FTC Joins Local Jurisdictions to Fight Mortgage Relief Fraud

August 26, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

There's a familiar saying that goes something like this: If it sounds too good to be true, then it is too good to be true. Said another way, if it's too good to be true, it must be a scam.

Scams come in various forms. There are the solicitations promising to reduce your property taxes - if you pay a fee in advance - that arrive in envelopes that have that green, government-issued look to them.

Or the man that knocks on your door and promises to fix your car's fender at one-tenth the price that an auto body shop might charge you.

Then there are the promises lenders make as they convince that they can reduce your monthly mortgage payments and the interest rate on your loan, provided you pay their fees in advance. That might be the most sinister proposal of all.

These days, the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on lenders taking advantage of homeowners in distressed situations. The FTC has taken action against six mortgage relief companies, sought orders stopping their illegal practices and freezing their assets pending litigation.

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Family Law News: Worst States to Get a Divorce & International Adoptions Suffer Delays

August 19, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

coupleuse.jpgRemember the days when everyone seemed to be moving to California? Those days are over.

Back in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 100,000 people had left the Golden State due to the high cost of living. Where did they flee? Texas was their No. 1 choice, followed by Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

Now there's another reason to pack up and fly away - maybe. California is on the list of the seven worst states for divorce, according to ABC News. Let's look at why.

California is the only state that requires a six-month interim between filing for divorce and finalizing it. And its filing fee of $345 is the highest in the country.

New York also made the list; however, its filing fee is $335. Like California, it recognizes no-fault divorce and requires a six-month interim between the initial filing for divorce and finalizing it.

You don't want to move to Nebraska. While the filing fee is just $157, the state requires 420 days to process divorces. In addition, it requires a year's residency in the state followed by a two-month cooling-off period.

If you live in Arizona, the minimum time to process a divorce in your state is 540 days, the longest processing time in the country.

South Carolina requires a one-year separation before you can even file for divorce. Over in Rhode Island, the processing fee is only $120 but it takes the state up to 510 days to process the paperwork.

Vermont has been deemed the worst place to get a divorce. Here, couples must live separately for six months followed by a three-month waiting period.

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Proposed Bill Would Protect Soldiers in Child Custody Cases

August 12, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

download.jpgWhat happens when a divorced parent serving in the military is deployed to a war zone? Typically, parents work out a temporary change to their custody agreement with the intent to return to the original agreement when the soldier returns.

But as writer Harvey Mackay is famous for saying, "Good intentions aren't enough."

In too many cases, temporary changes become permanent, and the military parent loses custody of his or her child or loses the right to primary custody when the deployment ends.

Custody Agreements Are Needed While Soldiers Are Deployed

Presently, an estimated 1.9 million children have one or more parents serving in the military, including 75,000 single parents. When a parent is deployed to Afghanistan, for example, the military recommends that soldiers complete a family care plan that details how the children will be cared for in their absence.

Some states are more sensitive to these issues than others. In Michigan, legislation was recently proposed that would prohibit judges from modifying parental agreements while military personnel are unavailable or overseas.

The bill would require judges to leave existing custody agreements in place while the service member is deployed. In addition, it would prevent judges from considering a soldier's deployment status when determining the best interests of the child.

The case that prompted this bill involved a judge who ordered a sailor to appear in court despite the fact that he was aboard a U.S. submarine. The judge had threatened the sailor, Matthew Hindes, with contempt during a dispute over a parenting agreement.

The judge later admitted that she wasn't aware that the father was in the Pacific Ocean when he was ordered to appear.

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Kerri Kasem Fights to Protect the Right of Children to See Ailing Parents

Thumbnail image for when-elder-abuse-hits-home.jpgLegendary Casey Kasem, who died in June of this year, held many positions in the entertainment industry but perhaps was best-known for his American Top 40 radio countdown program, which he started in 1970.

He was also famous for his distinctive voice and held a renowned place in radio history. He retired in 2009 due to his struggle with Parkinson's disease.

Casey Kasem's last years were also famous, but unsavory reasons that weren't associated with his many achievements. As he lived his last months and days, news stories flourished about the acrimony between his daughter Kerri Kasem and his wife (Kerri's stepmother), Jean.

Unfortunate Fight Over Visitation Overshadowed Kasem's Last Days

Kerri accused Jean of elder abuse while also fighting for the right to see her dying father. Two weeks before Casey Kasem died at the age of 82, authorities removed him from his wife's care and admitted him to the hospital with an infected bedsore.

Kerri is now taking her personal fight to an even greater public platform. She has aligned herself with California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto to author a new bill titled the Parental Access Legislation. The bill would protect children from earlier marriages from being prohibited from seeing a parent by the spouse or child from a later marriage.

What Kerri discovered during the final years of her father's life was that adult children don't have the legal right to visit an acutely ill or dying parent, especially if a stepparent bars access.

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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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