Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to Avoid Divorce Court - Collaborative Law

First proposed as an innovative solution to the usual "War of the Roses" divorce battles, lawyer Stu Web first proposed the collaborative approach to more amicable, family-friendly divorce proceedings in the 1990's. A decade or more later, collaborative divorce is a solution becoming more and more popular with couples seeking an alternative to very public, and often humiliating,  court cases.

As the name implies, collaborative divorce proceedings naturally became an outgrowth of the skills and talents of any good divorce lawyer, and the roles they often play as legal expert, financial planner, family counselor and friend.

By signing a participation agreement with a specialized collaborative law firm - agreeing to the terms of open and honest communication - couples are given access to not only collaborative law attorneys but other experts in the field of finance, family counseling and child pyschology. 

The agreement that couples sign is unique, in that it demands total cooperation from both sides on pain of breaking the contract, and canceling all negoations. 

In turn, couples are  protected by a proviso forbidding collaborative lawyers from representativing either party in court should traditional divorce proceedings become necessary. In this way,  collaborative law attorneys are incented to work harder to keep the proceedings going forward.

Of course, effective collaboration would likely be a waste of time for childless couples hell bent on a fight over property, or large sums of money. However, for couples who feel the emotional pain is just not worth it, or who want to protect kids from the psychological damage or typically prolonged custody battles, collaboration is often the best resolution for all involved.

More about collaborative law around the Web:

International Academy of Collaborative Professionals - What is collaboative practice? - with related FAQ, glossary of terms and searchable database of collaborative lawyers and mediators.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Toxic Mold - Your Health and The Law

With the rise in million dollar toxic mold lawsuits against home builders and landlords, more people are becoming aware of the dangers of suspected mold that may lurk in their homes or apartments that may eventually end up in their lungs.

Although the US Centers for Disease control and Prevention have yet to establish links between mold and health problems, the medical establishment has at least conceded to possible adverse effects from toxic mold by people with allergies or suppressed immune systems.

Strong anectodal evidence, meanwhile, continues to link common illnesses or symptoms in otherwise healthy people who live in homes where toxic mold is discovered. These include milder cases of wheezing and coughing to more serious cases of asthma, chronic sinusitis, and respiratory infections.

Right now there is no federal law governing the limits of exposure to household mold, although there have been several states that have enacted legislation - California, Indiana, Maryand, New Jersey and Texas among them, as well as local city ordinances such as in New York City and San Francisco that classify toxic mold under department of health violations.

What You Can Do about Toxic Mold

The health solution to toxic mold seems fairly straitforward. Simply get rid of toxic mold by washing all effected surfaces with bleach or other cleaning products. 

However, if the causes of mold - such as leaky pipes, infected wallboard or ventilation systems continues - then renters need to call their landlord for repairs. Renters may try to force  negligent landlords to solve the problem by calling a local city agency or health department. Otherwise, bringing the landlord to court may be their only recourse.

Homeowners who can point to a negligent contractor or defective building materials (or a previous homeowner who did not disclose the problem), may either have recourse to collect from their insurance policy or a full-fleged suing case against those responsible.

Whether your a renter or owner, evidence that you tried to "remediate" or solve the problem yourself needs to be fully documented, by photo evidence as well as hard copies of medical expenses, and bills for cleanup, repairs or replacement of ruined clothing or damaged household items. If a lawsuit is your only recourse, be sure to hire an attorney that specializes in personal injury or experience in toxic mold cases. They can more effectively fight your case in the courts, or successfully negotiate with insurance companies increasingly reluctant to cover costs of toxic mold damages. 

More about toxic mold around the Web:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sexting and Juvenile Law

Meet the new juvenile deliquency issue of the computer age: sexting.

Sexting, or sending out nude photos of oneself or others, is the new fad among teenagers who may send nude photos as a form of high-tech flirting, or merely as a prank to embarass a classmate.


Some cops don't so, as child protection laws now prohibit even kids (some as young as 6th graders) from sending, receiving or storing nude photos electronically. Although legislation was originally enacted to protect minors, kids themselves may not be immune to the law, depending on how strongly local jurisdictions want to enforce it.

Part of the problem, some police officials say, is how quickly these photos can be posted on Internet social sites to lure adult stalkers posing as teens, eventually leading to escalated sexting and possible assault, or worse.

Currently, both teachers and law enforcement are raising the alarm on sexting and are warning parents to take a look at their child's cell phone or Facebook page to see if their kids are baring it all online.

Although kids may think nothing of it, parents need to explain the possible consequences of sending nude pictures - which may result in full legal penalties or possible harassment charges from other teens or their parents.
How to stop it? While authorities realize that parents can't keep kids and teens under lock and key, they suggest the old-fashioned way of making kids tow the line: by reminding them of who pays the bills, and by pulling the plug on their computers and cell phones if sexting ever becomes an issue.

More about sexting and the law around the Web:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Landlord Tenant Law: Evictions

With the economic downturn, searches for legal help regarding eviction law have skyrocketed across the Web.

The most common reason for eviction is, of course, nonpayment of rent, usually by cash-strapped families who can no longer afford to pay.

On the flip side, landlords often are advised to tread lightly when it comes to evicting a tenant. This is not only due to the emotional conflicts involved on both sides, but the legal hassles involved.

Unfortunately, some landlords will simply bypass the courts to take matters - illegally - into their own hands.

The illegal route to eviction

Tenants have rights. Gone are the days when landlords could summarily throw families, furniture and baggage from their homes, but some may still resort to harassment tactics to force tenants from their homes such as:

  • Changing the locks
  • Padlocking the door
  • Removing the door
  • Removing your furniture or other property
  • Turning off utilities

Landlords who try these methods (or anything else to keep you out of your apartment) should be reported to the police immediately since in most localities they will be in violation of the law and subject to criminal proceedings.

The legal route to eviction

To legally evict a tenant, landlords must either hire a lawyer or arrange a court date themselves to hear their case. Next, they must notify the tenant at least several days (5-10 in most jurisdictions) in advance of the hearing date. This is to give the tenant time to prepare a defense.

In court, what's a tenants best defense?: Always remaining calm and explaining your side of the story.

If possible, bring the back rent money to court to have the case dismissed. If you paid the rent, bring a receipt. If you have held back rent because your landlord didn't make necessary repairs, be sure to bring photos and any other proof of your landlord's negligence.

If you cannot pay the rent, or the judge otherwise rules in favor of the landlord, be prepared for an eviction warrant and get ready to move. Depending on individual circumstances, the judge may order removal in 72 hours or issue a "stay" to ease any economic hardship.

Why and how to avoid eviction

While the landlord may not report the eviction, it is still a matter of public record which credit agencies or other landlords can easily discover - with a little digging. If eviction isn't bad enough news, the impact that eviction has on your credit rating is similar to that of bankruptcy, effecting your chances of renting in the future or obtaining anytime soon a bank loan or credit card.

Therefore, if you think you may be any chance of losing an eviction case, it is usually in your best interest (as well as the landlord's) to come to a personal agreement, and avoid a court case altogether.