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Don’t Be a Victim in Your Divorce: 5 Empowering Legal Tips

Often in divorce, one ex-spouse can become shellshocked by the process. Paralyzed by fear over family and financial woes, these former partners can cast themselves in the roles of victims. Writing for ABC News, Laura Mattia of the Baron Financial Group believes that women often become financial victims during divorce because of the way they relate to their spouses during marriage. But divorcing spouses can empower themselves when it comes to financial and family situations, rather than taking a sideline in their own divorces. For both women and men, take note of these five empowering legal tips and avoid becoming a victim in your divorce: 1. Be Proactive About Finances. Be proactive about your finances from the start of your marriage through your divorce -- for example, by using a prenuptial agreement. One of the many benefits of a prenup is the ability to delineate who owns what in a marriage and afterward. Even if you're already married, a postnup can accomplish many of the same financial planning goals. 2. Pay Attention to Tax Returns. If you're going through a divorce, do not hand off the responsibility for filing your tax return to your soon-to-be-ex spouse. You should try to communicate with your partner about which tax options are the most beneficial for both of you (if necessary, through your attorneys or a mediator). Doing this will help you avoid being blindsided when you learn that your spouse claimed all your kids as his dependents. 3. Consider Your Long-Term Security. Mattia cautions against relying too heavily on alimony, as it may leave a divorcee financially dependent on her ex. Craft a divorce settlement that covers you and your family's long-term plans (even your kid's college tuition) and that doesn't leave you praying for a spousal support check every month. 4. Stay Smart on Social Media. Don't bad-mouth your ex on social media. Just don't. Not only will it give your former spouse fodder for trashing you in court, but it won't do much for your self esteem either. Instead, consider a social media clause in your prenup or postnup. 5. Hire an Attorney. You know what's the most empowering feeling? Knowing the law is on your side. And you'll only know that for sure with an experienced divorce attorney's help. You don't have to be a victim in your divorce. Use the law to rise above. Related Resources: 5 Things a Divorce Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't) (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) A 'Happy' Divorce? 7 Ways to Make It Less Stressful (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Facebook, Social Media Use Linked to Divorce Rates: Study (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Have a Happy, Healthy... Divorce? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Reminder: Obamacare Deadline Is March 31

The deadline to avoid Obamacare penalties by enrolling in a health plan is March 31, and it is fast approaching. Despite early issues with the HealthCare.gov website, the federal government expects most citizens to be signed up with some form of minimum Obamacare-compliant health coverage or face a tax penalty for 2014. The Washington Post reports that many states are asking the federal government for an extension of that deadline. What should you do to meet the Obamacare deadline? 'Sign Up' Using the Healthcare Insurance Exchange The open enrollment period for healthcare plans began on October 1 and is ending on March 31. Most Americans need to either have some form of minimum health insurance before then, or "sign up" for Obamacare. You sign up for Obamacare through the Health Insurance Exchanges -- either at HealthCare.gov or through your home state's exchange. Some states are still having trouble with their exchange websites. For example, the Post reports that Oregon still doesn't have a fully functioning healthcare enrollment website, and is hoping to get a "month-long extension" from the March 31 deadline. However, there are still many Americans who need not sign up at all for Obamacare, including members of specific religious groups and the extremely poor. But for those who aren't exempt under the Affordable Care Act, you may face a penalty for missing the March 31 deadline. Obamacare Penalty If you do not qualify for an exemption and still don't have health insurance coverage by March 31, you will likely face penalties on your taxes. For those who miss out on this enrollment period in 2014, the penalty applied to your 2014 taxes will be $95 or 1 percent of your household income -- whichever is greater. Since most Americans' household income is more than $9,500, the penalty for not having health insurance by March 31 will likely be much greater than $95. One percent may not seem like a lot, but for middle-class wage earners, the Obamacare penalty may eat away at an already meager tax return. This penalty will increase in 2015 to $325 or 2 percent of your household income (whichever is greater), so not having health insurance will become more and more costly on future tax returns. If you're worried about meeting the March 31 deadline and still have questions about Obamacare, contact an experienced health care attorney. Related Resources: Millions May Avoid Obamacare Penalty as Deadline Looms (Bloomberg) What Is an Obamacare Subsidy? Are You Eligible? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) How Does Obamacare Affect Medicare? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Supreme Ct.: Nuns Can Skip Obamacare Form, Pending Mandate Appeal (FindLaw's Decided)
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How Does a Lawsuit Become a Class Action?

From claims of dangerous pharmaceutical drugs to allegations of falsely advertised products, we often hear about class action lawsuits in the news. A class action lawsuit is one that is brought against a defendant by one individual, or a few individuals, on behalf of a larger class of people who suffered the same or similar injuries from the defendant's product or action. But before a lawsuit becomes a class action, there are legal procedures that must be followed. Here is a general overview: Class Certification You cannot simply "file" a class action lawsuit. A lawsuit becomes a class action through a process called class certification. To obtain certification, the court must find that: It is impractical for the plaintiffs to sue individually; Proposed class members share a common complaint; The named plaintiffs -- called the class representatives -- have the same claims and defenses as the others in the class; and The class action lawyer and representative(s) will fairly represent the class. For efficiency's sake, claims needs to raise common legal and factual issues. For example, a court might deny certification if people have suffered different kinds of side effects from a defective drug. Differences in injuries could potentially require different types of evidence for different class members. Opt In or Out? In most cases, once a lawsuit is certified as a class action, the judge will order notice to be given to all potential class members. Those who are notified will usually have the opportunity to join in the action -- called "opting in" -- which means the outcome of the lawsuit will be binding on them. Those notified may also be given the opportunity not to participate as a member of the class -- that is, to "opt out." You may want to opt out, for example, if you want to bring your own lawsuit. However, in some cases, all victims similarly situated will automatically be deemed class members, and will have no opportunity to opt out. Because each class action is different, and because the decision to opt in or out may have binding consequences, you may want to consult an experienced class action attorney about your legal rights -- especially if you believe you have a lot of money at stake. Related Resources: CA Filipina Nurses File Class Action Suit (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Coca Cola Faces ERISA Class Action Lawsuit (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Red-Light Camera Settlement: $4.2M for N.J. Drivers (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Live Nation Settlement Could Mean Free Tickets, Discounts (FindLaw's Decided)
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For Good Samaritan Day, 5 Legal Tips for Do-Gooders

Today marks Good Samaritan Day, a day that celebrates compassion and kindness. But before you pay it forward, make sure you're in the legal clear. As odd as it may sound, there are certain situations in which lending a helping hand can potentially land you in legal trouble. Here are five legal tips all do-gooders should keep in mind: Good Samaritan laws may give you legal cover. In jurisdictions with Good Samaritan laws, they act as a legal shield for individuals who risk the fray to save lives. Under this doctrine, rescuers can avoid civil liability for injuries arising from aid or rescue efforts, as long as the person's actions are reasonable and not reckless or grossly negligent. Good Samaritan laws have their limits. As stated above, there is a limit to Good Samaritan protection. Even a good faith effort to rescue an injured victim can land a rescuer in court if the acts she took to deliver aid are considered reckless. Generally, a rescuer can face liability for leaving a person worse off than before aid was rendered. Liability can also be found when the rescuer's negligence is what ultimately, and foreseeably, caused injuries to the person being rescued. New Good Samaritan laws cover drug overdose situations. At least 12 states have enacted protections for Good Samaritans in drug overdose cases. In these states, Good Samaritans can call 911 to report drug overdoses without fear of legal consequences for the caller or the drug-overdose victim. However, these laws don't necessarily prevent law enforcement from charging anyone with a crime using evidence that is unrelated to calling for medical aid. Civil liability can also exist if the rescuer acted recklessly. You can potentially get fired for being a Good Samaritan at work. Generally, "at-will" employees can be fired by employers on the spot for almost any reason. Good Samaritan laws do not protect Good Samaritans from being fired. One Michigan employee learned that the hard way when he was fired for leaving his post to help a customer extinguish his car fire. Activity-specific Good Samaritan laws exist. Some states have enacted statutes that protect specific emergency care or assistance. For example, Indiana protects the emergency care of veterinarians; Alabama extends immunity to helpers following the discharge of hazardous materials; some states protect those who assist with oil spill cleanup efforts. Happy Good Samaritan Day! Related Resources: It's Good Samaritan Day: Celebrating compassion & kindness of strangers (San Francisco Examiner) The California Supreme Court Holds that Good Samaritans Providing Nonmedical Aid Can Be Held Liable If They Act Negligently (FindLaw's Writ) Good Samaritan Finds Wallet, Gets Wallet's Owner Arrested (FindLaw's Legal Grounds) Taxi Rescue By MBTA Worker: What Is A Good Samaritan Law? (Boston Personal Injury News)
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Does Your Divorce Settlement Cover College Tuition?

College tuition may comprise a large chunk of your divorce settlement, but it shouldn't be unexpected. It was a bit of a surprise for one New Jersey father who was ordered to pay half of his daughter's Cornell Law School tuition -- a whopping $112,500. What settlement language should divorcing spouses focus on when considering future tuition obligations? Child Support for 18+ Although the term "child support" may be misleading, divorce settlements can guarantee support for children of divorcing spouses well into their 20s. Depending on the terms of your child support agreement -- which is often negotiated as part of a divorce settlement -- child support might continue after a child turns 18. In many instances, child support obligations to adult children are governed by state law. But it may also come down to the specific terms of an ex-spouse's divorce settlement agreement. If your agreement outlines specific parental obligations for a child if he or she chooses to attend college, you will likely be held to those terms. You can, of course, attempt to modify your existing child support agreement once a child turns 18 or decides to attend college or graduate school. But absent any major changes in your child support agreement, you may still owe child support toward an adult child in college or grad school. Paying for or Choosing Schools Depending on the specific terms of your child support order and/or divorce settlement agreement, you may have control over whether your child goes to an expensive out-of-state school. Married couples often disagree on this topic, so it isn't any surprise that ex-spouses might come apart when deciding which school is appropriate for their children. Much of the guesswork can be avoided if the divorce settlement or child support order contains specific provisions regarding: How much tuition each spouse is responsible for; Who has the final say in deciding which school to attend; Payment obligations for living on- or off-campus; and Meal plans, books, and other class-related expenses. If these areas are left unexplored, it may be left to a family court judge to delve into each spouse's expectations and the child's best interests to determine college choice and how much tuition is owed by a parent. Consulting an experienced child support attorney can help remove many of these if's and maybe's about whether your divorce settlement covers college tuition. Related Resources: Honors Student, 18, Sues Parents Over Paying for College (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Does Child Support End Upon Graduation? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Legal How-To: Modifying Child Support (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Divorce: Child Custody and Religion (FindLaw)
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