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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Older Couples Have a Higher Rate of Divorce

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for divorcecakeFayMillar2.jpgNew studies indicate that the social scientists who read data on marriage and divorce rates have been studying the wrong data.

According to the Minnesota Population Center, it turns out that more people are splitting up these days, not fewer.

One-In-Two Marriages Do Not Fail

Who hasn't heard the statistic that one-in-two marriages fail? Well that proclamation, as it turns out, was based on shaky data. In recent years, we were also told that after divorces peaked in the 80s, the divorce rate has been steadily dropping.

That's not true either.

The American Community Survey - an ongoing statistical survey that samples a small percentage of the population every year - started asking divorce questions six years ago, and the data gives little to no cause to celebrate.

It seems that the divorce rate is higher than previously estimated, especially among older people. Among younger couples, marriages tend to be more stable.

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Are Your Unvested Retirement Benefits Community Property?

US-Army-retired-logo.jpgAre unvested military retirement benefits considered community property?

That's the question a trial court dealt with in the divorce case of Daniel v. Daniel. In this case, Christen and Sean Daniel had married in 1995 and had three children. Just prior to marrying, Sean enlisted in the National Guard and at the time of his divorce, he had served 16 years and had reenlisted for an additional six years.

The parties handled all areas of their dissolution amicably except for the military pension. In court, a judge concluded, "Ohio law does not permit the court to divide a non-vested pension benefit."

The plaintiff argued that her ex-husband had reenlisted and would, therefore, be automatically vested by the time he ended his new commitment. Despite her argument, the court of appeals in Ohio affirmed the trial court's decision.

However, there was a lone dissent opinion issued. The dissenting justice argued the potential military pension was the only marital asset the parties had. Furthermore, while the other justices asserted that a valuation of the plan was necessary to make a decision, the dissenting justice disagreed with that conclusion.

Emboldened by the dissenting justice, Christen Daniel appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices agreed with Christen Daniel. They even suggested that the parties follow this formula for dividing the benefits: the number of years in service compared to the number of years of marriage.

In explaining their decision, the justices wrote that the starting point in any divorce is the equal division of marital property. Furthermore, it noted that the statute the appellate court had relied on did not distinguish between vested or unvested retirement benefits. The justices remanded the case back to the trial court.

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Offsetting the High Cost of Adoption

adoption.jpgLast week I discussed the unexpected political issues that nearly derailed the adoption of four children from the Ukraine (International Politics Can Affect Your Foreign Adoption). This week I'll explain how you can offset some of the expenses involved in adoption.

First, let's review some of the costs associated with private adoptions whether you use a private adoption agency or find a surrogate. These costs can include:

  • A home study
  • Post-placement supervision
  • Orientation meetings
  • Case management services
  • Prenatal medical care
  • Delivery and hospital costs
  • Living expenses provided during pregnancy, including housing, transportation, food, and maternity clothing
  • Physical examinations by a pediatrician
  • Legal expenses
  • Termination of parental rights, including publications, court costs, attorney fees
  • Finalization of adoption
  • Diligent search for birth fathers
Total costs for adoption can range from $10,000 to $40,000 or higher depending on if you decide to adopt a child from this country or you elect to have a foreign adoption.

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International Politics Can Affect Your Foreign Adoption

adoptions.jpgAn Alabama family was on the verge of completing their dream - to bring four adopted children to the U.S. from the Ukraine - when violent protests broke out.

The conflict intensified and then soon after the Olympics ended, Russia invaded the peninsula of Crimea, which until last week's vote belonged to Ukraine.

The adoption of three of the children was processed smoothly, but Lisa Bundy needed to remain in the Ukraine until she could secure final approval to leave Ukraine with her fourth child.

According to CBS News, the Montgomery, Alabama couple decided a year ago to adopt the children, Nastia, Karina, Max and Alla. The couple arrived in Kiev last November and anticipated leaving quickly until the protests began and delayed their plans.

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Notorious Sonoma County Landlord/Tenant Case Finally Comes to a Close After 4 1/2 Years

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Smith v Cook .jpgLANDLORDS BEWARE!

According to a Press Democrat article dated April 8, 2010, Gwen Smith seemed like the perfect tenant. The 53-year-old single mother was articulate and bright, had good references and talked about using her law degree to help crime victims and other women raising children on their own.

But what Landlord Connie Cook didn't know when she handed over the keys to her converted barn in 2009 was that she was opening her doors to trouble.

According to court records, Gwen Smith runs a "scam pattern". "She seeks a kind landlord, moves in and never intends to pay anything but the first month's rent." Gwendolyn Smith, has eviction cases against her in at least three states that we know about. She is an accused serial squatter who has frustrated landlords using a tactic of legal delays afforded to her by California's tenant friendly legal protections.

Gwen Smith's tactics were found to be "intentional, malicious, and outrageous" by retired Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Tansil.

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Northern California Man Fakes Bankruptcy to Avoid Child Support

shutterstock_41419909.jpgDo judges take child support seriously? Oh, yeah.

Take the case of a businessman from Northern California who declared bankruptcy and hid assets just to avoid paying child support and alimony.

Steven K. Zinnel and his wife split up in 1999 and a contentious divorce ensued. He declared bankruptcy and it was finalized in 2005. He wasn't really bankrupt; he had moved his assets to shell companies in order to reduce his child support obligations.

The courts don't look lightly on people who hide assets, try to file bankruptcy, and attempt to avoid support payments. In fact, this particular father received a prison sentence of 17 years. In addition, he must pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit assets worth more than $2.8 million.

Call to FBI Leads to Arrest of Zinnel

Zinnel's problems began soon after he contacted the FBI and asked an agent to investigate his ex-wife for trying to get illegal access to his private health insurance information. When the FBI heard his ex-wife's side of the story, they became more interested in Zinnel's bankruptcy than her alleged offense.

The FBI discovered that Zinnel had laundered funds through a company owned by his attorney Derian Eidson. He and Eidson had set up a trust account through which he could essentially launder money from an investment in an electrical firm and some real estate. Furthermore, prosecutors discovered that Zinnel had placed much of his property in other people's names before and after his 2005 bankruptcy.

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The Long Battle of Same-Sex Marriage Recognition

scotus-gay-marriage.jpgLast week, the state of Arizona dominated the news. The state Legislature there passed SB 1062, which would have allowed people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense for discrimination against gays and lesbians.

After a public maelstrom of objections that emanated from both political parties, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the Republican bill last Wednesday.

State Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican running for governor in Arizona and who voted for the bill, was quoted as saying, "... it is a sad day when protecting liberty is considered controversial."

Arizona's History with Same-Sex Marriage Bans

In 1996, Arizona's legislature banned same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Eight years later the state's voters took another step toward preventing gay marriages in their state: They approved Proposition 102, which limited marriage to only a union of one man and one woman.

Despite the government's tough stand, a 2003 poll found that 53% of Arizonans supported same-sex civil unions, though 54% oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Last month, four same-sex couples filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to have Arizona's definition of marriage ruled unconstitutional. The couples' complaint argues that the federal courts must declare Arizona's definition of marriage as unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court ruling last year. A rule has yet to be issued.

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Child Abuse Allegations Fuel Custody Battle

February 25, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

parental-alienation-270.jpgA child custody battle has been brewing in Maine for the past six years.

The battle began when the parents of "M.M." divorced in 2008 and the mother received primary custody of the child with parents equally sharing parental rights.

Unhappy with that decision, the father later sought custody, and a district court awarded him sole parental rights but noted that the mother had the right to frequent visitation.

The custody struggle was far from over.

Petitioners Allege Child Abuse Against the Father

In 2013, four petitioners who were unrelated to the child - the mother's investigator and three private citizens who had no legal or familial relationship to the child - filed a petition for a child protection order and alleged the father abused M.M. The petitioners also sought a preliminary protection order granting custody to the mother.

A preliminary protective order can be issued upon the filing of a petition provided the request is supported by an affidavit or sworn testimony before a judge.

The petitioners provided the court with documented incidents of child abuse, including evidence that the father had assaulted the child's head with a metal pan, physically abused his second wife, and was unwilling to allow the mother to visit her child.

The court dismissed the petition and denied their request. The judge determined that the petitioners lacked legal standing and that the claims asserted by the petitioners were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Res judicata is Latin for "a matter already judged."

Displeased with that decision, the petitioners appealed to the State Supreme Court.

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Paternal Grandfather Tries to Usurp Mother's Custody Rights

February 18, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Grandparents.jpgChild custody cases can take unusual turns. You win your child custody battle and feel secure until something occurs that turns your world upside down. That's exactly what happened in this case to the mother of an autistic child.

The mother, while living in Ohio, received sole custody of her daughter in 2009. Sometime thereafter, she and her daughter moved to Arizona.

In 2012, the mother made plans to travel temporarily to Ohio and left her daughter with the maternal grandmother. While the mother was out of state, the child's paternal grandfather filed a motion for emergency temporary custody of the child in Ohio, which the juvenile court granted.

Upon learning this, the mother filed a complaint for a writ of prohibition. She contended that the Ohio court lacked jurisdiction because she and the child were residents of Arizona.

The Ohio Court of Appeals dismissed the mother's complaint. It reasoned that the juvenile court had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act and that the mother had an adequate remedy by way of appeal if the juvenile court erred in its rulings.

While all of these court cases proceeded, the paternal grandfather retained custody of the child.

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Same-Sex Marriage Battle in Utah Continues

February 11, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

CA Same Sex Marriage.jpgSeventeen states now allow same-sex marriage; however, 33 states continue to ban it.

California's Path to Same-Sex Marriages

In California, the right to marry someone of the same sex took a circuitous route, involving political battles, appeals, and finally a reversal of the decision to ban gay marriage. Here's what happened. A proposition was passed allowing same-sex marriage in the state. Then Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, was put to the voters and was passed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that California's anti-gay marriage initiative, known as Proposition 8, was unconstitutional. Unhappy with that result, supporters of Proposition 8 appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June of last year, in a 5 - 4 decision, the court ruled that the defenders of Proposition 8 lacked standing and, therefore, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its ban, blocking same-sex marriages.

Same-sex marriages are now legal in California.

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What Happens to Your Saved Vacation and Sick Leave if You Divorce?

February 4, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

scales.jpgYou work hard for your money, and if you're employed by a public agency or a private company that allows employees to accrue sick and/or vacation leave, then the paid leave you accrue over time will eventually be converted to a cash payment when you retire.

So that cash, if you divorce, will be considered a shared asset and will need to be divided with your spouse.

Let's say you're the type of person who doesn't need to take vacations and who never gets sick. If you work for the County of Sonoma or the City of Santa Rosa for 30 years, when you retire you will not only have your retirement pay to look forward to but also a cash payment of your accrued sick and vacation leave.

That is unless you divorce.

In 2011, the courts in California ruled that if an asset is convertible to cash, then it's an asset that must be divided during your dissolution.

If a portion or all of it can't be cashed out and it has no economic value to the employee, then it won't be considered a shared asset.

The Struggle in Colorado Over Paid Leave

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Divorce or Bankruptcy: Which Comes First?

January 28, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

BK and Divorce.jpgDid you know that someone gets divorced every 10 to 13 seconds in the U.S.? Some of those divorces occur in couples who are also contemplating filing for bankruptcy. What should they do? File or divorce first, or proceed with bankruptcy?

Despite how difficult if may be for an unhappy couple to stay together and live in the same home, in most, but not all, cases it's best to file for bankruptcy first and complete that process before initiating divorce proceedings.

Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13

To help you understand the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings, here are some explanations:

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: Also known as liquidation bankruptcy, Chapter 7 allows for the discharge of unsecured debts including credit cards, medical bills and personal loans. In the average case, a person is usually able to exempt all their personal property. The Chapter 7 process can be completed in as little as 90 days, allowing you to begin rebuilding your financial standing and proceeding to the next phase, your divorce.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy: The Chapter 13 process allows you to create an affordable payment plan that gives you the chance to catch up on past due debts. The payment plan, lasting three to five years, gives you the opportunity to pay off lowered settlement amounts to your debtors and discharge your remaining debt once the plan is complete.

Benefits of Filing for Bankruptcy First

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Battles Over Same-Sex Marriages Continue

January 21, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Same Sex Battle.jpgLiving in California, we can sometimes forget how conservative other states are, especially in the arena of same-sex marriages.

Take Oklahoma as an example. A federal judge recently struck down a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in his state. In his 68-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern lambasted the state's ban, referring to it as arbitrary for "just one class of Oklahoma citizens."

He added in stern language that equal protection "is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions."

His ruling stemmed from a suit filed by two lesbian couples who sued federal and state officials in 2004. In 2006, the 10th Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue them, so the plaintiffs sued again, this time omitting the governor and attorney general as defendants.

Kern strenuously supported the two couples in his ruling. He stated, "Same-sex couples are being subjected to a 'naturally procreative' requirement to which no other Oklahoma citizens are subjected, including the infertile, the elderly, and those who simply do not wish to ever procreate."

He also pointed out how one of the couples had been in a long-term, committed relationship, owned property together and planned to retire together. Why should they be denied the legal standing of marriage?

Struggle Over Gay Marriage Isn't Over

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What to Do When Your Divorce Gets Messy

January 14, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

messy divorce.jpgAre you experiencing a messy divorce? The kind where tensions run high, financial threats are made, or allegations about child abuse are being lodged at you?

This may not be much consolation, but you're not alone.

People get irate during divorces. Pent up frustration about perceived slights tend to balloon. Fears about financial blackmail creep up. People become terrified about losing a portion of their income, the family home, their children, and their retirement funds.

If you were financially comfortable while you were married, you'll likely feel as though you have little to no disposable income for a while. Yes, you suddenly have attorney's fees and court costs to pay. However, it's also true that when two people split up, they each must begin to pay their own mortgage payments for their respective homes with half the income they were accustomed to enjoying.

Splitting Up Households Means Your Costs Will Rise

It's not exactly true that two people can live as cheaply as one but two people who live separately spend more money on just the basics of life.

Throw children into the mix and you have the added cost of child support, medical insurance and medical costs.

Some spouses may threaten that they'd rather see their attorneys get all of their money rather than their ex-spouses. Alternatively maybe an ex-husband threatens to reveal something that could prevent his ex-wife from getting a shared custody arrangement.

There are numerous issues over which a couple can argue simply because they are mad, they want to "get even," or they want the other person to suffer. With allegations flying and fears worsening, it can be difficult to remain calm when the financial and emotional foundation of your life is cracking. And that's the essence of an emotionally-trying divorce, right?

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