Posts made in December, 2014

How Will A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Affect Your Divorce Obligations?

If you’ve recently determined your debt load or a reduction in income necessitates a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, you likely have a lot of questions — not only about the process, but about which debts can be reorganized or discharged. If you’re divorced and have alimony or child support obligations (or both), you may be wondering whether these debts are included in your Chapter 13 filing. Read on to learn more about how divorce-related obligations are treated during the bankruptcy process.

What is a Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Unlike a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which involves the discharge of all eligible outstanding debts (and repossession of any collateral for loans that are not reinstated, such as autos or homes), a Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires you to pay a portion of your outstanding debt. When you enter a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you’ll work with the bankruptcy trustee to establish a budget of all necessary family expenses (such as food, gasoline, utilities, and childcare). Any monthly income in excess of these budgeted expenses is remitted to the trustee, who then portions it out to debtors in order of priority.

Many debtors will eventually forgive or discharge a portion of the debt under a Chapter 13 plan — however, some debts will need to be fully repaid. Generally, a Chapter 13 plan will last between 3 and 5 years, depending on the amount of debt that needs to be repaid relative to your income. 

Once you’ve completed your Chapter 13 repayment plan, any eligible remaining debts are eliminated, and you’re removed from the bankruptcy process. Although your credit score may take a hit while you’re in bankruptcy, it will quickly recover once the process has been completed. If you are unsuccessful in your Chapter 13 repayment plan, you may be able to convert it to a Chapter 7 discharge or negotiate with your lenders outside the bankruptcy context.

Does a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing eliminate or lower your child support or alimony payments?

Because child support and alimony payments are governed by the state court (or sometimes appellate court) in which your divorce case was filed, rather than the federal bankruptcy court, these payments are generally unable to be modified by the bankruptcy court. If you’re genuinely unable to afford your payments, you can petition the trial court to modify your payments — and if successful, this can help make these payments more manageable under your Chapter 13 repayment plan.

However, if the trial court refuses to modify your child support or alimony, the bankruptcy trustee will rank these obligations accordingly. Any current or back child support owed is given top priority in your Chapter 13 repayment plan. Alimony is also given a high priority. Neither of these obligations will be discharged after the successful completion of a Chapter 13 plan. 

What does a Chapter 13 bankruptcy do to your obligation to split assets in a divorce?

During the course of your divorce proceedings, the court may have issued a division of property order requiring you to liquidate or transfer certain retirement or investment accounts. Although this is technically a debt (until it is fulfilled), filing for bankruptcy does not extinguish or toll this obligation, and these funds should be transferred outside the bankruptcy context.

If you plan to file for bankruptcy before your divorce is finalized, consult an attorney — there may be additional complex legal issues that can delay the granting of your divorce or postpone the approval of your Chapter 13 repayment plan.

Can your child support or alimony obligations be extinguished by a Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Just as your Chapter 13 bankruptcy will not lower your child support or alimony obligations, neither will a Chapter 7 discharge. If your Chapter 13 is converted to a Chapter 7 (or you later file an independent Chapter 7 bankruptcy) you’ll still be on the hook for both types of payments until the trial court orders that these payments cease.

Contact a Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorney near you to find your best course of action.

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What You Should Do If You Are Involved In An Accident With A Ride-Sharing Driver

Ride-sharing “taxi” services have become all the vogue recently. These services, which allow private car owners to pick up fare-paying customers, use apps and modern technology to connect drivers with potential users. In many cases, private drivers can charge lower fares than professional taxi drivers, who have to pay for expensive licensing and meet certain industry regulations and standards. But what should you do if you or a family member is involved in an accident with one of these private drivers? Can you, for example, sue a driver who does not have a passenger but was on their way to pick up a fare? And how much responsibility does the company running the ride-sharing program have for your injuries and property damage?

A New Year’s Eve Tragedy

In San Francisco, on New Year’s Eve in 2013, a six-year-old child was struck and killed by a ride-sharing driver who did not have a passenger in the car. However, the parents of the child claim that they saw the driver looking at his phone prior to the accident and believe he may have been looking at his ride-sharing app. The parents are suing the driver and the ride-sharing company, alleging that the ride-sharing system is designed in such a way that its drivers need to check the apps frequently in order to pick up fares.

Insurance Coverage

The ride-sharing company involved in the lawsuit involving the six-year-old girl is now offering insurance coverage for its drivers even if they don’t have a passenger in their vehicle but are logged into the app. This is different than in the past when the company only offered insurance coverage for a driver if they actually had passengers in their vehicle. 

What You Should Do 

If you are involved in a collision with or are struck by a vehicle being used for a ride-sharing driver, you will need to do the following:

  • Call the police and report the incident. 
  • Get the names of witnesses. If the driver is ferrying a customer, then you should make sure that either you or the police obtain their information. 
  • Take pictures of the damage to the vehicles.
  • Get the driver’s insurance information. If you discover that the driver was working in a ride-sharing program, you should also obtain the name of the company the driver was working for. 
  • Check your ride-sharing apps. If you have ride-sharing apps on your phone and you believe the driver may have been working for one of these companies but won’t admit it, you should quickly open the apps to see if a vehicle icon shows up in the area of the accident. For example, in a September 2013 accident, witnesses at the scene of an accident were able to see a ride-sharing vehicle icon in the area on their apps, and as the car was being towed away, the icon also moved away. 

Hire an Accident Attorney

Hiring an attorney is especially important if you have suffered serious injuries or if a family member was killed during the incident, and you believe the driver was participating in a ride-sharing program or that they may have been checking their apps. An attorney can: 

  • Subpoena phone or records from the ride-sharing company that could possibly prove the driver was driving distracted at the time of the accident.  
  • Determine exactly who the defendants will be in your case. An attorney, for example, may decide to sue not just the driver but also the ride-sharing company. 

 Because these ride-sharing programs are fairly new, the insurance situation and legal ramifications surrounding them are still evolving. That is why it is important to click for more info or seek legal counsel who can help you determine exactly what you need to do in order to recover the most for your damages. 

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Child Adoption: Issues Gay Men Must Consider

Over 8 million people in the United States identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and around 3 million of those adults have had at least one child. Same-sex couples (including gay men) raising children are four times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to adopt a child, but for gay men, the process isn’t always easy. If you are keen to adopt a child, learn more about some of the legal issues gay men face, and find out what you need to do to navigate the system.

How children can come into gay men’s lives

Gay men can bring children into their lives in several ways. In some cases, one of the men will have a biological child from a different-sex relationship. Other times, one man will use a surrogate mother to carry a child born from his sperm and a donor egg, and the other father will become a legal parent through second-parent adoption. Otherwise, gay men will sometimes adopt a child that neither man has any biological connection with.

When it comes to adoption, gay men often tackle some of the most vulnerable children in society. For example, a 2011 report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that ten percent of gay and lesbian parents adopted children older than 6, an age group that is often difficult to adopt. More than 60 percent of these parents also adopted across races. These minority groups often stay in the foster system longer than others.

The issues gay men face

Gay men face several barriers when it comes to adopting children. Some agencies continue to discriminate against gay couples, and some adoption professionals remain ambivalent to the benefits of gay parenting. Social stigma remains a challenge across the United States, and many schools struggle to support gay parents.

Lesbians generally have more parenting options than gay men, and the cost of surrogacy is often prohibitive for gay men. According to the National Association of Social Workers, the average cost of surrogacy is between $100,000 and $150,000. As an alternative, co-parenting presents many legal and emotional challenges.

That aside, the biggest challenge gay men face is often the state legal system. While the United States continues to go through a significant period of reform in gay rights, state laws vary about the rights of gay men to adopt children.

Some states allow both men in a same-sex relationship to jointly adopt a child. These states generally allow adoption through agencies. That aside, other states do not yet allow joint or second-parent adoption in same-sex relationships. As such, before you embark on any plan to adopt children, you should check the laws where you live.

Unfortunately, even if state law does not prohibit gay men from adopting children, some judges will use the issue to rule a prospective adoptive parent is unfit.

Parenting agreements as an alternative to adoption

Where state law does not allow gay men to adopt children, a parenting agreement can give a non-biological parent some rights. You should draw up a parenting agreement to show you both consider yourselves parents of the child, and you intend to live your life on that basis.

You can also use the agreement to show you understand the responsibilities you hold, and you can also outline what you want to happen if the relationship ends. A break-up is often the most challenging issue for a non-biological parent, as the law will not recognize him if the other person is the biological father.

A parenting agreement can also cover financial issues, education, housing and any other matter related to the children. The outcomes of custody battles vary considerably, but these agreements can afford non-biological parents some legal protection.

A trained family law attorney can help you navigate the legal system in your state. While United States law is changing, many gay men still need the help of a family law attorney to get the outcome they want.

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Have You Suffered An Auto Accident In Florida? Find Out Whether You Qualify To File A Personal Injury Suit

If you’ve been injured in an auto accident in Florida, you may be dealing with more medical bills than you can handle. If your insurance company refuses to pay any more, you may need to consider a compensation suit to get the money you need from the party responsible for your accident. However, before you talk to a lawyer about building a case, you have to understand a few things about Florida’s unique accident compensation laws.

What Does “No-Fault” Mean?

Each state has its own laws governing how the compensation for accident costs is recovered. Florida has a “no-fault” policy for recovering damages, which means that no one person in an accident is held responsible for all of the damage caused, even if it can be demonstrated that their actions caused the accident itself. Instead, drivers must look to their own insurance policies to cover repair and hospital bills.

Even if your hospital bills are extensive, there are still strict rules regarding when you are permitted to sue the other driver for additional compensation. Namely, you must be able to demonstrate that you’ve suffered a permanent injury.

What Counts As A Permanent Injury?

Extensive scarring, especially scarring which disfigures or discolors the face, is considered a form of permanent injury that allows for seeking additional compensation. Depending on the scars, compensation may be calculated based on the cost of restorative plastic surgery or, if surgery is not an option, based on the value of the pain and suffering experienced by a permanently scarred person. 

Physical disabilities that develop as a result of an accident are also classified as an injury eligible for a compensation suit. The inability to stand for long periods, walk unassisted, and lift heavy items are just a few potential disabilities that you can have as a result of auto accident injuries. Loss of limbs or the loss of their function also qualifies, provided that there is no way to regain function with treatment.

You also are entitled to seek compensation if you have lost your sight or your hearing as a result of the accident. Even if you retain some sight or hearing, if the damage is too significant to be corrected with the use of glasses or hearing aids, you will still be able to sue the other driver.

Depending on the circumstances of the car accident, permanent injuries to your mental health may also qualify. If you suffer brain damage, for example, which reduces your ability to function in daily life, you will be able to sue for compensation. Depression and PTSD suffered after a car accident may also qualify, but proving the permanence of both conditions can be a challenge.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

In Florida, determining the amount of compensation for a person injured in an accident usually involves first determining how much of the accident is the other party’s fault. For example, if you are struck by a moving vehicle and injured, you are entitled to compensation. However, if you were jaywalking, wearing low-visibility clothing at night, or you moved suddenly into the crosswalk, the court may determine that a percentage of the responsibility for the accident is on your shoulders.

While negligence is quantified in percentages, the amounts are decided purely by the judge after he or she has been informed by doctors and other expert witnesses, eye witnesses, and the testimony of both you and the defendant. Therefore, it is very possible to have your percentage of responsibility reduced by a competent attorney, who can rhetorically convince the judge to assign more blame to the other party.

Once percentages of negligence are determined, you will receive compensation equal to what you need minus your percentage of responsibility. For example, if the court finds you 20% responsible for your accident and you are suing for $100,000, a ruling in your favor will mean the other party must pay you $80,000.

Dealing with permanent injuries can be emotional and stressful at the best of times, but when you’re swamped with bills, it can be a far heavier burden. Contact your local auto accident attorney and find out whether you have a case for an additional compensation suit. What do you have to lose?

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How Will Filing For Bankruptcy Affect Your Current (And Future) Home?

If you’re considering filing for bankruptcy — either a Chapter 7 liquidation or a Chapter 13 reorganization and payment plan — you may be wondering how filing for bankruptcy will affect your ability to remain in your home. Luckily, there are a number of protections under bankruptcy law that can allow you to keep your home, as well as qualify for future mortgages. However, these laws continue to evolve, and these protections may change in the future. Read on to learn about how your home will be treated during a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as well as some expected future changes in these laws.

Can you keep your home after filing for bankruptcy?

There’s no need to let fears of homelessness prevent you from filing for bankruptcy — in general, as long as you’re up-to-date on your mortgage payments, you’ll be allowed to remain in your home. There are two primary ways to accomplish this under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy: either by using available exemptions to exclude your home from the filing, or by reaffirming your mortgage.

  • Exclusion
    • The same exemptions that can help you reduce your property taxes can also help you keep your home in bankruptcy. There are various exemptions available under federal and state laws. If the equity in your home falls within one of these exemptions, you’ll be able to exclude your home from the bankruptcy filing altogether, as long as you keep making mortgage payments on time.
  • Reaffirmation
    • If your home equity falls outside the exclusion amount, you can reaffirm the mortgage. This is essentially a new promise to pay, made outside the bankruptcy filing. Because you’re prohibited from filing for bankruptcy again for several years, and because the bank is able to enforce a sale of your home through foreclosure if you stop making your payments, the risk to the bank is low in allowing you to keep your home.

If you are behind on your mortgage payments, you may run the risk of foreclosure or bankruptcy liquidation. In foreclosure, the bank will obtain a legal judgment to your home which allows them to sell your home at auction and use any sale proceeds to pay your outstanding mortgage, plus any fees or penalties. In a bankruptcy liquidation, the bankruptcy trustee will seize and sell your home to divide the proceeds among various creditors.

What changes are being made in these laws?

Currently, if you owe more on your home than it is worth, you’re generally allowed to discharge second mortgages, home equity loans, or home equity lines of credit in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, this law may soon change. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit regarding the ability to discharge these second mortgages in bankruptcy under certain conditions — and the banks are arguing against this discharge. If the Supreme Court decides in favor of the banks, future bankruptcy filers may be stuck with both a first and second mortgage on an underwater home, even after other debts are discharged.

Will you be able to apply for a new mortgage after filing bankruptcy?

Whether you’ve chosen to sell your home, or it has been sold in foreclosure or through bankruptcy, you can still qualify for a mortgage after bankruptcy — as long as you wait a few years. For certain types of federally-guaranteed loans, such as FHA, VA, and USDA loans, you’ll need to wait 2 to 3 years after your discharge before qualifying for a mortgage. If you’re going the conventional route, you’ll need to wait at least 4 years, and may be subject to additional documentation requirements and a higher down payment.

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