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divorce-and-id-theft-400-06524487dToday most of us are aware of the dangers of identity theft and even know of a few precautions that can lessen our chances of becoming a victim – guard passwords; avoid conducting financial or personal transactions over public WiFi; keep personal information personal. But when we think of identity theft, we assume the thieves are strangers surreptitiously acquiring our personal information. What we don’t even consider is that members of our own families may be involved.

Recent reports disclosed that a significant number of identity thefts are committed by people close to us who have unique access to our information and know personal details that can be used to answer most any security question. This can be anybody: friend, parent, sibling, and it is a problem that is often overlooked when couples are getting a divorce. After all, who knows you more intimately than an ex-spouse? To learn about how prevalent this issue is, read David Matthau’s article on www.nj1015.com titled, “Your identity could be stolen … by a family member.”

smoking-in-carLawmakers in New Jersey are considering a bill which would make it illegal to smoke in vehicles in an effort to protect children from the effects of second-hand smoke. The bill covers not only cigarettes but any tobacco product including pipes and cigars, as well as electronic cigarettes. The smoking violation would be a secondary offense, meaning drivers would have to be stopped for a different moving violation, such as speeding, before they could be cited for this infraction.

By now, most people are aware of the health risks associated with smoking, including the risks of second-hand smoke. However, opponents to the proposed legislation have cited concerns about this law violating individuals’ privacy rights and have suggested that the majority of parents would tend to use good judgment when it comes to protecting their children’s health without government intervention.

For more details about the proposed law, see the www.njfamily.com article, “NJ Smokers May Face Penalties for Smoking in Cars with Kids.”

domestic-violence-penaltiesDomestic violence is a prevalent problem that can affect anyone regardless of age, race, religion, socioeconomic status and even gender. Last year saw an increase in the number of calls made to domestic violence hotlines within the State. Despite current laws designed to curb this behavior, some abusers get away without any serious consequences. Certain New Jersey lawmakers want to change that.

Three New Jersey lawmakers including Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Clinton) believe it is time to revise State laws concerning domestic violence and have introduced legislation to that effect. Read Kevin McArlde’s article, “Domestic violence penalties would increase under NJ measure” to learn more.

mature-minor-doctrineThe Connecticut Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court ruling forcing a 17-year-old cancer patient to undergo chemotherapy treatments despite her expressed objections to the treatments because, the court stated, the girl’s attorneys had failed to prove that she was mature enough to make such decisions.(1)

This ruling has garnered much debate over when a person, particularly a minor, has the right to make decisions regarding his or her medical care. In most cases, the parents of minors, (i.e., children under 18) are responsible for making decisions relating to their child’s medical treatment. However, there are circumstances where states may step in and make those decisions in place of the parents. Such is the case in Connecticut.

According to reports the girl, identified only as Cassandra C., was diagnosed last September as suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which has been described as a serious yet highly curable form of cancer. Following her diagnosis, the girl underwent surgery to have part of her lymph nodes removed. Doctors recommended that this procedure be followed by chemotherapy treatments. According to medical experts, chemotherapy treatments have an 80 to 95% cure rate for this form of cancer. Without the treatments, however, they say Cassandra is likely to die within a couple of years.(1)

Despite this prognosis, Cassandra expressed concerns about the long-term effect the chemotherapy could have on her internal organs and her fertility and refused the treatments. Her mother reportedly supported her decision.(2)

The law requires doctors to report cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. In this case, Cassandra’s mother’s support was seen as tantamount to abuse in light of the doctors’ prognosis for her child’s chances of survival without the chemotherapy treatments. Doctors referred the case to Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), which took the matter to the Connecticut Superior Court. The court ruled in favor of DCF, granting that agency temporary custody of Cassandra and, as a result, the authority to make decisions regarding her medical treatment.(2) Continue reading

step-parent-rights-blogEarlier this month, a blog written by Candice Curry and titled “An Open Letter to My Daughter’s Stepmom” gained mass media attention for dispelling the myths of the “evil step parent” and exploring the difficulties and benefits of co-parenting.(1) Material such as this leads to the question, what are the rights of stepparents?

Without legal custody, a stepparents’ rights generally are very limited. Even in cases where the child’s biological parents designate the stepparent to handle issues pertaining to the child’s health or education, medical professionals including hospitals and school authorities are not required to provide the stepparent with information or to carry out his or her instructions regarding the child.(2) Stepparents also do not have the right in a divorce proceeding to seek custody of a child over that child’s biological parent, except in extreme cases where the stepparent can demonstrate that child abuse has occurred. While courts almost always will grant custody of a child to a blood relative, if a stepparent is the only remaining parent and has built a strong relationship with the child, courts could possibly grant custody to the stepparent.(3)

In New Jersey, there is precedence for “third parties” being allowed contact with or awarded custody of a child. Although this is typically associated with grandparents, it can apply to stepparents as well. In order to be awarded custody, however, a stepparent would need to prove that terminating his or her relationship with the child would be harmful to that child, a higher standard than the “best interests of the child” standard typically considered in custody matters.(4)

While their rights are limited, stepparents do have the responsibility for assuring proper treatment of the child and to offer support to the child while the child is living with him or her. However, the income of the stepparent is rarely taken into consideration by courts when determining child support amounts, nor is the stepparent expected to provide support while the child is living outside the stepparent’s home.(2)

The legal relationship between stepparent and child changes in the event of adoption. Adoptions by stepparents, which is the most common type of adoption in this country, most often occur when the child’s non-custodial parent remarries and that parent is unable, unwilling, or found to be legally unfit to continue parenting his or her child.(5) Continue reading

pregnancy-discriminationThe U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case this month that could clarify what responsibilities employers have to their pregnant employees. At the heart of their decision is the determination of whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act adopted in 1978 requires employers to treat pregnant workers like every other employee or like other workers with restrictions, such as temporary injuries.(1)

The case involves Peggy Young who sued her former employer, United Parcel Services (UPS), under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for refusing to make accommodations for her condition despite medical recommendations. According to that lawsuit, Young was a part-time driver for UPS when she became pregnant in 2006. Young’s job involved the pick-up and delivery of packages – mostly small packages and envelopes – between an airport shuttle and local businesses and homes. While UPS employment guidelines state that drivers are required to be able to handle packages up to 70 pounds, the packages handled by Ms. Young rarely weighed in excess of 20 pounds.(1)

When she learned she was pregnant, Ms. Young presented her employers with a medical note recommending she not lift packages over 20 pounds in her condition. According to the lawsuit, UPS found that Ms. Young did not qualify for light duty accommodations under company guidelines. UPS policy allowed for employees who had suffered job-related injuries and certain other employees who were injured or sick and covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be put on “light duty.” Noting that her condition was neither work-related nor covered under the ADA, UPS refused to allow special accommodations and instead put Ms. Young on unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy. That move caused Ms. Young to lose her medical benefits as well as her salary, the suit stated.(2)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was designed to make sure pregnant women and those that had just given birth were treated equally in employment-related issues as other non-pregnant employees with similar work abilities and inabilities. Prior to adoption of the Act, pregnancy was often grounds for termination because pregnant women were not given any special protections under anti-sex discrimination laws.(2)

Arguments supporting Ms. Young state that if UPS’ business policy allows for “light duty” accommodations for other employees who either were injured on the job, covered under ADA guidelines or lost their driving privileges according to Department of Transportation regulations, the company should allow the same accommodations for pregnant workers. Opposing views argue, however, that UPS has created a “pregnancy blind” policy, meaning their guidelines treat pregnant workers no different than other employees and point out that neither the Pregnancy Discrimination Act nor the ADA mandates special accommodations for pregnant workers.(3) Although UPS maintains that this policy was in keeping with the law, it has announced that beginning next year, the company will offer “light duty” accommodations to its pregnant employees.(2) Continue reading

gray-divorceThe U.S. continues to hold the highest divorce rate out of any other country with an estimated 45% of unions expected to end in divorce, according to a study released last month. And while this rate has remained relatively steady for the past 20 years, what is on the rise is the number of divorces among the 50-plus age group.(1)

According to the study, entitled “Gray Divorce: A Growing Risk Regardless of Class or Education,” about a quarter of all divorces in the year 2010 involved couples age 50 or older. In fact, the study pointed out the divorce rate for couples in this age group has doubled in the two decades between 1990 and 2010. While one in every four couples divorcing today is over age 50, one out of every ten is over age 64.(2) An article in the November 2014 “AARP Bulletin” pointed out that the reasons behind these divorces are much the same as those for any other couple’s divorce regardless of age: general discontent, boredom, built-up grudges, the search for a different kind of life; falling out of love with your spouse or into love with someone else. The reasons why the divorce rate among this age group is increasing while the divorce rate among their younger counterparts remains steady is another story.

The study cited above suggests that one reason is this age group was the first generation to divorce and remarry in large numbers when they were younger and now as they near their retirement age, they are in their second or third marriage. Traditionally remarriages have been less likely than first marriages to succeed. Other reasons behind the rising rate, according to the study, include divorce having less of a social stigma than it did in the past, and people of that age group, particularly the women, having more financial resources available to them.(2)

Divorce over 50 does present its own set of obstacles for couples to overcome. Because these couples have been involved in long-term relationships, they have had the time to acquire more financial assets – and debts – than their younger counterparts, and have to deal with the distribution of retirement assets and the divvying up of businesses and real estate holdings, as well as debt in the form of joint credit cards and loans.(3)

Retirement is a major issue for these couples. Because they are nearing retirement age, there is little time for them to recoup financial losses or overcome financial hardships. Divorce itself can put a strain on any bank account – legal fees, counseling expenses, and sole responsibility for previously shared expenses all add up at a time when these couples are moving past their peak earning years. The “AARP Bulletin” cited data showing that after divorce the average income for a man drops about 23% and for a woman by about 41%. Added to this is the fact that retirement costs are significantly higher for divorced individuals than for couples. In fact, retirement costs were 40% to 50% higher on a per-person basis for divorced couples than for married couples.(3) Continue reading

400-07265449Although New Jersey ranks among the three states to claim the lowest suicide rate, suicide does remain a serious issue that has been attracting a lot of attention lately. Among the groups working to increase awareness of this growing problem is the group most affected by it – teens and young adults.(1)

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), statistics compiled in 2010 showed that suicide ranks second as the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24. A Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2011 disclosed that one out of every seven high school-age students in the U.S. has either attempted or considered suicide.(1)

These sobering statistics have led other young adults in New Jersey to take action to raise suicide awareness. Keystone Club members from the Boys and Girls Club of Jersey City were instrumental in preparing a bill currently being considered by the State legislature.(2)

The “Boys and Girls Club’s Keystone Law” would allow minors to get help from therapists and social workers without prior consent of an adult, much like existing bills which allow teens and young adults to receive treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, sexual assault, certain sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS without adult consent. The bill, if passed, would add New Jersey to the list of 16 other states with similar laws on their books.(2)

The CDC stated that one out of every three deaths in the 10 to 24 age group is due to suicide. Based on these numbers, it estimates there will be about 2,000 suicides and 5,000 attempted suicides each year by this age group. The Keystone group believes that giving minors direct access to treatment will help them overcome the stigma that too often keeps them from seeking the help they need.(2)

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It takes only minutes for the temperature inside a parked car to rise to dangerous levels and that can prove tragic for families when a child is left locked inside. Unfortunately, this situation occurs more often than one would think and New Jersey Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Jackson) has now introduced a bill that he hopes would cause all adults to pay closer attention when transporting children.(1)

Currently, New Jersey law considers leaving a child unattended in a vehicle a fourth degree offense of child neglect. The new bill proposes imposing a fine of $500 on adults who leave children six years old and younger unattended in a motor vehicle. If such actions result in injuries to the child, the offense would be considered a third degree crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of $15,000. If the child suffers serious injuries or death, the offense would be increased to a second degree crime carrying the possibility of a ten-year jail term and a fine of $150,000.(1)

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alimony%20reform.jpgThe New Jersey Senate today approved a bill designed to reform the State’s outdated alimony laws. The bill, which won State Assembly approval last week and would impact future divorce agreements if adopted, represents a compromise of various proposals State lawmakers have been considering for more than two-and-a-half years.(1) And, although it did not satisfy all elements the various interest groups involved sought, the proposed bill does address a number of concerns not provided for under the State’s current alimony laws.(2)

One of the biggest changes contained in the proposed bill is the elimination of the term “permanent alimony” which has been a major source of confusion. That term would be replaced with “open duration alimony” and courts would be provided with a specific list of factors to consider in determining the length of an alimony award and the circumstances under which payments could be terminated on a case-by-case basis. The factors to be considered include:

• The age of the parties when they married and separated;
• The ability of each party to maintain a standard of living;
• The need for separate residences;
• The level of dependence of one party on the other; and

• Any health or related issues of either party.(3)

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