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3 Legal Tips on How to Handle Digital Assets in a Prenuptial Agreement

Living in the 21st century digital world is nearly inescapable at this point. Digital assets abound and can include some unexpected items that may actually possess some unexpected value. Don't believe it? A digital trading card of Hans Solo, that was recently released, goes for $225. Digital assets can include items that have real, transferable monetary values, like online bitcoin accounts, or simply items that have high sentimental value, such as collections of family photos. Regardless of how an item is valued, during a divorce, both tangible and digital assets must be divided, but some digital assets may prove more challenging to divide. As such, including digital assets in a prenuptial agreement is becoming increasingly advisable. Below you'll find three legal tips on how to include digital assets in a prenup. 1. Agree to Maintain Separate Accounts For things like iTunes accounts, digital music, movies, games, and apps, you may just want to agree to maintain separate accounts that will remain separate property, or will be appraised, valued, and offset upon divorce. As opposed to sharing one account, maintaining separate accounts might require a double purchase of an app or game that both you and your spouse want to use. This downside occurs most often with entertainment-related digital assets because these usually only provide purchasers with a single user license, meaning that a game, app, or digital download can only be used by one account. Note that some digital game assets and collections may be transferable and can be valued at thousands of dollars (i.e. the Hans Solo digital trading card mentioned above). As such, you may wish to put a dollar threshold on the value of separate digital accounts. 2. Appraise and Clearly Identify Separate Digital Property Any couple considering a prenup these days likely already has a collection of digital assets, such as their iTunes music library. Most states will consider property acquired prior to marriage as separate property. However, over time, if separate property appreciates in value during the course of a marriage, it could become partly marital or community property. The same is true for digital assets, and can include assets such as social media accounts, particularly if they are related to a business or occupation, or even websites, such as blogs or online businesses. In a prenup, it can be helpful to identify all separate digital assets, and agree that certain ones, like those relating to only one spouse's business, remain separate property. Appraising prior to a prenup can be helpful to ensure that spouses are fully aware of the value, and can track the increase or loss in value for purposes of offsetting property division. 3. Agree to Copy What You Can Digital assets often include items that can be copied freely, such as photos, home movies, and even music. For digital items that can be copied for free, such as iTunes music without DRM protection, it can be agreed to that these will be copied and shared. However, for digital photos, you may want to include a provision prohibiting the sale of photos, as technically the copyright is held by the person who takes the photo, and likeness rights vary from state to state. Related Resources: Need help with family law? A lawyer can review your case for free. (Consumer Injury - Family) Pros and Cons: Premarital Agreements ("Prenuptials") (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) What Can and Cannot be Included in Prenuptial Agreements (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Digital Estate Planning: How to Prepare Digital Accounts for the End of Life (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Death and Digital Privacy: Please Delete My Browser History, Bro (FindLaw's Common Law)
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Is It Legal to Crop a Dog’s Ears?

For many pet owners, "cropping" or surgically snipping a dog's ears can be a big decision. Opponents of the practice argue that it's unnecessary and inhumane, but is cropping a dog's ears illegal? No Nationwide Ban on Cropping Unlike many other countries, the U.S. government has not passed any law regulating the practice of cropping a dog's ears. Most laws regulating the treatment of animals as pets (i.e., not as livestock or research subjects) are left to the states. Notably, ear cropping is illegal in some parts of Canada, and all of Australia, New Zealand, and in Scandinavian countries, according to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Despite the international disagreement over the practice, both the Canadian and American Kennel Clubs encourage and may even require cropping for show dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not support claims that cropping ears serves to prevent medical issues in dogs, and the practice seems mostly to be for aesthetic purposes in certain pedigree breeds. State Laws on Cropping While a handful of U.S. states do have rules about ear cropping, there are no states that have an outright ban. So while it may be legal to crop your dog's ears anywhere in the United States, you may need to follow a specific procedure. The AVMA reports that there are only eight states where cropping has been regulated. Here are a few examples of those states' laws: Pennsylvania. In 2009, Pennsylvania passed a law making it evidence of animal cruelty for persons other than vets to crop a dog's ears. This law requires dogs to be anesthetized during a cropping procedure. Washington state. Cropping is exempted from animal cruelty laws as long as it's in line with "accepted husbandry practices." Since the American Kennel Club requires cropping for many breeds to show, cropping may be legal if performed by licensed breeders for certain pedigrees in addition to vets. Massachusetts. Non-vets who crop dogs' ears can be slapped with a $250 fine. Even if your state is not among those that have specifically regulated cropping, it is highly recommended to take your dog to a vet for the procedure. The AVMA reports that like any incision, cropping increases the chances for infection. Bottom line: Going to a vet for cropping can reduce your dog's risk of infection and give you the option of anesthesia -- which may be required in a handful of states. Related Resources: Ear-Cropping and Tail-Docking (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Dog Tattoos Controversial, but Are They Legal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Cat Piercing for Goth Look is Animal Cruelty (FindLaw's Blotter) 5 Animals You Can't Keep as Pets (With Some Exceptions) (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
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9/11 Crash Site Undervalued in Eminent Domain Case

The 9/11 crash site of United Flight 93 is actually worth nearly $1 million more than the federal government paid for it, according to a court ruling in an eminent domain case. A federal district judge ruled Wednesday that the site of the downed flight near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, originally valued at $610,000, was actually worth more than $1.5 million, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The federal government scooped up the land from its owner in 2009 under eminent domain, with plans to create a national memorial at the site. But both the original owner and the feds disputed how much it was worth. Flight 93's Final Resting Place On September 11, 2001, United Flight 93 was one of four hijacked aircraft which crashed as part of a terrorist plot. Flight 93 was unique in that it missed its intended target and instead landed in a rural area of Pennsylvania, after a movie-inspiring passenger intervention. The plane's final resting place was in a field originally owned by Michael Svonavec, but the U.S. government took possession of the site in 2009 under the doctrine of eminent domain. Taking land through eminent domain requires that the government take the land for "public use" and compensate the land's owner for its fair market value. Owners have the right to challenge eminent domain actions, and typically the argument boils down to how much the land is actually worth compared to the government's compensation. In Svonavec's case, he believes his land is worth "at least $5.7 million," reports the Tribune-Review. Under this estimation, the federal government would owe Svonavec more than $5 million, but a federal judge decided differently. Commission Made Correct Valuation The "fair market value" of a piece of land with a unique character -- like historical value -- can often be difficult to pinpoint. Typically the government would approximate the land's value based on its size and comparable sales of land in the surrounding area. Perhaps this is how the government came to its original $610,000 figure to compensate Svonavec for the Flight 93 crash site. However, a court-appointed commission in December valued the property at $1,535,000 -- a finding which a federal judge upheld on Wednesday. Part of its valuation included the property's "national significance and intrinsic value," which made it unique from similar parcels of land, reports the Tribune-Review. Svonavec may be upset that he didn't get the $5 million he requested for the 9/11 crash site, but it's more than double what he originally received. Related Resources: Flight 93 memorial site correctly valued at $1.5m, judge rules (Metro) Find an Eminent Domain Lawyer in Your Area (FindLaw) Can I Lose my Property to Eminent Domain? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Can Eminent Domain Actually Help My Business? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
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Facebook Password Lawsuit: School Settles for $70K

A Minnesota school has agreed to fork over $70,000 for demanding a sixth-grader reveal her Facebook password. Riley Stratton, now 15, painfully remembers when Minnewaska school officials cornered her over a Facebook post and threatened her with suspension, reports the Star Tribune. The confrontation ended with Stratton relinquishing her password, but thanks to the ACLU's intervention, its ultimate end was the school cutting a check. What were the legal reasons behind the school's Facebook password settlement? Right to Students' Facebook Passwords? According to an ACLU press release, the American Civil Liberties Union branch in Minnesota filed a lawsuit on Stratton's behalf in 2012 claiming that a number of her civil rights had been violated by the school demanding access to her Facebook account. The suit centered on the treatment of Stratton for conduct via Facebook performed outside of school, some of which was alleged to have been of "a sexual nature," reports the Star Tribune. Employers have been treading a legal line in asking for employees' Facebook passwords, but with the threat of cyberbullying, it seems all the more important in schools. Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt told the Star Tribune that the school just wanted "to make kids aware that their actions outside school can be detrimental." Wallace Hilke, the ACLU attorney for Stratton's case, believes that "[k]ids' use of social media is the family's business" -- not the school's. Stratton's school didn't admit any liability in the settlement, but there will be some changes in its Facebook policies. Settlement Order Promises Change Under the terms of the settlement, the Strattons agreed to drop their claims, as long as the school makes some changes regarding how it handles social media incidents. Minnewaska schools have agreed to: Require students to give up their passwords or account info to school administrators only when there is "reasonable suspicion" they will uncover a violation of school rules; Amend the student handbook to note that students are free to withhold consent to search backpacks or other items, including their Facebook accounts, without the threat of additional discipline; and Train faculty and staff on the policy changes. These changes may be a bit late for Stratton, but they may prevent other students from feeling unduly harassed by school officials about their Facebook passwords. Related Resources: ACLU wins settlement over student's Facebook post (The Associated Press) Can Schools Monitor Students on Social Media? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Asking for Passwords? You May Be Asking for Trouble (FindLaw's Free Enterprise) Daughter's Facebook 'SUCK IT' Post Nixes Dad's $80K Settlement (FindLaw's Decided)
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Top 10 Tips for Successful Co-Parenting

A divorce or separation can be tough on kids, but a good co-parenting plan can help you and your children maintain a sense of normalcy. That's probably one reason why actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, singer Chris Martin, announced they plan to "consciously uncouple and co-parent" as they work through their separation, Reuters reports. If you're also considering a co-parenting arrangement, here are 10 tips to make it work for everyone: Always put your children first. No matter how ugly or costly your divorce or separation proceedings get, always make your children's best interests the top priority. Get a court order. Although it's not required, parenting plans can become "official" with a court order. Depending on your state's laws, violating a legally enforceable parenting plan can result in criminal and/or civil penalties. Live near the other parent. While not always feasible, it may be best for a child if the parents live relatively close to each other so that the child can have regular visits with both parents. Respect each other's parenting style. Parents should accept that the other's parenting style will differ, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. So respect and honor the other person's parenting techniques unless it's clearly endangering your child. Communicate. Communicating openly and frequently with the other parent helps both of you stay on top of what's going on in your child's life. Plus, it'll help avoid misunderstandings that could result in a larger conflict. Create smooth transitions between households. On the days when your kids are spending time at the other parent's home, it may be best to drop them off rather than have the other parent pick them up. Experts say this can help reduce a child's feeling that he's being "taken away" from the other parent. Be involved in your child's activities. Another tip for successful co-parenting is to make sure both parents are involved in the child's activities. Even if you can't stand the other parent, try to maintain civility when attending your kid's school and extracurricular activities. Establish a shared document that both parents can access. Developing a shared account, like a Google Doc or other cloud-based document, that both parents can access can help you quickly share information about your children. This can work for emergency contact numbers and extracurricular schedules, for example. Be flexible. Even if you have a co-parenting court order in place, cut the other parent some slack if an unexpected change occurs and he or she has to change your agreed-upon schedule. (If the other parent routinely does this, however, then it may be time to modify your co-parenting plan.) Hire an attorney. Consulting an experienced family law attorney in your area can be helpful for figuring out and drafting a co-parenting plan, especially if issues like child support or custody are involved. While it may be tough to be around your ex, a successful co-parenting plan will set the ground rules and can help your kids better deal with your divorce or separation. Related Resources: Co-Parenting After Divorce (Psychology Today) Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin Separate: Will Co-Parenting Work? (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Hi-Tech Help for Co-Parenting After Divorce (FindLaw's KnowledgeBase) Moving & Child Custody: 3 Important Questions (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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IRS: Bitcoin Is Property for Tax Purposes

The IRS has news for Bitcoin holders: The virtual currency isn't considered currency for tax purposes -- it's property. The Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday that since Bitcoins and other virtual currencies have no legal tender status in any jurisdiction, they cannot be classified as "currency," reports Reuters. Instead, the IRS explained that Bitcoins can be treated like taxable property. With Tax Day looming, how will Bitcoin holders need to report their virtual riches? Bitcoin Like Other Investments By considering Bitcoin as "property" for federal tax purposes, in many ways, Bitcoins will be treated like other investments. In a press release Tuesday, the IRS noted that paying for work in Bitcoins is taxable: Wages paid to employees in Bitcoins are taxable to the employee and must be included in the employee's W-2 Form. Payments to independent contractors in Bitcoins are taxable and typically must be accounted for in Form 1099. When calculating gross income, taxpayers well need to determine the fair market value of their Bitcoins in U.S. dollars at the time when they received them. However, like stocks and bonds, if you use Bitcoins to buy something or sell Bitcoins to receive U.S. dollars, you may have to pay capital gains tax if you made money in the deal. Then again, if you lost money in a Bitcoin transaction, then you may qualify for a capital loss deduction. Bad News for Bitcoin 'Miners' New Bitcoins are "created" when Bitcoin "miners" run special software designed to help Bitcoin users process transactions faster. Some individuals have decided to make "mining" a business, much like stock traders, but the IRS requires Bitcoin miners to report every "mined" Bitcoin as income. A lawyer for one virtual currency startup company told Reuters that this is going to make life difficult for miners. Because income in Bitcoins is determined based on the date you received the virtual currency, miners will have to "include in income the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date they mined it," the lawyer said. As an experienced tax lawyer would likely explain, any increase in value in Bitcoins gathered by miners would be seen as capital gains, and should be subject to capital gains tax. With these new limits on miners and Bitcoin investment, this new IRS guidance may spell the end of the Gold Rush era of Bitcoins. Related Resources: I.R.S. Takes a Position on Bitcoin: It's Property (The New York Times) Should Your Business Accept Bitcoin? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise) It's Official, Bitcoin is Money, Honey (FindLaw's Technologist) Bitcoin Phishing Email Alert: 3 Red Flags It's a Scam (FindLaw's Common Law)
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