Congress Considers Tighter Restrictions on Private "Re-Homing" of Children

rtr183p9.jpgThe longhorn state of Texas outranks every other state in this country for foreign adoptions, followed by California and then New York. The inter-country adoptions that occurred in these states in 2013 were respectively 489, 477 and 360, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, part of the U.S. Department of State.

Where were these children born? The number one choice for expectant American parents wanting a foreign-born baby tends to be China. Last year, couples adopted 2,306 Chinese babies while Ethiopian babies ranked second at 993, followed by Ukrainian babies at 438.

Inter-country adoptions aren't cheap. They can range from $6,250 - the cost of a typical adoption in Kenya - to as high as $27,160 in Albania. Not always included in these estimates are additional expenditures for international travel, hotel and associated costs.

As expensive as those adoptions may seem, foreign adoptions can cost far less than surrogacy. In fact, the most expensive form of adoption these days may be gestational surrogacy, a procedure that involves obtaining sperm and eggs from both biological parents and then implanting the embryo into the uterus of the surrogate using in vitro fertilization. This procedure can cost as much as $100,000 or more, depending on the number of in vitro fertilization procedures needed.

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The Dangers of Sonoma County Debt Settlement Companies

drowning-in-debt4.jpgDo you find yourself laden with debt? Have you been tempted to contact a debt-settlement company that promises to reduce your debt by negotiating with your creditors?

A new report issued by the Center for Responsible Lending indicates that consumers who enroll in a debt settlement program may increase their debt by as much as 20%.

What Is Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement can occur when a company you retain negotiates with your creditors to accept a lump sum that is less than the amount you owe. Unsecured debt, such credit card and medical bills, are usually eligible for settlement. In a typical case, a consumer will contact a debt settlement company, enroll in a program, and pay a fee once the debt is settled.

It sounds great, doesn't it? But problems can and often do ensue.

The inherent problem of the debt settlement process is that these types of companies advise its clients to stop making payments to creditors. Ostensibly, this tactic is used to communicate to the creditors that the consumer is in trouble and to further entice the creditors to accept partial payments. However, when consumers stop paying their bills, their credit score plummets.

In addition, there are times when creditors refused to negotiate the debt owed. In those cases, consumers can become embroiled in continued collection activity and lawsuits.

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Watch Out Santa Rosa: Deceptive Mortgage Practices Are Back!

agent.jpgDo you remember when a federal jury decided that Bank of America was guilty of selling subprime mortgages and ordered the bank to pay $863 million in damages? In that case, the US Justice Department argued that Countrywide, which Bank of America purchased in 2008, committed fraud by selling shoddy home loans over a two-year period to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Bank of America wasn't the only culprit. The US subprime mortgage crisis was the main culprit of the recession back in 2008. However, there were other factors contributing to the recession including the steady decline in home prices after peaking in mid-2006 and the percentage of households that became increasingly indebted. Inventive loan packages, such as easy initial terms and interest-only loans, were also to blame for the economic crash.

Industry experts agree that the banking and mortgage industries were mainly to blame. As a result, big banks became unpopular, and many private mortgage companies went out of business.

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FTC Rebukes Harsh and Deceptive Debt Collection Practices

debt-collector.jpgAre one or more debt collectors hounding you? Have you been tempted to authorize payment of your debt over the phone?

In a recent case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) determined that a Houston debt collection company - RTB Enterprises, Inc., which does business as Allied Data Corporation, and Raymond T. Blair - wrongly bullied English- and Spanish-speaking consumers and charged them transaction fees.

In addition, the FTC said the bill collectors were deceptive in their methods and claimed to be speaking on behalf of attorneys. Finally, the company threatened to sue consumers and coerced unsuspecting individuals to make payments toward their debts or reveal their personal information.

The FTC sued the debt collection company to rescind their contracts, provide restitution to consumers, and to stop the company from proceeding with its tactics.

The Case Against Houston-Based Allied Data Corporation

Allied Data Corporation had been engaged in third-party debt collection since 1993. Its clients included marketing companies, retail stores, retail websites and hospitals. Annually, Allied collected on one million accounts.

The FTC noted in its complaint that the company used more abusive debt collection tactics against Spanish-speaking consumers than those whose primary language was English. For example, the company's collectors claimed to be attorneys when they attempted to seek payment from Spanish-speaking consumers.

The collectors also warned that the case, if not closed, would head next to Allied's litigation or pre-litigation departments, even though those departments didn't exist within the company.

Oftentimes, Allied's employees would tell consumers that legal proceedings had already begun against the targeted consumers. They went so far as to convey file numbers to further intimidate individuals.

Perhaps worst of all, Allied's employees would tell consumers that they needed to pay the debt right away to avoid up to thousands of dollars of court fees. Allied made these threats even though it had no intention of suing the consumers they targeted. In fact, the lawsuit noted that Allied had no authority to sue consumers without seeking approval from their creditor clients.

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Gay Marriage Bans Overturned in Utah and Indiana

600x4179.jpgNot only has the tide changed on the issue of same-sex marriage, last year's US Supreme Court's pair of decisions has caused a tsunami to sweep across the shores and Midlands of this country.

Just last week, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry. If there is an appeal, the issue will head to the Supreme Court where justices will be forced to tackle the issue head-on.

The 10th Circuit Appeals Court that made the decision about Utah's ban on gay marriage also governs Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and New Mexico, where it is already legal for gay couples to marry.

Last Wednesday, the justices found little justification under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution to bar same-sex couples from marrying. In fact, the justices found the opposition's arguments based on procreation and parenting skills lacking in merit.

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ACLU Scores Another Win for Same-Sex Marriage - Kidnapped Daughter Returns to Mother

Child-Abductions.jpgWisconsin's motto is "Forward" and same-sex couples took that motto to heart two weeks ago after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban, which voters had endorsed eight years ago. Gay couples quickly moved forward to secure their marriage licenses, much to the Attorney General's dismay.

ACLU Joins Fight to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Back in February, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Similar to appeals filed in other states, the suit claimed Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The ACLU argued that the prohibition against gay marriage deprived couples of the legal protections that married, heterosexual couples enjoy.

In her 88-page decision, US District Judge Barbara Crabb said, "Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution." With this decision, 15 consecutive lower courts have now ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

You may recall that in Utah last winter, a similar situation arose. Soon after a federal court struck down its ban on gay marriage, 1300 same-sex couples got married over the course of the following 17 days. That particular case is still tied up in appeals.

Wisconsin Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has threatened to file a motion in federal courts to stay the order.

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Child Support Becomes Restitution for Murder - Halle Berry's Custody Battle Ends

Child-Support.jpgIowa seems to be proving that the incarceration of an ex-spouse with a life sentence won't liberate you from making child support payments.

In this case, the ex-spouse making the payments, Michael Roberts, won't exactly be paying for child support. Instead, the court wants to garnish his wages for the child support he owes and then pass the money along to the family of a murder victim for the restitution his ex-wife owes.

Child Support Garnishment Used for Restitution for Murder Victim's Family

Tracey Richter of Iowa is in prison for the 2001 killing of then 20-year-old Dustin Wehde. At the time of her trial, Tracey argued that she shot Dustin in self-defense to protect her children.

That's not with the jurors believed. They sided with the prosecution and agreed that Tracey shot Dustin to frame her first ex-husband, an Australian, and regain custody of her children.

The court has decided that Tracey doesn't need the child support that her ex-husband was ordered to pay. Instead, Michael's income will be garnished to help pay the $150,000 in restitution that Tracy owes Dustin's family.

Tracy has the right to repeal the decision. Meanwhile, Michael maintains that the initial order for child custody payments had always been unaffordable due to his financial vulnerability. He also rejects the notion that he should be responsible for paying for his ex-wife's crimes.

Stay tuned.

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Deportation Sparks Custody Battle

US_border_patrol.jpgSince its inception, the United States has welcomed immigrants from around the world so it's only natural that immigrant-related cases would find their way to a family law court.

Take the case of Ruby Maldonado-Morin, who married American-born Michael Daniels of Omaha. They married, Ruby gave birth to a son, and then the couple ended up in divorce court. Ruby, who enjoyed having primary custody of the child, eventually married a Mexican immigrant by the name of José Morin.

The triangle of parents worked amicably together for a while. Ruby and her second husband went on to enjoy the birth of two more children while Ruby shared custody of Deonte with Michael.

Can Divorced Parents Move Their Children Out of the Country?

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Gay Adoptions - Bans on Gay Marriages Ruled Unconstitutional in More States

Thumbnail image for gay-adoption.jpgA lesbian couple from Virginia has a lot to celebrate these days. Desiree Bryan recently gave birth to twin girls, but not in her home state. Instead, Desiree and her partner Stephanie drove two hours to the District of Columbia were Stephanie gave birth to two healthy girls.

When children are born in the District of Columbia to a gay couple, both parents' names are added to the birth certificate. However, the birth certificate is not considered legal proof of parentage. That is why within a few months, the mothers will return to the District of Columbia were Stephanie will be able to adopt the girls and share full parental rights with her partner, Desiree.

The women couldn't have equal parental rights if the child had been born in Virginia. However, a recent law allows the courts to grant adoptions to out-of-state lesbian couples when the children are born in the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia is one of few jurisdictions where second-parent adoptions can occur even when the parents don't reside there.

In addition, even in states that don't have gay-friendly laws, court rulings are enforced despite the state court that issued them.

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California Refuses Back Child Support to Woman Who Hid Children - Texas Outlaws Proxy Marriages

baby-child-support.jpgYou Can't Hide Your Children and Still Receive Child Support

Can an ex-wife who hid her children from their father collect child support even after the adult children are more than 30 years old?

That is exactly what Vladixa Boswell tried to do.

Boswell divorced her husband in 1985 when her daughter was five years old and her son was three. The court ordered her ex-husband, John, to pay $70 a month per child. He obeyed that order until Vladixa left California, changed the children's names, and failed to notify the ex-husband of their new address.

The ex-wife returned the 16-year-old son, John Jr., to the father when the daughter was already an adult in 1998. It wasn't until recently that Vladixa decided to sue her ex-husband for $92,735 in back child support.

The courts were probably appalled. A Ventura County judge, ruled in favor of the ex-husband. Vladixa appealed the decision but the California Court of Appeals concurred with the judge.

Vladixa was lucky that she wasn't fined for filing a frivolous appeal.

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30 Years After Their Divorce, the Robinson's Return to Court

music-notes-15781-1920x1200.jpgSmokey Robinson, the singer of unforgettable R&B tunes including "My Girl" and "Cruisin," is now battling his ex-wife of 30 years.

They're not fighting over custody issues or houses; they are fighting over his beloved songs.

The basis of their case stems from The Copyright Act of 1976, which is the basis of copyright law in United States. Essentially, the law delineates the basic rights for copyright holders.

Experts believe that Smokey's battle with Claudette Robinson has the potential to create a precedent for musicians who have divorced in the past.

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Some Custody Battles Never Seem to End

images.jpgWhen is a custody battle finally over? For some couples, it's when the children turn 18. Take the case of the Shindells.

Ex-husband Roger Shindell felt annoyed with his ex-wife - Kimberly Shindell - for ignoring portions of the custody agreement they had negotiated in 2004. So he filed a motion with the court.

At that hearing, the district court determined that Kimberly was, in fact, in civil contempt of court for refusing to comply with that court's previous orders regarding the parents' rights to visitation and communication with their two daughters.

The Shindells had divorced in 2004 when Kimberly, who lived in Jackson, Wyoming, was granted primary residential custody of the two daughters. In addition, Roger received visitation and communications rights via the phone and the Internet/email.

In 2012, the father was living in Indiana and had remarried. After checking with the daughter's doctor, Kimberly decided the girls could not travel to Indiana because the father now had household that the older daughter was allergic to.

Although the father had the right to summer visitations, he was not able to see his daughters then either.

In August 2012, the father filed a motion for order to show cause why Kimberly should not be held in contempt of court. During that hearing, the mother explained that visiting the father would present a health risk for the older daughter.

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Bifurcated Divorce Proceedings and Parenting Plans

parenting-plan-calendar.jpgIf you were about to go to court over your divorce proceeding would you want your case bifurcated? In other words, would you want the division of assets separated from child custody issues?

In the case of Kathryn Brookfield Hoover and Richard Craig, the wife requested a jury trial but instead the court separated the issues. The first hearing related to the issue of child custody in a bench trial. At the end of that trial, the judge issued a court-ordered parenting plan that granted joint physical and legal custody of the children.

Two additional amended parenting plans were also issued.

The jury trial never began because Kathryn and Richard reached an amicable settlement about their assets. The final judgment and decree of divorce was entered February 14, 2013.

To Kathryn's surprise, the final judgment referenced the three orders relating to the parenting plan and stated the orders "are . . . incorporated herein and made a part of this Final Judgment and Decree."

Within thirty days, Kathryn filed an appeal on the custody issue but Richard filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted.

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Courts Argue over the Rights of a De Facto Father

mediationdv.jpgWhat happens when a woman involved in an intermittent relationship over the course of eight years becomes pregnant?

In the case of Amanda Moore and Matthew Pitts, the boyfriend filed a complaint in 2011 seeking parental rights and responsibilities for the child, who was by then nearly three years old. Matthew succeeded, even after a pregnancy test proved he was not the biological father, to be designated as a de facto parent.

Amanda filed an appeal to remove Matthew's de facto parenthood and to recognize Eric B. Hague as the father. A paternity test determined that Eric, with whom Amanda dated for a few months in 2008, was the biological child.

Amanda also asserted that Matthew's role in her son's life had been short, inconsistent and devoid of caretaking.

At the time of the appeal, Eric was on active duty in the military and lived in Wisconsin with this wife, son and two stepchildren. In court, Eric testified that he and Amanda wanted the child to recognize him as his true father.

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ACLU Joins Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage in Michigan

bilde.jpgYou may recall that a Michigan judge, not too long ago, stated his conviction that a ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution and issued an order invalidating the state's constitutional restriction limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

Following U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman's ruling on March 21, 2014, 300 same-sex couples jumped at the opportunity to marry until, that is, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, following a request by Attorney General Bill Schuette, temporarily stopped same-sex marriages in the state.

Shortly thereafter, Gov. Rick Snyder issued a statement noting that same-sex couples who had been legally married would not necessarily be afforded the same benefits as married heterosexual couples.

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