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In Hollywood Divorces, the Stakes Are Much Higher - But the Issues Are the Same

November 24, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

divorce_1976996c.jpgWe can learn a great deal from Hollywood stars who divorce and continue to dispute their settlements years later.

When you stop and think about it, the only difference between their divorce and your divorce is the amount of money involved. Otherwise, they endure the same court battles, and custody and support disputes.

Empire Star Terrence Howard Disputes Divorce Settlement Terms

Take the divorce case of Empire star Terrence Howard as an example.

He and his lawyer recently convinced a California family court judge to overturn a 2012 divorce agreement that would have entitled his ex-wife, Michelle Ghent, to a healthy share of Howard's earnings.

The initial divorce settlement gave Ghent several of the couple's bank accounts as well as a portion of all of his income.

Considering that Howard has a hit series on Fox, her portion would have been sizeable.

In the recent proceedings, Superior Court Judge Thomas Trent Lewis agreed with Howard, who successfully argued that Ghent had bribed him into signing the 2012 divorce agreement that was in question.

Back in 2012, Ghent had warned Howard that if he didn't sign the divorce agreement, she would reveal private details about the actor, including sex recordings and a video of him nude.

Howard explained to the court that he submitted to her bribe only because he believed the release of the items in Ghent's possession would have damaged his career.

Continue reading "In Hollywood Divorces, the Stakes Are Much Higher - But the Issues Are the Same" »

Spousal and Child Support in California - What Every Parent Should Know

November 10, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

index.jpgHow long does a couple need to be married for the court, during a divorce, to award spousal support?

California Law on Spousal Support

Well, let's first look at what the law says. California law (Family Code Section 4336(a)) says that where marriage is "of long duration," the court "retains jurisdiction."

Not very clear, is it?

If a marriage lasts less than ten years, spousal support may be available for five years.

If a marriage lasts longer than ten years, the continuation of spousal support may be indefinite.

However, there are still variables that can change the outcome.

Continue reading "Spousal and Child Support in California - What Every Parent Should Know" »

Hollywood Stars, Prenups and Divorce: A Common Recipe

October 6, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

n_24wed.jpgWhen you earn $28.5 million a year a prenuptial agreement is practically mandatory, especially when one party is a Hollywood star.

While Kaley Cuoco, the well-paid actress of Big Bang Theory, may not be pleased that her marriage fell apart after just 21 months, she must be relieved she took that extra step and filed a prenup.

For all we know, her former partner, tennis player Ryan Sweeting, might benefit from it as well.

It's reported that the details of their agreement included alimony provisions, which can be typical. What I do know is that the details included in prenups vary.

Unusual to Zany Prenup Provisions

Some of the most interesting contracts have included provisions for:

  1. Mutually owned pets.
  2. Coveted gardeners and babysitters.
  3. Responsibilities for such duties as dusting, dishes, and other domestic chores.
  4. Infidelity clauses.
  5. Protecting time to watch football with friends.
  6. Trim waists.
  7. Restrictions on work hours. After all, some people don't want to be married to a workaholic.
  8. Restricting drug and alcohol use.
  9. Sex, such as how often a couple should engage in sexual relations - and related issues.
  10. Not playing the piano while one spouse was home.
  11. Hair, such as the case where the wife was not allowed to cut her hair.
  12. Fines for being rude to a spouse's parents.
  13. Payment for being pregnant

Continue reading "Hollywood Stars, Prenups and Divorce: A Common Recipe" »

Retiree Assets, Bankruptcy and Threats from Creditors

retirement.jpgThere is a benefit to filing for bankruptcy, especially if you are retired.

What could that be? The bankruptcy process will protect your retirement assets.

The Stigma of Bankruptcy Among Retirees

What filing for bankruptcy won't do, however, is protect you from the sense of stigma that some can feel. But knowing that you are no longer under the burden of mounting debt and harassment from creditors can - hopefully - help to relieve some of those feelings.

What can happen, especially among retirees, is a downward spiral as elderly parents attempt to cope with medical expenses in addition to helping adult children by spending retirement assets.

This can send some retirees into an ominous financial decline.

Before Filing for Bankruptcy, Negotiate with Creditors

It's always best to try to negotiate with creditors prior to filing for bankruptcy. Without initiating a negotiation process, you'll never know what type a settlement the creditor would've allowed.

And even though creditors may take some people to court, those creditors cannot touch your retirement assets - despite what they may threaten.

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Is Your New Year's Resolution to Buy a Home? Consider an FHA Loan

January 6, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Thumbnail image for MW-AY569_smsold_20130124162258_MG.jpgAre you ready to jump into the housing market?

In Sonoma County, the last two years have seen rapid sales and eager buyers. If you're among those who formerly suffered a foreclosure or if you plan to purchase your first home, you may want to consider an FHA Loan.

The Federal Housing Administration's Roots

The government created the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 to help pull the nation out of the Depression and boost homeownership. The FHA accomplished this by making mortgages available to more people.

Back then, the benefits to the FHA program included:

  • lower down payments,
  • qualifying borrowers on their ability to repay the loan (and not on their business connections),
  • establishing an amortization schedule, and
  • allowing for longer loan terms

Continue reading "Is Your New Year's Resolution to Buy a Home? Consider an FHA Loan" »

What Is a Disabled Parent's Child Support Obligation?

December 30, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Child-Support.jpgDivorce is seldom an easy process.

It can be especially painful when you're on disability, and your ex-spouse is unhappy with the sum the court orders you to pay in child support payments.

Melinda and David Daugherty, who live in Napa County, married and had two children. Then they divorced.

David was receiving Social Security disability payments, and his wife and children were receiving derivative Social Security disability payments. These are payments that the Social Security Administration automatically calculate and pay to spouses and children on the theory that disabled parents can't earn a reasonable salary and therefore the children, and in this case the wife, become eligible to receive benefits as well.

Melinda felt that the Napa County Superior Court erred when it didn't include the derivative payments as part of her ex-husband's income for the purpose of calculating his child support obligation.

She believed that the Social Security benefits that she and her children received should be considered as part of her husband's income. If the court combined derivative payments in addition to David's benefit, his child support payments would be considerably higher.

Melinda thought she had a good case and filed an appeal with the Court of Appeal of the State of California.

The justices didn't agree with her. They quoted prior authority in its affirmation of the trial court's decision and noted that because the children and Melinda were already receiving benefits as a result of David's disability, that the amounts they received should apply as credit to any obligation David had.

Basically, Melinda lost her appeal.

Continue reading "What Is a Disabled Parent's Child Support Obligation?" »

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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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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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.

Continue reading "The Dangers of Sonoma County Debt Settlement Companies" »

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.

Continue reading "Watch Out Santa Rosa: Deceptive Mortgage Practices Are Back!" »

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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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.

Continue reading "30 Years After Their Divorce, the Robinson's Return to Court" »

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

Continue reading "What Happens to Your Saved Vacation and Sick Leave if You Divorce?" »

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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Fraud in the Foreclosure Market & 8 Tips To Be Thankful For on How to Find Your Starter Home

November 26, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

turk2.gifBuying a foreclosed house can be an economical way to purchase your starter home. In some cases, repairs may be needed or kitchens might need some remodeling but despite those improvement costs, there isn't a cheaper way to purchase a house.

In recent years, the real estate market has enjoyed a bounty of foreclosed properties for first-time buyers and investors to scoop up. Home prices began to slide by June 2007 and by 2008, 2,800 homes in Sonoma County were lost to foreclosure. Distressed sales peaked at 76% of all homes on the market in February 2009.

The Great Recession, which began with the subprime mortgage crisis, forced too many families out of their homes, which often ended up in foreclosure or a short sale. The good news is that the worst of the foreclosure crisis is behind us.

Don't worry about losing an opportunity to purchase a foreclosed home. There's always an opportunity to get a foothold in real estate by purchasing a home at an auction.

And there is always someone who figures out a way to defraud the foreclosure system.

Northern California Investor Faces Conspiracy & Mail Fraud Charges

Continue reading "Fraud in the Foreclosure Market & 8 Tips To Be Thankful For on How to Find Your Starter Home" »