Settling Spats Over Rover: What to Expect in Pet Custody Cases

September 23, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

pet-divorse-litigation1.jpgIncreasingly, Americans view their pets as family members. We only need to look at the pet industry to see how manufacturers reinforce this feeling by marketing clothing, specialized kibble and treats, shampoos, conditioners, collars and leashes to keep Spot, Fluffy or Fido fashionable, hip and healthy.

So what happens when couples divorce?

Under the law, pets are personal property. As such, the courts will look to establish who owns the animal in the same manner they would decide on how to divide a patio set or the bedroom furniture.

However, in today's world where pets have become a more integral part of families, courts are beginning to broaden their views, especially when the custody issue affects dogs.

In some cases, the courts will go so far as to consider the issue as they would a child custody case and consider shared custody and visitation arrangements as well as alimony payments to the individual awarded with physical custody.

What if you didn't originally adopt or purchase your dog? There are other ways to substantiate that you should be the primary owner or caregiver of the animal. For example, if you've been paying for the animal's veterinarian and grooming expenses, purchasing its food, hiring trainers, and walking it everyday, you could make the case that you've been the primary caregiver.

You could even have neighbors testify on your behalf as proof that they've seen you walk your dog in the early morning or after work, or seen you with your dog at a nearby dog park.

Pet custody battles are increasingly common, but there's no guarantee that a judge in your jurisdiction will treat your beloved ferret as though it were child.

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Adoption Case Pits Tribal Court Against State Judiciary System

September 16, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

1.jpgAn adoption case in Alaska recently became a test of the tribal court's legal authority to remove the parental rights of a parent who was not a member of the tribe.

In this case, a daughter was removed from the home of Edward Parks and Bessie Stearman in 2008. According to reports, the daughter was six months old at the time, and a social worker was concerned about domestic violence issues in the home.

As a result of the social worker's report, the tribal court took emergency action and sent the baby girl to Stearman's first cousin, who became the child's foster parent.

Edward Parks was not a member of the Native Village of Minto and had never lived in the Minto Community. He was, however, a member of the Stevens Village, another tribe. Stearman was a member of the Minto tribe.

Instead of seeking relief from the tribal court, Parks filed a suit with the state court system where he found support. Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle sided with Parks, determining that the Minto Tribal Court had violated Parks' constitutionally protected due-process rights when they didn't afford the father the right to appear before it to testify.

The tribe appealed the court's decision and the Alaska Attorney General, siding with Parks, filed a brief in support of his case. That brief argued that the state court was the proper venue to judge the parental rights of a non-tribal member.

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Divorce Tips for Sonoma County Boomer Women

September 10, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

o-BABY-BOOMER-DIVORCE-facebook.jpgIf you're reading this blog, you're probably a Boomer. A study released in February found that Americans who are over 50 years of age are twice as likely to divorce as people who were that age 20 years ago.

No one wants to have a midlife divorce, but it happens.

Women tend to file for divorce more often than men. Their reasons range from a renewed focus on their careers to a sense of empowerment. Interestingly, men are more reluctant to leave a marriage while children are still living at home. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more working women than men have college degrees.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are cases in which a woman is more reluctant to leave the marriage. She may want to keep the family together to raise the children, or she might have taken a break from work to become a stay-at-home mom and is nervous about re-entering the workplace.

Social Security Tips for Divorced Women

Then there are women in their sixties or seventies who worry about Social Security. I have some good news that could lessen your worries in this regard. Women can receive Social Security survivor benefits based on the ex-husband's earnings provided you aren't remarried when you seek to collect them. In addition, he either has to be collecting his retirement benefits or you have to have been divorced for at least two years, and you must be at least age 62.

Here are some additional tips:

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Florida Gets Closer to Allow Same-Sex Marriage - Update on Gay Marriage Around the Country

September 2, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

images.jpgIn July, two Key West residents prevailed in a same-sex marriage case in a Florida district court. In that case, Monroe Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia - similar to other judges -- characterized the ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi immediately issued a stay on Judge Garcia's decision. When the men asked the appellate court to lift the automatic stay, the appellate court responded with a firm denial.

It was the couple's second attempt to lift the stay.

Consequently, Judge Garcia's ruling only applies to the residents of Monroe Count.

Update on the Status of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.

So far, same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Those states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Same-sex marriages continue to be banned in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming.

These are the states where judges ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and yet state attorney generals have issued stays: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Colorado allows civil unions. In a civil union, couples enjoy many of the rights of a married couple. However, they are unable to enjoy a number of benefits, including Social Security benefits upon the death of a spouse.

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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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