, or legally separated spouses, seeking to share custody, usually, an out of court agreement will be the most efficient and cost effective method of accomplishing their goals. However, if one of the parents is only interested in having sole custody, that's when things can get messy and the courts will likely need to be involved. Additionally, for unmarried parents, paternity may need to be established before any legal rights to custody can be enforced.

If you've been the victim of harassment or domestic violence, or you reasonably fear that a divorce will lead to such behavior from your spouse, you may be considered filing for a restraining order. And while a restraining order or order of protection may not always be a perfect deterrent to stalking or abuse, they can provide you with some legal recourse if your soon-to-be-ex violates the order.

There are different types of restraining orders, and different conditions they may come with, as well as different criteria for filing and enforcement, all depending on your specific circumstances and even where you live. Here's a look at getting a restraining order in the context of a divorce.

Getting older is a good thing, but as people advance in age, the holidays (and life in general) can become more complicated. Whether the family is coming to celebrate with you, or you're traveling to visit family, getting ready and being prepared for the holidays is never easy.

The following legal tips are geared toward making sure you have a safe, crime-free, scam-free, and maybe even productive, holiday season.

As you and your spouse worked for most of your lives, contributions to Social Security were automatically deducted from your paychecks. But the benefits that you're due to receive now that you're done working aren't quite so automatic.

You may have some choices to make when it comes to receiving Social Security benefits as a married couple, and certain decisions could be the difference between maximizing those benefits and leaving money on the table.

'Tis The Season for Estate Planning

Unless your family regularly has a cataclysmic breakdown over the holidays, it is the perfect time of year to discuss estate planning. Many families are geographically spread out, so when everyone is together in one place for the holidays, having a group meeting to discuss the family's estate plan, and other important matters, just makes sense.

There are two main issues that parents (or their children) need to address: advanced directives and the parents' will. Since these issues are not really great dinner topics, it is best to set a time before or after, or even on a different day so long as everyone is still in town. To help coordinate, it is usually a good idea to notify everyone, in advance of them making travel or vacation plans, that the discussion or meeting is going to happen on a particular day and time.

While there are numerous legal protections for pregnant employees, being fired while pregnant isn't always a violation of the pregnancy anti-discrimination laws. However, all too frequently, pregnant employees are fired, demoted, or treated adversely, just because they are pregnant, which usually will be a violation of the law.

Proving that the motivation for the termination or other adverse action was discriminatory is a challenging task. Frequently, employers will provide no reason at all, or provide a pre-textual reason (a legitimate-sounding reason that is just meant to cover up the true, illegal, discriminatory reason). Fortunately, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides a formal complaint process (which is mandatory if you are considering filing a lawsuit).

Whether it's for Christmas, a birthday, or just because, gifting a dog, cat or other animal doesn't always end up like you see on TV. In fact, animal rights groups routinely explain that pets are not good gifts because they are living beings, not toys. Young children may not understand this, and can easily injure young animals like puppies and kittens, by being too rough with them.

Apart from the practical considerations for the gift's recipient, such as the expense and time required to take care of a pet, there are a few legal considerations. Purchasing pets can be risky and confusing, and might just involve more paperwork and legal risks than you expect.

There are myriad concerns with getting divorced: child custody and support issues, marital property divisions, and spousal support decisions. One of the last you might think about is your credit rating. And that's OK! In the grand scheme of things, there are bigger things you should be worried about right now.

But when it comes to getting your life back in order (buying new furniture, a car, or even a house), your credit will be important. So it will also be important to know if, and how, a divorce will affect your credit score.

Hosting a party has its ups and downs. While gathering your friends and family together to celebrate any occasion is bound to be fun, if you're hosting and serving alcohol, you may have to be the "fun police." Social hosts have to walk a fine line between encouraging guests to have fun and making sure everyone stays safe.

Although a party host isn't going to be able to prevent every sort of alcohol related problem, exercising caution may save a host from facing legal liability if something does go wrong. Below, you'll find some tips on how to minimize legal liability when serving alcohol to party guests.

When courts make child custody decisions, they are doing their best to act in the child's best interests. Unfortunately, that doesn't always coincide perfectly with every parent's interest in seeing their child. Maybe you think your ex or someone in their life is a bad influence; maybe it feels like your ex moved too far away; or maybe you simply want more time with your child.

In any case, violating a custody order by taking your child without court permission is a serious legal offense, for which you can spend time in jail and have your visitation and custody rights further curtailed.

When a child turns 18, a parent's legal obligation to financially support their child ends. While a parent's love may be unconditional, parents of minor children are obligated to house, feed, and pay for their children's needs. But when a child turns 18, parents can, in fact, legally evict their child. However, for parents who plan on evicting their adult child, there are some legal pitfalls to be aware of. Evictions are tricky, so it is highly recommended you seek out help from an experienced landlord-tenant attorney.

First off, whether your adult child is considered a tenant, lodger, guest, trespasser, or squatter will depend on your state law, as each state has different rules regarding the landlord-tenant relationship. Their status will determine what your legal rights are when it comes to eviction. Also, kicking your adult child out without warning may open you up to legal liability.

Following a district court ruling saying two Texas immigrant detention facilities were unsuitable for housing children and families, the state released over 400 women and children from custody, essentially dumping them at their attorneys' door in the middle of the night.

Busloads of detainees, most of whom migrated from Central American countries and are seeking asylum, were delivered to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in San Antonio over the weekend, after a judge ruled that the license under which the two facilities operated "runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code and is, therefore, invalid."

Finding a dead body can frequently be a traumatic experience. Even when the body is not a loved one, personally encountering death can have wide range of effects on individuals.

The most important thing to do is to remain calm. Then, if you are able, confirm death without disturbing the scene or body, and contact the authorities (9-1-1). Feeling for a pulse, or breathing, will generally be okay. If the deceased has clearly been so for some time, there is no need to confirm a pulse or breathing. Additionally, you can call 9-1-1 before doing anything, and allow the operator to walk you through what to do.

Whether you fell in love at first sight or had a long, drawn out romance, when you're ready for a relationship to be over you normally don't want to have to wait around to make it happen. Unfortunately, when it comes to ending a marriage, a divorce can't exactly happen overnight.

That said, there are some ways you can make sure the legal process doesn't take longer than absolutely necessary. Here are some ways you could speed up your divorce.

During the wintertime, landlord's are frequently called upon to fix problems that are either the result of, or made worse by, cold weather conditions. Additionally, during the winter months, a landlord faces increased liability for injuries in places that experience snow and ice. Landlords can also be liable for injuries that result from poor maintenance of the property.

Apart from ensuring that sidewalks, common areas, and entryways are free from snow and ice, landlords also have to ensure that their tenants have adequate heat and protection from the elements. The following three tips can help landlords save time, money, and headache during the winter.

Even if you're sure you want a divorce, you may be putting it off because you're worried about the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer. Or, you may try navigating the legal problems yourself because you think an attorney will be too expensive. But trying to save money by not hiring a divorce lawyer could end up costing you in the long run.

If you're considering a divorce, or considering representing yourself, here are a few of the most common questions about attorney fee arrangements, and how much it might cost to hire a divorce lawyer.

Losing custody of a child is not something any parent wants to experience. Courts want to do what is best for the children, and, unfortunately, sometimes that means removing a child from a parent’s care. Losing custody can be temporary or permanent depending on the reason. For parents going through a divorce, determining child custody is frequently the most important and contested part of their case.

However, for a court to decide that a child should be removed from a parent’s custody, there must be a very compelling reason. The most common reasons parents lose custody includes abuse, neglect, domestic violence, drugs, and violating court orders.

Getting ready for retirement involves more than just saving money, although saving is a big part of it. Retirement planning requires careful consideration of both the financial and the legal issues that will come up once you decide to stop working.

While seeking out a financial retirement advisor at least a few decades before you plan to retire, you should consider seeking out legal advice early as well. An estate planning, bankruptcy, or tax attorney can help you get ready for the eventual legal or tax issues you may face in retirement. Below, you will find five important reasons to hire an attorney well before you retire.