March 31, 2011

Medical Bills a Leading Cause of Bankruptcy

Posted in Bankruptcy tagged at 1:19 pm by demetriagraves

As an attorney I help many people through bankruptcy and there are often many reasons why someone may need to file for chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. Interestingly enough, the results of research conducted over the past decade has shown that medical bills are a leading cause of financial problems that can ultimately lead to bankruptcy.
Recent data shows that bankruptcies went up substantially between 2002 and 2007, this was even before the most recent Recession hit – and that the vast majority of those people had some level of insurance. Most people who are driven into bankruptcy by illness and medical bills often do have coverage, but it’s such inadequate coverage that it doesn’t keep them from financial ruin. They’re facing huge premiums and copayments and deductibles – and things that aren’t covered by their insurance.
Lawmakers in many states are grappling with budget deficits, this recent research suggests that cuts to medical coverage as a budget-balancing tool can be false economy because the consequences of such a cut may be even more costly. Like a recently proposed bill to move public-sector employees to a high-deductible health plan and make them responsible for 100 percent of the plan’s premium. For workers with families who have just one medical condition, the estimated out-of-pocket expenses would top $20,000. Saying you’re going to shift a large bill onto public employees is tantamount to saying that you’re going to bring financial ruin to a substantial number of those people.
There are many people with really inadequate coverage. Trading uninsurance for underinsurance doesn’t work. When people are seriously ill, they can end up with such huge medical bills that they really don’t have enough coverage to keep them out of the bankruptcy court.

No matter what the reason is for your financial difficulties, please don’t hesitate to contact an attorney to get the right advice about bankruptcy and find out if it might be right for you. If you have questions about filing for bankruptcy I offer a free 30 minute telephone bankruptcy consultation where we can discuss your debt situation and work out a plan of action.

More Things a Non-Custodial Parent Should Know

Posted in Child Support tagged at 1:16 pm by demetriagraves

A common question I’m asked as a family law attorney is regarding the rights of a non-custodial parent who is paying child support. What are the rights of the noncustodial parent who believes that the money he or she is paying is not actually supporting the child but is perhaps padding the pockets of the custodial parent? What recourse does that parent have, and what happens if he or she does not obey a court order to pay?

Because U.S. child support laws are state-specific, this article is intended to give you a general idea of what to do and what to expect if you have one of these questions. For specific guidance on your rights and obligations, please check with a family law attorney or child support enforcement agency in your jurisdiction.

Here are ten things to know:

1. WHAT CAN I DO IF I THINK I AM NOT THE PARENT?

If you have been served with a complaint or petition for child support and you believe that you are not the child’s parent, you have a right to request a blood or DNA test. It is important that you request a blood or DNA test immediately. Should you fail to do so, you could still be liable to pay child support. If the test results are negative, the court will dismiss any case against you.

2. THE SHERIFF HAS PERSONALLY DELIVERED A SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT TO MY HOME. I AM BEING SUED FOR CHILD SUPPORT, WHAT CAN I DO?

You or your attorney must answer the complaint for child support within the specified time period for answering the complaint. Failure to do so could result in a default judgment against you. If a default judgment is awarded against you, you could be responsible for paying support even though paternity has not been established. In some jurisdictions, failure to answer the complaint automatically establishes you as the parent.

3. I HAVE BEEN PAYING CHILD SUPPORT FOR YEARS BUT HAVE DISCOVERED THAT THE CHILD IS NOT MINE, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Unfortunately, if you have been paying child support for a child that turns out not to be yours, you may still be obligated to pay child support. Although controversial in nature, in these cases the courts in every jurisdiction will recognize the child’s interest over that of the non-biological father. In almost every jurisdiction the courts recognize the child as the victim not the non-biological father. In doing so, the courts have coined the legal term “Parentage by Estoppel.” This means that because you took on the duty to provide support to a child for so long, it would be unfair to the child for you to eliminate payments altogether. Because courts must ask the question, “What is in the best interest of the child?” the courts believe that the father must continue to pay child support so as not to interrupt financial assistance to the child. This does not mean that you can never stop making support payments. The courts vary in each state as to how they treat this issue based upon the facts. This is why it is so important to challenge paternity early in the process even if only the slightest chance exists that you may not be the father. If you believe that this situation may apply to you, it is imperative that you consult an attorney.

4. I HAVE NO INTENTION OF PAYING CHILD SUPPORT; WHAT IS THE WORSE THAT CAN HAPPEN?

Failure to pay child support is a crime under federal law (Child Support Recovery Act of 1992). You can be prosecuted for any willful failure to pay under a support order where there is evidence that you had the financial means to pay and failed to do so. You can be prosecuted if you are more than $5,000 in arrears and have failed to pay support for more than one year. Failure to pay child support could result in suspension of your driver’s license, loss of your security clearance (for government jobs), loss of your job, and it could make it harder for you to obtain a new job. It could also make it harder for you to obtain licensure to continue your career (e.g., license to practice law).

5. I AM BEHIND IN MY CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS, WHAT IS THE WORSE THAT CAN HAPPEN?

You will be held in contempt of court. A warrant for your arrest could be provided to law enforcement, and this could lead to your being prosecuted under the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, which could lead to jail time. The court could also grant the custodial parent the rights to seize your real or personal property and/or garnish your wages.

6. I AM MAKING MY SUPPORT PAYMENTS BUT I HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT THE MONEY IS NOT BEING USED FOR MY CHILD, WHAT CAN I DO?

As a parent, you have every right to ensure that the financial assistance that you provide is in fact being used for your child’s care. If you have reason to believe that the custodial parent is taking advantage of you by misapplying support funds, you or your attorney have the right to petition the court for an accurate accounting of the funds and how they are being applied. Nevertheless, you have the burden of proving that the custodial parent is misapplying your support payments.

7. I HAVE OTHER KIDS TO SUPPORT, HOW MUCH CHILD SUPPORT DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR THIS ONE?

Your monthly support obligation will always take into account the children that you are actively supporting. Your state’s child support guidelines will likely reduce your monthly support payments if you can prove that you actively support other children. If you are already making child support payments under a previous support order and have been sued again for child support by another parent, you may seek a modification of your existing child support order from the court.

8. I LOST MY JOB. DO I STILL HAVE TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT? WHAT CAN I DO?

Once parentage has been established, you will always be liable for child support. But if you are unable to pay child support because you lost your job, you must make the court aware of your material change in circumstances. The court will reassess your situation on the basis of evidence you provide that illustrates that you are unable to pay. You or your attorney can file a motion to modify existing support obligations. However, if you are entitled to unemployment insurance compensation, the custodial parent has a right to tap into a limited percentage of those funds.

9. HOW IS THE AMOUNT OF CHILD SUPPORT I HAVE TO PAY DETERMINED?

The amount of child support you pay is determined by guidelines developed and followed by your state. The guidelines take into account, among other things, your net monthly income, the number of kids you actively support, and your monthly expenses. The guidelines provide the court with a way to accurately assess what you should be able to pay on a monthly basis. Your support order is based primarily on these guidelines. Should your monthly expenses and income change, the court will reassess what you are able to pay once it becomes aware of your material change in circumstances.

10. I INTEND TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY, AM I STILL OBLIGATED TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT?

You are still obligated to pay child support because most countries have reciprocity agreements with the United States. These agreements allow you to be sued for child support even though that you are no longer living in the United States.

March 26, 2011

Checking Spouse’s Email During Divorce

Posted in Divorce tagged at 4:25 am by demetriagraves

Have you checked your spouse’s e-mail account lately? If you have, you may have committed a crime. In a case generating national attention, Michigan resident Leon Walker was charged under the state’s anti-hacking law for checking his wife’s email without permission, a crime normally reserved for charging those who have committed identity theft or stolen trade secrets. If convicted, Walker may be sentenced up to five years in prison.
Walker and his wife were in the process of divorcing, but still sharing a residence, at the time he checked her personal email account. While he did not have permission to check her email, Walker had purchased the computer for her, the computer was kept in their home and he regularly used it. Walker’s wife also kept all of the passwords to her accounts in a book she stored next to the computer.
Walker said that he read her emails because he believed she was having an affair with her second ex-husband and feared for the safety of his children. His wife’s emails confirmed that she was having the affair with her ex, whom she had accused of physical abuse at the time of her second divorce. Walker’s wife, however, has contended that her now ex-husband violated her privacy rights and he should be convicted of the crime.
Lawmakers have gone on the record saying that their intent behind the anti-hacking law was not to charge spouses who have been spying on each other, but to punish much more serious criminal offenders. The county prosecutor, however, believed that Walker had violated the law as it was written. Walker’s trial is scheduled for the beginning of April.
Leon Walker is the first spouse to be charged criminally for reading his wife’s emails. While all states have criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized access of information stored on a computer, these laws generally are reserved to punish those who have committed serious breaches of electronically stored data.
Some legal commentators worry that if the Michigan court decides to convict Walker of the criminal charges, it could have a watershed effect in other states choosing to follow its example. There’s simply not enough courts in the country to handle all of the potential cases of spousal snooping.

Bankruptcy and Underwater Homes

Posted in Bankruptcy tagged at 3:43 am by demetriagraves

Most homeowners consider that their home is their primary asset but unfortunately for many people this is no longer the case and their home is a liability rather than an asset. One of the common reasons people seek advice from me regarding bankruptcy is because their home is underwater Which means that the amount owed on the mortgage is higher than what the home is currently valued at if it were sold. This means that if they have mounting debts they aren’t able to be offset by the value of their home.  Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a way of wiping out overwhelming debt while still being able to keep your home.

It seems that the underwater home phenomena has become an epidemic in recent years, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some recent figures regarding underwater homes in the U.S. Recent numbers released by a company called CoreLogic show that the number of underwater homes in the U.S. has climbed since last quarter. Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • A reported 11.1 million U.S. homes were underwater in 2011’s first quarter, a jump from 10.8 million in the last quarter of 2010.
  • Nevada has a 65 percent rate of underwater mortgages, and is apparently the only state in which the average homeowner is underwater.
  • Besides the more than 11 million underwater homeowners in the U.S., 2.4 million Americans have less than five percent equity in their houses, according to sources.
  • Collectively, we reportedly owe about $751 billion more on mortgages than our homes are worth.
  • Analysts predict that home prices could fall by another five to 10 percent in 2011, meaning that those with little equity could soon find themselves underwater.

If you have questions about filing for bankruptcy I offer a free 30 minute telephone bankruptcy consultation where we can discuss your debt situation and determine if you qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

March 19, 2011

Hyphenating Your Name

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:17 am by demetriagraves

Here’s an article by Janelle Harris that I found interesting on hyphenating your last name when you marry.

Conversations with my man about our future always produce juicy material that I turn around and exploit for purely editorial — and, OK, sometimes basic entertainment — reasons. A recent chat about hyphenating my last name kicked up dust as we talked about my dreams of finishing (which means I’d actually have to start) my PhD within the next five years.

In the heat of my daydreaming, I took my would-be name for a test drive. “Dr. Janelle Harris-Williams,” I swooned like a giddy extra in the “Beauty School Dropout” scene of Grease. Boyfriend 4.0 jutted his bottom jaw, something he does when he’s about to serve up a verbal smackdown. “Harris-Williams!” he scoffed. “I think you mean Dr. Janelle Williams.”

Seems he takes offense to the idea of me tacking his last name on to the one I already have. The move — according to him — says I’m wishy-washy about my commitment and (gasp) that I’m not ready to leave my family and be a wife. When I introduced the subject for discussion on Facebook, turns out plenty of folks from both genders side with his opinion. I didn’t tell him that, though.

There is no level-headed reason why a woman should have to abandon her family’s last name in order to prove her fidelity and allegiance to her man. None whatsoever. The concept is as archaic and patriarchal as, oh I don’t know, forgoing your dreams to be an apron-sporting housewife a la June Cleaver or pretending to be an airhead to appease your guy’s fragile ego. Puh-lease.

According to the recently released 2010 Real Weddings Survey from The Knot, only 6 percent of newlywed women opted to hyphenate their names — the same number reported on the stats from the year before. Responses from the roughly 20,000 brides polled overwhelmingly favored taking their hubby’s name, to the tune of 86 percent.

So it’s not necessarily a fire-hot trend. So I’m in a bit of a minority. At least I’m not flying completely solo. “We definitely see the conversation because everyone has an opinion on it. No one is really right because it’s such a personal decision,” offers Anja Winikka, an obviously brilliant individual who happens to be an editor at The Knot. “As years go by and couples wait longer to get married, more women are choosing to hyphenate because of their careers, especially when people are looking for them on Google.”

Indeed, those of us who have worked hellishly to build up some steam in our respective careers also have professional grounds to hold on to our original surnames. If Eva Parker or Jada Smith had a new flick coming out, the crickets would be chirping and we’d gloss over them like they were as generic and nondescript as Jane Jones. But add the “Longoria” and the “Pinkett,” respectively, the bells and whistles of familiarity go off, and the general public might contemplate going to see the movie. Might.

Because the average age of the American bride is now 27 (up from 25 last year, but who’s counting?), many women don’t want the hassle of converting their longstanding professional identities — email addresses, monogrammed attaches, and all — to a whole new name. “Most of my clients are businesswomen, speakers, or high-level professionals and have built a brand with their names,” says Christine Pembleton, an author who is also president of the aptly named relationship coaching firm, Ready to Be a Wife. “However,” she adds, “I had no problem changing my name. In fact, it was one of the things I looked forward to when I got married.” Hmph.

So exactly what does a man have to give up in order to marry a woman? Yet we’re expected to disassociate ourselves from the very families who shaped us into the women men fall in love with and want to marry. If I had been born male, I would’ve had no choice but to carry on the Harris name. But because I have an innie, not an outie, I’m forced to show my Post-Marital Pride by sloughing off part of my identity.

Not I, said the brown cow. Can’t my hyphen rep for both my past and my future — and have a nice ring to it in the process?

March 18, 2011

Dwayne Wade Wins Custody Battle

Posted in Custody tagged at 1:26 pm by demetriagraves

Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade has been awarded sole custody of both of his sons, 8 year old Zaire and 3 year old Zion. This has ended a very long and public custody battle with Dwaye’s ex-wife Siohvaughn Wade. The sole custody to Dwayne was awarded by Judge Renee Goldfarb of Cook County Illinois.

Wade’s divorce from Siohvaughn was granted last June, after a lengthy separation.

Siohvaughn will have what the court described as “regular parenting time” on alternating weekends in Miami, as well as several other times during the year, including Mother’s Day. Dwyane Wade has also repeatedly stated that he wants his sons to have healthy relationships with their mother.

Still, the 102-page ruling had some sharp words for Wade’s ex-wife.

“This court finds that (Siohvaughn Wade) has embarked on an unstoppable and relentless pattern of conduct for over two years to alienate the children from their father, and lacks either the ability or the willingness to facilitate, let alone encourage, a close and continuing relationship between them,” read a portion of the ruling entered by Judge Renee G. Goldfarb.

According to Wade’s attorney, James Pritikin, the custody trial was one of the longest ever in Cook County history. Wade filed the motion asking for sole custody nearly a year ago, though the legal tussle has gone on considerably longer.

Speaking on the recent court victory, The Miami player commented:

“I am very thankful that the court has given me custody of my boys and they are already at home with me in Miami and settling in. Going through a custody trial was difficult and I wish it hadn’t been necessary, but, I felt it was the only way that I could continue to play an active part of my kids’ lives and provide them with a happy and stable home. My hope is that their mother will also choose to play a healthy role in their lives and we can all move on from this in a positive way.”

Now that the boys are finally back home with their father, Dwayne can now focus on helping his beaten and battered Miami Heat as they try to close out their NBA season.

March 17, 2011

Bankruptcy Can Save Your Home

Posted in Bankruptcy tagged at 11:59 am by demetriagraves

Many clients seek my advice when they are concerned about losing their home. Often by the time the foreclosure notice arrives, most struggling homeowners figure they are out of options. But there is one more step which is often overlooked that can help save your home – Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. It’s not a move to be taken lightly. But the impact may not be as dire as many people assume. In fact, homeowners facing foreclosure may be able to improve their credit with a bankruptcy filing.

Homeowners facing foreclosure also have several options to minimize the long-term impact on their credit, even if they ultimately lose the house. If the lender agrees to a short sale, for example, you may be able to sell your home for less then you owe. In a so-called “deed in lieu” of foreclosure, you give the lender the deed to your home and avoid a formal foreclosure proceeding. By doing so, you’ll avoid the devastating damage to your credit brought by a foreclosure.

If none of those steps work, bankruptcy may provide relief for the worst case of a foreclosure judgment, and inflict less damage to your credit. Bankruptcy automatically stops the foreclosure process, giving you and the court time to try to get you back on track with your mortgage payments. That help can make a big difference for homeowners struggling to deal with a lending industry overwhelmed by the mortgage mess. Many people don’t realize that the consequences of a bankruptcy filing may be less severe than a foreclosure.

Bankruptcy laws, after all, were established to provide an orderly process for people in financial trouble to handle their debts, start fresh and rebuild their lives. Most people file bankruptcy because of some incident that is out of their control – like a divorce, or loss of job, or the death of an earner in the family or some major medical event that wipes out their savings.

With home prices falling, unemployment near 9 percent and wages stagnant, the volume of fillings continues to rise. Last year, some 1.5 million consumer filings were reported, up 9 percent following double digit gains in each of the previous three years, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

As government mortgage relief programs have fallen well short of their goals and lenders struggle to find solutions, bankruptcy has become a potent weapon for those hoping to save their home from foreclosure. A bankruptcy filing may not guarantee you’ll be able to keep your home. But it stops the process and buys time while the court reviews your financial situation.

If you have questions about filing for bankruptcy I offer a free 30 minute telephone bankruptcy consultation where we can discuss your debt situation and determine if you qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

March 10, 2011

How to Have a Better Divorce

Posted in Divorce tagged at 3:41 pm by demetriagraves

Who says divorce has to be a traumatic experience?  A common question I’m asked is what can I do to ensure a smooth and painless close to a marriage. Another common misconception is regarding consulting an attorney about divorce – this does not necessarily mean the marriage is over, so don’t be afraid to take the next step and get some legal advice if you’re considering that Divorce may be an option.

Divorce is a process that includes emotional, financial, and legal steps that ultimately end in the litigants being unmarried. Once the legalities are over, the hope is that the individuals involved will walk away, determined to begin a new and better life. Divorce is meant to give you that fresh start. Rather than wasting years of your life fighting over meaningless issues, which are remnants of a relationship that is already dead and only waiting to be buried.

Fighting during divorce negotiations only makes it more difficult to walk away from the legal entanglements of marriage without unnecessary trauma. The truth is that there are far worse fates than being young and single or old and alone. Growing old with a partner where life is suffused with resentment, indifference, and a lack of respect and caring is a life wasted.

There is nothing more fulfilling than a good marriage. There is nothing more debilitating than a bad marriage. Divorce can be a wrenching experience for everyone, whether you are the one leaving or the one being left. The choice, however, between a bad marriage and a good divorce would seem to be apparent. It’s important to keep the goal in sight, after the messy negotiations and arguments are over, divorce gives people a fresh start to lead better lives. Approaching divorce as an adventure means viewing a bad marriage as a reparable mistake.

There are no perfect circumstances for embarking upon the process of divorce. Even if one or both litigants want the divorce. The problem about divorce is that it is never only a matter of breaking a legal contract or dividing up assets, or even adjusting to life without a familiar partner. It is often complicated to explain to people that there isn’t anyone, including a professional, who can force a man or a woman who has been left, or worse, left for another, to understand that divorce is the best alternative to beginning a new life.

During the process of divorce, in addition to the legalities, people often leave a trail of misery in their wake—children, friends, and colleagues who will have definite reactions and judgments. The trick to having a good divorce is to accept the situation as irrevocable, sort out the true friends who lend support, ignore those who decide to judge you harshly, and, with the help of those loyal friends, family, a competent attorney.

Taking steps to end a marriage is one of the most difficult decisions anyone can make. All the negative and destructive emotions people feel during the separation, negotiations, and court appearances are normal. Finding happiness and contentment after divorce is also a process. It is important that people understand that millions have gone through what they are going through and it is tough going. With the right attitude and perspective, even if that means cutting off from those who judge negatively or those who have sided with the enemy, it is not only possible but probable that life will be better—with or without another partner.

More People May Qualify For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Posted in Bankruptcy tagged at 3:38 pm by demetriagraves

If you’re wondering if you may qualify for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, then I have some potential good news. The United States Trustee program has released new Census Bureau information on median family income. This information is broken down by state and by family size. Basically, it’s much easier to qualify for chapter 7 bankruptcy, if your income is at or below the average median income for a family of your size in your state.

These numbers are adjusted periodically and traditionally the median income has risen, which means that more people could qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy because their incomes were below the cut off. However, the last few adjustments of median income have actually been adjusted down due to job loss and falling incomes. The numbers just released show a slight increase, which will help those that are right on the cut off to be able to qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. Currently the numbers for median household income in California are:$47,234 for a single person household, $61,954 for a 2 person household, $67,562 for a 3 person household and $77,596 for a 4 person household.

The increases are not large but for many it will make the difference between qualifying for a chapter 7 bankruptcy or not. If you have questions about filing for bankruptcy I offer a free 30 minute telephone bankruptcy consultation where we can discuss your debt situation and determine if you qualify for a chapter 7 bankruptcy.

March 4, 2011

Sheen Surrenders Children to Authorities

Posted in Custody tagged at 12:00 pm by demetriagraves

Charlie Sheen has given up his twin sons who turn two this month to Brooke Mueller, his estranged wife, after Brooke served him with a temporary restraining order. The children were removed by police from Sheen’s Los Angeles mansion. Sheen claims he was blindsided by the police when they removed his sons, Bob and Max. According to Brooke, she is concerned that Charlie is presently insane, and fears an attack from him, as well as being in great fear of the safety of the children when in his care. Forbidden per legal papers, Charlie is not to come within 100 yards of Mueller or the children. While holidaying in the Bahamas last week, Charlie allegedly threatened Brooke with violence, an allegation which Sheen denies.

The whole sad event has been captured on video and Charlie appeared sober and composed when his children were taken away. This is a very sad and unusual case. Taking children away from a parent is an extreme measure that should be used only as a last resort because of the damage it can do to kids. Charlie handled it well.  It’s clear from the video that he loves his kids and they love him.

The court will hold a hearing on the allegations Brooke has made against Charlie to determine if they are true and, if so, what the proper custody orders should be.  Just because the children were taken from him recently does not mean that the court will strip him of his custody rights forever.

It’s rare to see a case where there is one good parent and one bad parent.  Custody decisions aren’t usually made based on a parent’s lifestyle choices or who the parent is currently dating. Drug or alcohol abuse is not enough unless it can be shown that the parent is endangering the child.  Charlie appeared sober and composed when his children were taken away.  He didn’t display any anger and make it as comfortable as possible for the kids, reassuring them that nothing was wrong.  That shows that he had the best interests of his kids at heart at that moment.  I question whether any of us would have handled that situation any better.

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