Alimony must be based on spouse’s ability to pay

Even though an ex-husband was earning far more money than his wife and the wife needed more money to get by, a divorce judge couldn’t order alimony if the ex-husband couldn’t reasonably afford it.

That’s the word from the Florida Court of Appeals.

In this case, Matthew Mills and his wife Tracey – who had one child – ran up significant debt during their marriage. When they decided to divorce, they were each in difficult financial straits and had debts greater than their incomes.

In addition to determining custody of the child, the divorce judge ordered Matthew to pay alimony, based on the fact that he had a much higher income than Tracey and that she had a need for it. [Read more…]

‘Legal’ marijuana could still hurt your custody case

Colorado, Washington and a few other states have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and many others have decriminalized it or approved it for medical purposes.

But just because someone is possessing, smoking or growing pot in a place where it won’t cause them to go to jail doesn’t mean there aren’t other legal consequences. Marijuana use can still be a big issue in a child custody case.

Regardless of whether marijuana smoking is a crime, judges still consider what’s in the best interests of a child when deciding on custody and visitation. [Read more…]

Parents often fight over children’s last names

Couples who are separating sometimes fight over what their children’s last names should be. As a general rule, the answer is whatever is in the children’s best interests. But deciding what those interests are isn’t always easy.

For instance, when New Jersey dad Paul Emma looked through his children’s school records, he was surprised to discover that his ex-wife, Jessica Evans – who had primary custody – had changed their last name from “Emma” to “Evans-Emma.”

He took the case to court, trying to undo the name change. Evans retaliated by asking a judge to change the children’s last name again, this time to simply “Evans.”

The judge ruled that since Jessica had primary custody, it should be assumed that whatever name she chose was in the children’s best interests. [Read more…]

States crack down on ‘re-homing’ of adopted children

A number of states are now cracking down on the practice whereby parents who have adopted children and then are unable to take care of them place them privately with another family.

No one knows how common this is, because there are no statistics. But it’s been known to happen, especially in cases where the child is from a difficult background in another country or has been mistreated by birth parents or at an orphanage. Such children may develop attachment issues and may act out, become violent, or have serious health or emotional problems. In desperation, parents sometimes try to find the child a different home.

The problem is that such private “re-homing” is unregulated, and the new parents are not subject to background checks or other safeguards. People who accept re-homed children may be pedophiles or may be unsuitable in other ways. [Read more…]

Can I start dating again before my divorce is final?

It’s normal for people who are getting divorced to want to start dating other people as soon as possible. After all, it may have been a long time since they were in a good relationship. They want to experience the hope and excitement of something fresh and new.

But if you’re still going through divorce proceedings, there’s a lot you should think about before you start playing the field. That’s because – depending on the circumstances – dating can be very detrimental to the divorce process.

Here’s a look at some of the problems that dating during divorce has the potential to create: [Read more…]

Poor expense records cost business owner $27,000

Owners of smaller businesses can sometimes be careless about keeping records of business expenses for tax purposes.

The good news is that there’s no one right way to keep these records. According to the IRS, you can use any method of tracking expenses you like if it works for you and your business.

However, whatever method you use, you still have to be able to substantiate the time, place, amount, and business purpose of each expense, plus the business relationship of any person you entertained.

Recently the U.S. Tax Court criticized a small businessman for poor tax records and refused to allow him to deduct $27,759 in expenses. [Read more…]

How to keep out competitors if you lease retail space

Most stores that lease space in a mall or other commercial area would like a guarantee that the landlord won’t also rent to a competing business.

This guarantee is known as “exclusive use,” and you can negotiate for it in a lease. If you’re negotiating a right to exclusive use, here are some things to consider:

What’s the use? You’ll want to specifically define your “use,” and what kinds of other businesses are allowed. For instance, if you have an ice-cream-cone shop and you also sell a few ice-cream cakes, can the landlord still rent to a bakery? If a coffee retailer has “exclusive use,” does that mean a sandwich shop can’t also sell coffee? [Read more…]

Are your LinkedIn contacts a trade secret?

If salespeople connect with their business contacts on LinkedIn or another social media site, can they take that information with them when they leave the company?

Maybe not, according to a federal court in California.

David Oakes worked for six years as a salesman for a cell phone accessories company. He had signed an agreement saying that he wouldn’t disclose any proprietary information, including the company’s customer base. When the company terminated him, he started a competing business. His old company then sued, claiming, among other things, that he had maintained his LinkedIn contact list after he was terminated. [Read more…]

Government is suing businesses over wellness programs

The federal government has filed two lawsuits against companies that set up “wellness programs” for their employees. According to the government, wellness programs are perfectly fine if they’re voluntary – but these two companies’ programs weren’t really “voluntary” because workers were penalized if they didn’t participate.

Many employers have started wellness programs recently as a way to reduce health insurance costs. The programs are now used by about 94% of businesses with more than 200 workers.

But wellness programs can be tricky, because they often require workers to divulge sensitive information, including disabilities and family medical history. This can conflict with federal laws against discrimination based on disabilities and genetics, and can raise other problems because certain health issues occur disproportionately on the basis of age, sex and race. [Read more…]

Company sued for copying ‘look’ of competitor’s website

If you’ve put a lot of time and money into designing a distinctive website or online store, and a competitor comes along and copies your site’s look, can you sue?

Yes, according to a federal court in California. The “look and feel” of a website is protected by the trademark laws.

Surprisingly, this is one of the first court rulings ever on this question.

Of course, a website is different from a trademark. But a website can still be protected by the law, because it can amount to a company’s “trade dress.” [Read more…]

Wage garnishments are skyrocketing – and they’re a minefield for businesses

More than 10 percent of employees between the ages of 35 and 44 had their wages garnished last year, according to a new study by payroll company ADP. That’s a staggering figure, and it creates a serious problem for employers, who are subject to complex state and federal laws about garnishment and can be sued if they do something wrong.

For years, wage garnishment was generally limited to people who fell behind on child support payments or owed money to the IRS. But that’s changed, as more and more private companies are using wage garnishment as a way to collect overdue consumer debts.

In the past few years, these creditors have filed millions of lawsuits. Last year, some 4 million people had their wages garnished for credit card debts, student loans, car payments, medical bills and other consumer obligations. In fact, among employees earning $25,000 to $40,000 a year, more had garnishments for consumer debts than for child support. [Read more…]

Businesses say taxes are a hassle

In a survey of small businesses conducted by the National Small Business Association, 59% of respondents said taxes were more of an administrative burden than a financial one. Most businesses put payroll taxes at the top of the list of taxes with the greatest administrative burden. Payroll taxes also outranked other taxes, such as income, property, and sales taxes, as the top financial burden to businesses.

IRS publishes 2016 HSA contribution limits

The IRS recently announced inflation-adjusted contribution limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) for 2016. HSAs are a combination of a high-deductible health insurance plan and a savings account in which you set aside pretax dollars that can be withdrawn tax-free to pay unreimbursed medical expenses. The 2016 HSA contribution limit for individuals is $3,350; the limit for family coverage is $6,750. You can make a catch-up contribution of an additional $1,000 when you’re 55 or older.

Scammers want to take your vacation

Buyer beware! Both the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission have issued warnings about vacation fraud. By some estimates, this type of scam costs travelers over $10 billion each year. How do you know whether you’re dealing with a legitimate travel agent or a huckster? Here are pointers.

  • Do your research. Get contact information for hotels, rental car companies, and airlines; then confirm reservations and prices directly. Research properties on the Internet before you travel. (Is that “five star hotel” really near the beach?) Check out the Better Business Bureau. Although bad companies may not always appear on BBB radar, a history of complaints is a tip-off that you’re dealing with a less-than-reputable firm.
  • Get it in writing. Obtain a copy of the firm’s cancellation and refund policies. Get written confirmation of your travel arrangements. Read the fine print, especially verbiage about availability of travel dates and additional charges.
  • Beware the bait and switch. You don’t want to learn the hard way that “luxury” has an unexpected definition. In one scam, a “luxury” Caribbean cruise booked for dollars a day was actually a six-hour ferry ride. In another, a “luxury” hotel was located next to the city dump. Of course, the travel company will be glad to move you to better accommodations – for a hefty fee.
  • Say “no” to high-pressure sales tactics. If the salesperson says you’re missing the deal of a lifetime and you’re a fool to pass it up, walk away. Reputable firms want your business and will be happy to let you think over an offer.
  • Pay with a credit card. If a company asks for an overnight payment or cash in advance, go elsewhere. Legitimate companies will bill your credit card in the normal course of business. In addition, your card offers travel protection such as accident insurance.

The idea of saving money can be alluring. But remember that “too good to be true” is a cliché for a reason. Don’t let fraudsters take your dream vacation.

Health care law survives Supreme Court challenge

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on the controversial King v. Burwell case.

The main issue in the case was whether federal subsidies could be offered to people who purchased health insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace rather than through a state-run exchange. Under a literal reading of the law, subsidies are allowed through exchanges “established by the state.” It was argued that the wording of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits subsidies from being granted in states that did not set up their own insurance exchange, but instead defaulted to the federal health insurance marketplace. More than half of the states use the federal exchange. [Read more…]

Do your homework on back-to-school tax breaks

Education tax planning can optimize the available breaks for saving and paying for school expenses. Here are some tips.

Saving for education

  • Section 529 plans include prepaid tuition programs and college savings accounts. Prepaid tuition programs let you buy future tuition credits at today’s rates, while college savings accounts let you set aside funds in an investment account. You get no tax deduction, but you can use the money tax-free for qualified college expenses.
  • Coverdell education savings accounts have some characteristics of Section 529 plans – and a few important differences. Nondeductible annual contributions of $2,000 can be made not only for qualified college costs, but also for many K-12 expenses. Unlike 529 plans, phase-out rules prevent contributions when your income exceeds certain levels.

[Read more…]

Daniel Keleher

“Daniel was proficient and effective in my case. After speaking with several attorneys he provided the laser focus on key details that got the desired result for my business.”  ~Noah, litigation client