Parents’ Guide To Cyberbullying and the Law

What Is Cyberbullying

Bullying has always been an unfortunate part of the adolescent experience. Although discouraged by parents and teachers, most of us probably have memories of being intimidated by schoolyard bullies. However, in the old days, kids left their bullies behind when they left school for the day. But today, thanks to the internet and social media, many kids sadly take bullying home with them when they leave the school grounds.

Online bullying – or, as it has come to be known, cyberbullying – can often take a more vicious edge than the schoolyard taunts of yore. Once a group has identified a peer who they deem worthy of their vitriol, they will frequently be relentless, going so far as to create Facebook groups and entire pages devoted to harassing and mocking their chosen victim.

In some instances cyberbullying escalates to terrible levels, well beyond the bounds of anything that can be written off as “kids will be kids” behavior, and becomes a criminal offense. Over 90% of teens on social media have witnessed someone being mean to someone else on social media, and over 21% of teens check in on social media just to see if anyone has said anything mean about them. This infographic from rawhide.org shows a number of shocking statistics about cyberbullying.

In case you find your son or daughter faced with this situation, here are a few things you should know about cyberbullying and the law.

Cyberbullying Laws Vary State By State

Dealing with internet crime is still very new for legislators. While many states were slow to include electronic harassment in their definition of bullying, approximately 50% of states now include language in their bullying laws that make cyberbullying a crime. If your child is being cyberbullied, familiarize yourself with the laws of your state.

School Administrators Might Claim No Responsibility

Sadly, many school administrators will claim that they are not responsible if your child is being bullied. This is because they claim that the bullying is happened online and that the internet is off school grounds. If the administration refuses to step in and help, then you have no choice but to circumvent them and contact an attorney.

A Lawyer Can Help You Through The Process

Making a harassment case should always be done with the aid of a competent attorney. Your lawyer will be able to help you to document instances of abuse and advise you on how to file a police report. If the cyberbullying is very severe, your attorney will aid you in seeking protection orders on behalf of your child against the offender(s).

Standing Your Ground Is Crucial

If your child is being bullied, standing your ground and taking legal action is absolutely the best course of action. Many bullies are enabled by parents who fail to discipline them and a lack of a fear of consequences for their actions. Seeking an attorney and taking legal action demonstrates that the bully’s behavior will not be tolerated and that serious consequences are a possibility.

No parents want to see their child tormented. This is why it is essential that you seek legal representation if a group of kids are making your child’s life unhappy or causing him or her to feel unsafe. Follow the proper legal channels and take a stand against cyberbullying.

What To Know About Changing & Challenging Child Custody

Specific laws and procedures govern child custody issues. When parents agree to modify an existing custody order, the process is fairly simple. Greater difficulty arises, however, when parents do not agree to proposed changes.

In all custody cases, the overlying concern is the best interest of the child. To have your request granted by the court, you must be able to demonstrate that the order you seek or the modifications you request will benefit the child and serve his/her best interests.

Timing

Depending on the state where the custody order originates, there may be a minimum period of time that must pass before a modification can be pursued. Even if your state does not have a specific waiting period, courts are often wary of requests to modify in cases where an order has been in effect for only a short amount of time.

Reason For Change

If your situation does meet the requirements for modification, you will need a good reason to justify the requested changes. In order for any modification request to be considered by the court, the change must meet the standard of a material change in circumstances and this standard must be shown.

The material change in circumstances standard allows consideration of a broad array of evidence. Examples of evidence that may be meet this standard would include a long-distance move, change in living conditions, issues with the child’s development, and many other situations.

Requested Change & Custody Order

If a material change in circumstances has been shown to the court, the parent requesting modification must also show that the requested change is in the best interest of the child and requires presentation of evidence to support that claim. Family law attorneys will be familiar with the types of evidence that can be used to demonstrate the best interest standard.

Receiving a custody order or modification of a custody order requires compliance with specific rules and procedures. Typically it includes filing papers that contain specific information and adhere to formatting rules. Compliance with these procedures and rules can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with the process.

An experienced family law attorney will be able to advise you about the time restraints on custody modifications. Be sure to consult with an attorney and seek out representation to assist you with throughout process in order to achieve a successful change request.

Are You Ready for Marriage?

While marriage is an incredible union and planning a wedding is a thrilling experience, there are many legal considerations for a couple to think about before getting married. Taking the time to learn about the legal requirements and consequences of marriage can save future headaches and heartache. It is easy to get swept up in the romance and emotion of planning a wedding, but it is equally important to understand any and all legal and financial nuances.

Basic Marriage and Ceremony Requirements

Each state has certain laws pertaining to marriage, and it is important to familiarize yourself with your states laws. It is also crucial to separate the religious and personal traditions of a ceremony, which have little bearing on the law, from those that do have a legal impact. For example, a marriage may not be valid unless a certain official performs it.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements can be awkward legal considerations. Few people want to think about the potential for divorce before even getting married. However, this agreement can serve as one of the most important legal documents for any marriage. It can create a sense of security, stability and trust that the relationship might lack otherwise.

The Financial Impacts of Marriage

Marriage is far more than just a traditional commitment of love and support to another person. It comes with a long list of legal and financial impacts, rights and responsibilities that couples often do not fully consider before jumping into a marriage. One of the greatest financial changes is the creation of marital property and the distinction between this property and individual property. A spouse who wishes to keep some property or assets separate from their partner will want to fully understand what they need to do to ensure this. It can be very easy to mix personal with marital property. For example, if a person has a savings or retirement account and they allow their spouse to deposit money into it, that entire account may become marital property.

Impact on Children and Inheritance

A marriage can have a major impact on children from previous marriages, and can affect inheritance. Often a new spouse becomes automatically entitled to an estate unless specific assets are set aside in wills or trusts. This often leaves stepchildren left out if new children are born into the marriage, and the ensuing legal battles can tear families apart.

Legal considerations can be complicated and confusing. A family law attorney may be able to help a potential spouse investigate the unique impacts of marriage on their lives. It is important to do this early rather than try to fix problems created after the marriage.

How To Prepare For Meeting With A Divorce Lawyer

Divorce is a complicated process. There are many ways in which you can miss out on advantages you deserve. There are also many ways that you can be taken advantage of by not knowing your rights.

It is important to hire legal counsel to ensure your rights are protected. If you are preparing for your first meeting with your divorce attorney, it is equally important you follow a few crucial tips to ensure you will be forming a business relationship with someone on the same page as you.

Questions Both Ways

You should enter your first meeting with mindful questions prepared. This will give you a good idea of the level of quality your potential lawyer will bring to the table. Among questions to consider posing to your divorce attorney, consider:

  • Do you specialize in divorces?
  • How long will it take to come to a resolution?
  • How can I reach you in the event of an emergency?
  • Will there be anyone else working on my case? If so, can I meet them?
  • What are your hourly rates, and how will I be billed for services rendered?
  • Do you allow for me to negotiate with my spouse directly, if desired?

It is also important to make sure you are not the only one asking questions. A good way to judge whether a potential attorney is listening is if they ask questions to better understand how they can best handle your case.

Reviewing Common Issues

During the first meeting, it is typical to discuss the most common issues that arise during the divorce process. From custody arrangements and child support to division of property, alimony and more, you should leave the meeting with a better understanding of the possibilities of where you will stand once the divorce is complete. The attorney may give you a to-do list after the meeting to get you working on the things that must be done to move forward with the process.

A Trusted Ally

Your attorney should prove to be a trusted ally during this transitional time in your life. Change is scary, and he or she should be available to address your concerns as well as bring a level of competence to the table you can count on. Therefore, it is essential that you identify whether your attorney understands your needs. This understanding will help ensure they will offer you the quality representation you need during this trying time in your life.

Checklist for New Parents

Becoming a new parent is an overwhelming but exciting time. There is so much to learn and so much to process before the baby arrives. Whether you are part of a couple giving birth, adopting, or a single parent bringing new life into the world, here are a few things to consider before your bundle of joy arrives.

Health Insurance

One of the first things to look into is how much your insurance will cover of your pregnancy, delivery, and hospital stay. If you are considering a midwife, or a method of birth that does not involve a hospital stay, be sure to research what your insurance will and will not cover. Another pro tip: look into how to add your child to your health insurance before they arrive as well.

Maternity & Family Leave

A lot of moms-to-be anticipate the conversation they will need to have with their boss. Chances are, the company you work for has a maternity leave policy already in place. Consider talking to the HR department, or reviewing the corporate notebook. You should also find out whether that policy falls in line with federal and state laws regarding family and medical leave. Don’t forget to ask about Paternity Leave. More employers than ever are also offering this benefit to fathers to assist in the first weeks of a new baby in the home.

Choosing a Pediatrician

Another important and big step: your baby’s pediatrician should be chosen before the birth of the baby. Take your time with this search, and interview potential candidates. Consider asking trusted family members and friends for recommendations, as well as your primary doctor or OB/Gyn.

Child Care

There are many choices for childcare. Talk with your partner about your options, consult family members, day care centers, and think about looking into home childcare. A popular option for some parents is to hire a nanny to lend a helping hand part or full time once mom and/or dad has to return to work.

Planning for the Future

One of the most important decisions you can make is choosing the godparents for your child(ren). The guardian(s) should be someone trustworthy and ready to take on the responsibility of caring for your child, should anything happen to you and your partner.

Life Insurance & College Savings

Now that your family has expanded, it is time to decide whether to increase your insurance coverage, or buy insurance for the first time in your life. Along those lines, it is never too early to think about saving for college. The way you save is up to you. Whether it is an account in the child’s name, or savings bonds and CDs, there are so many ways to start saving today.

Estate Planning!!!

After all the above considerations have been made, there is a step that absolutely should be taken, yet so many young families overlook this step until it is possibly too late. Consult your attorney about setting up a Will and other documents that reflect how you want your child cared for in the event of your death or incapacitation. This truly does not have to be expensive and does not take much time. Make estate planning a priority.

We know how much there is to consider, and what a great and wonderful responsibility becoming a new parent is. It can be immensely helpful to have a guide assisting you on this incredible path. Consider seeking the counsel of a family law attorney to ensure your family is protected in all the ways you want them to be.

Relationship Tips For Moms and Stepmoms

Blended families are common these days, which means biological mothers and stepmothers are co-parenting children. It can be a difficult course to navigate when dealing with an ex-wife or the new partner of an ex-husband, but the following tips can help both types of moms find a happy medium.

Communication

Communication is important in any relationship, but especially when children are involved. All information regarding the children should be passed on in a timely fashion to avoid frustration and escalation of serious issues.

Consideration

Calendars should be shared to avoid conflicts with events, appointments or travel. Under no circumstances should anything be scheduled with the intention of being inconvenient.

Respect

Both mothers should respect one another, especially when the children are present. This includes being aware of personal boundaries and not bringing up the past. If there is a personality conflict, keep it private. Children see and hear everything, and they will emulate adult behavior.

Maturity

As a stepmom, trying to buy the affection of a partner’s children may seem like an easy way to their hearts, but this often backfires. Children can see through the act, which may imply the stepmom is trying to be a replacement parent. The best approach is to not treat parenting as a competition. There is enough love for everyone.

Recognition

Encourage children to recognize the importance of the stepmother in their lives by celebrating her birthday and giving her a card and gift on Mother’s Day. Having a blended holiday celebration may help kids feels less awkward about acknowledgment.

Inclusion

During birthdays or other important milestone events in a child’s life, including the biological mother and stepmother at the celebration is a wonderful way to be inclusive and encourage positive relations. It also helps children avoid feeling conflicted during family parties and other get-togethers.

Acceptance

It can be difficult to deal with the fact that an ex-partner has chosen a new wife or will always be dealing with an ex-wife. The family dynamic changes are permanent but do not have to be negative. Accepting the other woman and the situation will facilitate civility and respect even if there cannot be a true friendship.

Being a mom is hard, and being a stepmom adds an extra layer of challenge. Following the above tips can help resolve strain and allow both parties to foster a respectful and healthy relationship.

What To Know About Emancipation

Emancipation refers to a legal process that frees a child from parental custody. Emancipation terminates the legal authority or control that a parent(s)/ has over their child before they attain majority age.

Who Can Be Emancipated?

For a minor to be free from his or her parent(s)’s custody, he or she must be at least 16 years old. Emancipation also requires the minor child to meet any one of the following requirements:

  • Reside away from his or her parents and earn a legal income that covers his or her basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
  • Be married
  • Have to be enrolled in the armed forces of the U.S.
  • The court has to rule that emancipation serves the best interests of the minor child, his or her parents, or the minor child’s child.

Procedure For Becoming Emancipated

According to Tennessee law, the chancery court may grant a minor’s emancipation from his or her parents. The minor child or the minor child’s parents can initiate the emancipation process.

The party who initiates the process is required to file a petition for emancipation with the court. A lawyer may also file this form on behalf of their client. If the minor child needs legal representation to defend his or herself, or start the emancipation process, and cannot afford one, the probate court or juvenile court may appoint a lawyer the minor child.

When the process has been started, a hearing before a judge will be scheduled. The judge is the only legal authority that can authorize emancipation.

What Are the Rights of An Emancipated Teenager?

An emancipated teenager has certain legal rights and responsibilities that other children of the same age do not have. The following are some of the rights and responsibilities of an emancipated teenager:

  • The right to live away from home while paying rent and other costs associated with the new residence.
  • The right to seek medical care without consulting a guardian (the minor child is responsible for footing the medical bills).
  • The right to sign contracts — and the responsibility for any obligations laid out in the contract.
  • The right to sue and be sued.
  • The right to purchase and sell property.
  • The right to a marriage license, driver’s license or to enroll in the armed services.
  • The right to enroll in a learning institution.

If you are considering emancipation, it is important to contact an attorney. An expert in the area of family law can help you to understand your rights, and how to navigate the path to emancipation – should it serve in the best interests of you and your family.

Protecting Yourself After An Abusive Relationship

If you are experiencing an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to focus on what you should do first to protect yourself. Your first priority is simple: focus on getting yourself and any children involved to a safe place. Statistics have shown that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the woman or man who is the victim attempts to leave the relationship. The primary goal is to find safe housing where the abuser can’t reach you.

The Danger is Real

Do not seek shelter with a parent, friend or other person where the abuser knows where to look for you. Ideally, safe housing can be found in a shelter specifically designed to deal with victims of abusive relationships. Please understand that these private shelters are usually very nice and clean. If your concern is that a “shelter” will not be suitable for you and your children, the concern is usually unfounded. Many shelters will allow you to tour the facility with special permission and a sworn statement of confidentiality. If, however, none is available, consider staying at a hotel or with a person you know that the abuser does not.

Have a Plan

Because of the unstable nature of abusive relationships, you may have to leave suddenly with little preparation. However, if there is no immediate crisis and you have time to plan your departure, here are some things you should do:

  • Put aside as much cash as you can in a safe place.
  • Leave essential items like clothes and documents with a friend.
  • Keep a detailed record of every incident of emotional or physical abuse.
  • Keep a contact list of people who can help you.
  • Be prepared to take important documents like your social security and credit cards.

Child Custody

One of the most complicated issues to deal with in breaking free of domestic violence is the relationship between your children and your abuser. Restraining orders are often temporary and the courts must resolve long-term issues of custody. The key to protecting your children and discovering your full range of legal options is to hire a lawyer as soon as possible. Laws involving domestic violence and child custody vary widely depending on the state and locality. A lawyer can alert you to all your legal options.

Leaving an abusive relationship and protecting yourself and your children is a challenging task. Always remember that you are not alone and that there are people ready to help.

Services are available to help include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 303-839-1852.

Documents to Gather When Considering Divorce

Divorce is stressful enough without having to scramble to find important legal documents that are necessary to finalize settlement. Gathering important financial, legal, and personal documents before meeting with an attorney can help you through the divorce process in several ways.

First and foremost, getting your hands on essential documents before divorce proceedings is crucial because these types of documents may suddenly disappear once your spouse begins his or her own divorce preparation. Obtaining documents also orients you to what divorce will entail and prepares you mentally for what lies ahead.

You can save money on legal fees by being ahead of the game when you and your lawyer sit down to plan out your divorce’s details. If you would like to finalize your divorce sooner rather than later, having appropriate documentation on hand will help expedite the process.

So, what documents do you need to collect before proceeding with your divorce?

Financial

  • Bank Statements for the past 24 months
  • Pay stubs for both you and your spouse
    • (YTD for previous two years and current year)
  • Tax Records for the last five years
  • Retirement information for you and your spouse
  • Mortgage information
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Current debt of you and your spouse
  • Household budget
  • Credit reports for you and your spouse
  • Household Bills (utilities, medical expenses, children’s tuition, etc.)
  • Life, Health, Automobile, Homeowner’s, and other insurance information
  • List of any personal property owned by you and your spouse before marriage and their approximate value
  • Inventory of joint assets and their approximate value
  • Documents supporting any inheritances or gifts

Legal

  • Marriage License
  • Birth Certificates for you, your spouse, and any children
  • Social Security Cards for you, your spouse, and any children
  • Driver’s licenses for you and your spouse
  • Separation, prenuptial or other legal agreements between you and your spouse
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Wills, Living Wills, and any Advanced Directives
  • Titles and Registrations for any vehicles owned by you and your spouse

Proof of Misconduct (If Applicable)

  • Emails
  • Photographs
  • Telephone Records
  • Police records, restraining orders, or proof of domestic violence
  • Private Investigator reports

Other Documentation

If you are unable to obtain certain documents, write down as much information as possible about each one. You should include in this list the types of documents needed, dates, parties involved, document contents, and any other relevant information. Recording your attempts to obtain documentation may also prove valuable if your spouse refuses to hand over vital information.

Once you have gathered the above documents and anything else that might be applicable to your particular situation, you are ready to speak to an attorney and move into the next phase of divorce proceedings.

5 Skills You Need Before Becoming A Foster Parent

Becoming a foster parent can be infinitely rewarding, and it can provide a calm and loving home to a child in need of stability and care. However, the process of applying to be a foster parent and actually hosting a child in your home can be quite difficult. Here are some skills all potential foster parents need to have before welcoming a foster child to their home.

Patience

Perhaps the top skill future foster parents will need to develop is patience. Patience is critical when interacting with government agencies, concerned friends and family, your own family when they are struggling in the transition, and the foster child you will welcome into your home. Sometimes foster children can exhibit quite challenging behavior, and it is important to remain calm and loving in even the most difficult situation.

Organization

Foster parents need to be organized and educated about foster laws in their state and community. It is important to research the requirements for foster homes and parents in your state in order to know what will be expected of your family. Remember that becoming a foster parent can be a highly bureaucratic process that takes time and organization to complete successfully.

Communication

Foster parents are required to communicate professionally with a wide range of people, including social workers, lawyers and judges, doctors, teachers, and therapists. For this reason, couples considering becoming foster parents should ask themselves if they are ready for this level of responsibility.

Compassion

Potential foster parents need to have compassion. It is important to understand that the child coming into your home may be coming from a very traumatic situation, and he or she may act out in ways that are challenging to handle. Compassion is key in these circumstances. Foster parents also need to have compassion for their own children and their spouse; hosting a foster child can be difficult for the whole family, and it is important to recognize these difficulties and talk about them as a family.

Maintaining Realistic Expectations

Sometimes parents begin the process of accepting a foster child into their home with unrealistic expectations. One expectation is that they will be able to adopt their foster child permanently. While this does happen, remember that most foster children will only stay with your family a short time. In general, most states prefer to place children with suitable relatives if at all possible. Another expectation future foster parents hold is that they will be able to make a miraculous change in their foster child’s life. While foster parents can have a very positive impact on a child’s life, they should not expect dramatic change.