Hello world Redux! AKA Mike’s Legal Bytes has risen from the ashes!

Welcome to my new domain (michaelcrossonlaw.com)!  I purchased it a long time ago but never had the opportunity to do anything with it until now.

I moved my (very old) blog from Xanga here and plan to resume posting on a regular basis.  I imagine many of you may not even know what Xanga is, but 10-15 years ago it was a fun and active blogging community.  Sadly, its popularity pretty much died like other once great sites such as Myspace, Hotbot and AltaVista (remember those?).

This new website and blog is a DYI web design project I hope to have fun with.  My “serious” website is located at rivercityattorney.com.  If you are a prospective client, please visit it for all the details about my law office.  It looks professional and is not “under construction.”  =)

Until next time …

Bankruptcy Trends and the New Shadow Economy

Personal bankruptcy filings in the US continue to rise in 2010.  Some experts believe we are on pace to exceed 1.7 million filings by year’s end, which is close to the all time record of about two million filings in 2005 before the Bankruptcy Reform Act took effect.  The revisions to the code were intended to curb the number of filings by making the bankruptcy process more restrictive, burdensome and expensive.  At the time, powerful bank and credit card lobbies persuaded Congress to pass the changes to reduce so-called abusive filings.  Few bankruptcy attorneys and judges thought the reforms were a good idea, and now in the wake of the lingering recession and housing crisis, it seems more clear than ever the changes were “bad medicine.”

But the bankruptcy filing statistics only hint at the real depth of the problem.  Perhaps even more troubling is the growing emergence of a group of Americans who are in serious financial distress but can’t be helped by filing for bankruptcy.  This group of debtors are forced into what is known as the “shadow economy” or informal bankruptcy.  It is common now for young adults facing crushing student loan debt and a hostile, shrinking job market.  Under current bankruptcy law, student loans are very rarely discharged.

Another situation where individuals facing financial hardship fail to file for bankruptcy involves homeowners trying to hang onto their homes in the face of lower wages, declining market values and higher monthly mortgage payments.  Chapter Seven is simply not very helpful in this circumstance.  Chapter Thirteen can help homeowners catch up on mortgage arrears but does not offer a complete solution to the problem.  A complete solution would entail granting bankruptcy judges the power to modify the mortgage principle.  However, recent reform efforts in this direction have failed, even though these changes have the potential to avert the tidal wave of foreclosures that have rocked the financial sector over the past three years.

For further reading on this topic, see this recent article from USA Today, “Only a fraction of those in need file for bankruptcy.


S.O.S. — Save Our Shelter!

The Sacramento County Animal Shelter needs your support today!  Due to massive budget cuts, the shelter is desperately trying to keep it’s doors open.   

License your pets now with no late fees thru June 30th!

or DONATE TODAY!

Your donation is tax deductible and can be made online, by mail or in person.

As one of the largest shelters in California, the Sacramento County Animal Shelter cares for more than 15,000 stray, abandoned, abused and neglected animals every year, and urgently needs your help to continue providing care and services to the animals and people of our community.

You donation makes a difference!

Sacramento County Animal Care

3829 Bradshaw Road

Sacramento, CA 95827

(916) 368-7387 (PETS)

For more information on the SOS campaign, click here.

__________________

— Michael   

Last Chance For Class Action Settlement Benefit!

With the changing of the seasons, it seemed like the perfect time to start updating my blog here more regularly.  The press of business at my office has prevented me from posting entries as much as I would like.  I’m especially swamped with bankruptcy cases.  Sorry for being away so long!

TODAY is the last day to take advantage of a class action settlement that nearly all adults qualify for and provides useful benefits.  If you had/have a credit card, loan, or credit account, point your browser now to www.listclassaction.com and register to get six or nine months of free credit monitoring services.  You’ll have unlimited access to your credit report (including credit score) and receive timely alerts whenever there are any changes to your data.  This can be very useful when trying to rebuild your credit or keeping an eye out for identify theft.

The retail value of the “enhanced” credit monitoring service for nine months is $115!  I used to subscribe to the exact service they are giving away and liked it a lot!  There’s no catch, so just do it.  Everyone should be informed about what’s going on their credit report.  It’s used for so many purposes these days besides credit applications including insurance rates and potential employers.  There’s also the possibility of receiving a cash payment, but this is not a sure thing.  If you select that option instead of the credit monitoring service, you may receive nothing or just a few dollars.

This class action stems from a lawsuit involving privacy issues against TransUnion, one of the big three credit reporting agencies.


On October 1st, updated median income levels go into effect for Chapter 7 bankruptcy filers.  The median income level is a key part of the “Means Test” which is now one of the hurdles debtors must clear before qualifying for a fresh start under Chapter 7.  The “Means Test” is complex, but in a nutshell, a few years ago Congress placed income limits on would be filers for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  These limits are based on the median income for your size family in your geographical area.  If you earn too much, you may be forced into Chapter 13, which is not as attractive for most debtors.  In Chapter 13, debtors must repay some or all of their debts unlike a Chapter 7 where they are simply wiped out.

Generally when these numbers are adjusted, the median income level goes up, which is good news for debtors since they can now earn more before and still qualify for Chapter 7.  However, in some areas the median income goes down and bankruptcy filers are impacted negatively in this situation.  For instance, filers in Vermont and Rhode Island got hit especially hard this go round.  The limit for a single person in these states was reduced $2979 and $2332 respectively.  I can only imagine that is because hard times have fallen on these states and the population is earning substantially less.  California debtors have a more rosy picture.  Here’s how it will affect filers in the Golden State:

1 earner (living alone) can now earn $541 more.  ($47,363)
2 person families can earn $948 more.  ($62,690)
3 person families can earn $1459 more.  ($68,070)
4 person families can earn $83 more.  ($77,014)

Bankruptcy can still be a wonderful solution if you find yourself knee deep in debt and don’t see a way out.  If you are in the greater Sacramento area and want to explore this option, please don’t hesitate to contact me for a free consultation (mwcrosson at gmail dot com).

— Michael

Parentage by Estoppel & Tips to Stay Cool

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::: Stay Cool! :::

I hope everyone is staying cool in the midst of this record breaking heatwave in Sacramento.  Man, this is almost as bad as living in Arizona, where I grew up!  Here’s some tips from the SMUD website to help keep you cool and save money on summer energy bills.  (For those of you out of the area, SMUD is our local electric utility!)

  • Keep windows closed during the heat of the day.
  • Draw blinds and draperies during the day to keep the heat out.
  • Set the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher in the summer. You will save about 5 to 10 percent on the operating cost of your air conditioner for every two degrees of cooling you’re willing to give up.
  • Give appliances a break during hot summer afternoons and evenings. Many appliances create added heat and moisture making your air conditioner work harder. Limit the use of ranges and stoves, dishwashers, dryers, washing machines and other heat-producing equipment during midday. Use them in the early mornings or late evenings when the temperature is cooler.
  • Avoid keeping unnecessary lights turned on.
  • Prepare cool meals such as salads and sandwiches. If you must cook a hot meal, wait until later in the evening when it’s cooler.
  • Adjust ceiling fans to turn counter-clockwise in the summer, Usually this means that the switch on the fan should be in the “down” position.
  • Change your air filter regularly. An air conditioning unit with dirty filters can use 5 to 10 percent more energy than necessary.
  • If you have a refrigerator or freezer in the garage that is not full, consider getting rid of it. These appliances tend to be older and therefore less energy efficient causing them to run continuously in very hot environments.
  • SMUD’s Shade Tree program offers free shade trees for customers whose homes have an eastern, western or southern exposure that heats up during the summer.

SMUD also reminds us that the best way to keep your home cool is to not let it heat up in the first place.  Caulking, weather stripping, good insulation and generous use of things that provide shade (trees, overhangs, awnings and blinds) make a big difference.

The SMUD site is worth checking out every once in awhile, even if you are not particularly interested in energy issues or paying your bill online.  As an example, right now, you can get a coupon for $5.00 off the Great International Soccer Match at Raley Field on July 26, 2007.


baby-0076

::: Parentage By Estoppel :::

Sometimes in family law cases, the issue arises of what a man’s responsibilities are as far as support, in situations where it is discovered, somewhere down the road (and we are talking years here), that he is not a child’s father.  It may surprise some of you to learn that under the doctrine of parentage by estoppel, in some situations, the court may find an individual to be the legal father even when genetic testing conclusively proves otherwise.  If this happens, the man is on the hook for child support just like any other father.  Other these type of cases are initiated by the local child support agency when the mother requests public assistance benefits.

The leading California case for this proposition is Clevenger v. Clevenger, 189 Cal. App. 2d 658, (1961).  In a nutshell, the court laid out a policy that a husband owes a duty of support to his wife’s “illegitimate” child “when the husband from the date of birth accepts the child into his family, publicly acknowledges the child as his own, and treats the child as if it were legitimate.”  To support this finding, the husband must have represented to the child he was the father, the husband must have intended the child to accept and act upon this, the child must have relied upon the representation and treated the husband as his or her father and gave his or her love or affection to him and the child must have been ignorant of the true facts.  The court also added the representation must be long enough to frustrate any realistic opportunity of discovering the natural father and truly establishes the paternal relationship of the father and child.  In underpinnings of this policy were rooted in morality and the deep injury the child would suffer if the husband were permitted to walk away from the situation.

Earlier this week, the Appellate Court handed down an interesting decision related to the parentage by estoppel doctrine.  In County of San Diego v. Arzaga, 2007 SOS 4332, the doctrine discussed above was applied by the trial court to a situation where the Husband truly believed himself to be the child’s father and only stopped acting as such when he received the DNA test results.  The trial judge entered an order that Arzaga pay $959 a month child support and provide health insurance coverage for the minor, Karen.  Karen was born in 1989.  The trial took place in late 2005.

In this instance, for many years, Arzaga behaved toward the child “like her father” and Karen called him “Papi.”  Evidence included family photographs and cards as the child was growing up and Arzaga even sent the mother checks with notations that said “For Karen” and “Karen’s support” in the memo field.  Arzaga’s relationship with the mother ended in 1995, but he continued to have contact with Karen.  He stopped visiting when she was 14 but sent her $1000 for her Quinceanera, a traditional Mexican celebration when a girl turns 15.   Karen testified that Arzaga never told her he was not her father, “always tried to be like a father” and was comfortable being close to him and physically hugging.

Nonetheless, some interesting contradictions came out during the trial.  When the child was born, Arzaga testified that the Mother “made it known like I was the father” but Arzaga told her, “she’s not my daughter, because that goes back months.  But I saw her and she was a good little kid.”  Also, during the time the parties lived together, at one point the mother requested Arzaga to change Karen’s last name to his.  Arzaga described this as “funning around” and testified, “… I knew she was not my daughter.”  Arzage requested a blood test and the mother told him it was not necessary, because “You are the papi…”  Arzaga said he “got a good heart and went along with it.”  Despite this testimony, the trial court made a puzzling finding that it was, “clear that Arzaga truly did not know that he was not the biological father.”

In reversing the order of the lower court, the appellate court latched onto this finding by the trial judge and noted that “it would be unfair … to apply the doctrine to an individual whose conduct was based on his mistaken belief that he actually was the child’s natural father.”  Despite his testimony highlighted above, the higher court found that Arzaga was “not apprised of the facts” at the time he made the representations to Karen and held himself out to be her father. 

This case just goes to show how unpredictable trial results and appeals can be.  If you need assistance with divorce, paternity or child support issues, please contact me!

— Michael

Michael W. Crosson, Attorney at Law
Family Law, Bankruptcy, Small Business Matters & Intellectual Property
Representing clients in the greater Sacramento area, including Placer, Yolo & El Dorado Counties

Coffee Break!

coffeecup

Tomorrow (March 15th) is Starbuck’s Coffee Break event!  Stop by a Starbucks near you between 10 AM to Noon and enjoy free 12 oz cup of premium drip coffee!  “It’s a chance to reconnect with one of the greatest pleasures in life — exceptional coffee made from select beans, expertly roasted and brewed to perfection.”


I was browsing for information on Mariah Carey tonight, and noticed she made Forbe’s list of  The Richest 20 Women in Entertainment.  After selling 160 million albums and 17 number one singles, I wasn’t too surprised she was ranked number six with a net worth of $225 million.  What was surprising is that Judge Judy (Judith Sheindlin) is gaining on her!  Apparently Judge Judy signed a $100 million dollar contract in 2004 in exchange for another four years of service “on the bench” of Judge Judy.  I had no idea daytime TV judging was so lucrative.  No wonder there are so many copycat judge shows year after year.  Judge Judy is ranked #13 and her net worth is pegged at $95 million.  By the way, that puts her within a nose of #12 — super celebrity Britney Spears, who is currently worth a cool $100 million.

judgejudy

It’s ironic that TV judges are being paid so much, while our Federal Judiciary is in a “crisis” blamed in large part on low salaries.  Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made inadequate pay the sole topic of his second annual report this past December.  According to Roberts, it’s a problem that “has now reached the level of a constitutional crisis that threatens to undermine the strength and independence of the federal judiciary.”  At present District Court judges presently earn $165,200 a year, Appeals Court justices earn $175,100, Associate Supreme Court Justices earn $203,000 and the Chief Justice earns $212,000.  In other words, Justice Roberts earns about 1/10 of Judge Judy in any given year.  What a world we live in!

— Michael

Bobby Brown Free After Paying Child Support

bobbybrown_mugshot

Last week Pop singer Bobby Brown (My Prerogative, Don’t Be Cruel) was freed after spending three nights as a guest of the Norfolk County Jail in Massachusetts for failure to pay over $19,000 in back child support and court costs.  Brown was recently arrested while watching his daughter’s cheerleader competition at Attleboro High School.  Originally it was reported that Brown didn’t exactly do it on his own.  Washington D.C. Radio Station Hot 99.5 agreed to pay the arrears plus expenses in exchange for a week’s work at the station.

However, as often happens with Bobby Brown, drama surrounding the event unfolded and his lawyer Phaedra Parks stated the station “did not pay a penny toward Bobby Brown’s bail.”  She stated the monies were not received until days later and “promptly returned upon receipt.”  According to Parks, “There was never a signed contract or any formally executed agreement regarding Bobby’s appearance on 99.5.  This appears to be a publicity stunt at Bobby Brown’s expense.”

But not so fast!  Hot 99.5 posted an email alleged to be from Ms. Parks where she clearly states, “My Client Bobby Brown would like to appear on your show as proposed earlier.  Please advise when we can expect the money.”  This was on the Thursday before the money was wired.  The station also posted an email from the day before that appears to confirm the essential terms of the agreement.   At this point, both parties have mutually rescinded the offer.

A poll on Hot 99.5’s website shows that 89.74% of visitors thought Bobby “did them wrong.”  I agree with those people.  Looks like a contract to me!  Now the station has decided the money could better be used locally and decided to “pay it forward.”  Hot 99.5 is giving $1000 to 20 people who express a need for it so long as they also pledge to do something to make the world the little better.  What a great idea and better use for the funds!

There’s a few good lessons here.  One, if you don’t pay your child support, you can go to jail!  This is true in California as well as many other states.  It can happen as a result of civil contempt proceedings as well as criminal enforcement actions.  In California, under Penal Code Section 270, someone who “Willfully omits to furnish without lawful excuse” can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and serve one year and/or pay a $2000 fine.  In other states, the penalties can be much higher.  For instance, in Montana, in some cases, failure to pay child support is treated as a felony and a parent can be sentenced for up to ten years in prison and/or pay $50,000.  In Oregon, it is also a felony and one can be sentenced for five years and pay a file up to $100,000.  The Center on Fathers, Families and Public Policy created a chart with the help of a attorney that contains an overview of all the criminal statutes for nonpayment of child support.  If you would like to check your state, click here.

Two, it’s good to keep in mind a contract doesn’t necessarily have to be a “signed” or “formally executed” as Bobby Brown’s attorney was implying.  In fact, sometimes courts will enforce contracts that are entirely oral in nature.  Here there were writings back and forth and it appears there was a “meeting of the minds.”

If you are a parent who is not receiving child support, or a parent who has fallen behind in child support and wants to get back on track, please contact me for a consultation.  It’s better to deal with these things sooner rather than later.  Often I can help you!  I can also assist with small business disputes over contracts and other matters.


I received in the mail some flyers from Kids’ Turn for a six week workshop that some of you may be interested in attending.  It’s called “Divorce Education for Children and Parents.”  According to the flyer, the workshop will consist of six 90 minute weekly sessions for children ages 4 through 14, and their parents.  Children meet in groups according to their ages while parents attend groups at the same site.  Parents of the same family meet in separate rooms and when appropriate, both parents are strongly encouraged to attend.

The benefits of this workshop include:

  • Improved communications between parents and children leading to reduced conflict
  • New insight into how children experience divorce, both during and after the divorce
  • Powerful strategies for helping your children cope more effectively with separation or divorce

The workshop starts April 21, 2007 and the location is TBD but will be centrally located.  For more information or to register online, visit the Kids’ Turn website or call 800.392.9239.  There is a sliding scale for parents and no fee for children.  No one is turned away because of inability to pay!

I encourage all divorcing parents to take advantage of these opportunities to reduce conflict over custody and visitation issues and help make the dissolution process less stressful and traumatic for children.

— Michael

P.S. — If you can’t attend the program or don’t live in the Sacramento area, don’t fret.  A book based on the acclaimed Kids’ Turn program has been published.  It’s called Good Parenting Through Your Divorce and it’s available through Amazon.  The second edition came out last December.

Online Savings, Identity Theft and Do Not Call Registry

I found a great online high yield money market savings account online this morning.  It’s being offered by Capital One.  The current yield is 5.00% and there are no fees or minimum balance!  Plus you can get free checks and an ATM card too!  It only takes a few minutes to open the account online and the minimum opening deposit is just $1.00.  It links to your existing checking account and that is how you deposit or withdraw money.


Identity theft is one of the fastest growing white collar crimes.  I myself was recently a victim of this when someone fraudulently used my credit card to establish an AOL account and pay eBay fees.  Luckily I noticed the suspicious activity before any major damage was done.  Here’s a short identity theft prevention checklist:

1.  Check your credit report annually.  See my previous post on how to do this free.

2.  Review your bills and statements on a regular basis.

3.  Guard your mail and trash from theft.  It’s a good idea to use a paper shredder when tossing out financial or other sensitive documents.

4.  Use caution when giving out your personal information.  This is especially true on the Internet where there are many traps for the unwary.

5.  Copy the contents of your wallet or purse.  An easy way to do this is by using your digital camera to take photographs of your identification, credit and membership cards.  For added protection, burn the pictures to a CD and store it in your safe deposit box.

6.  Report lost or stolen checks or credit cards immediately.

Find out more online at financialinfo.org.


NewDNCLogo

I was working at home this afternoon and interrupted several times by telemarketers.  I decided to finally just say “no” and add my name to the National Do Not Call Registry.  I’ve been hearing about this for several years but never got around to actually using it.  I was pleased to discover it was really easy to do.  The FTC has set up a simple website and the whole thing only takes a minute.  Basically, you just enter you telephone number and e-mail address.  The site sends a confirmation e-mail that you click and you’re good to go for five years!  Yay!

— Michael

Free Annual Credit Reports

Hello all!  I’m sorry I have neglected my blog already.  The press of business has kept me from adding to it as much as I should.  I’ll try to do better in the future!

In case you were not aware, due to recent federal legislation, everyone is entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  The report can be requested by mail, telephone or (perhaps most easily) on the Internet.  It’s important to periodically review your report and check it for outdated and/or inaccurate information.  The reports are used not only by creditors, but also landlords, prospective employers and insurers.  Regular review may also tip you off to the growing problem of identity theft.

To request your free annual credit reports, visit the website below:

AnnualCreditReport.com

And remember, if you are facing serious financial problems, bankruptcy is still a viable solution for many people.  Although Congress made the bankruptcy laws tougher last fall, there are still plenty of folks filing Chapter 7 and getting a fresh start.  If you are in the Sacramento area and wish to discuss your situation with me, please don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail.  I offer a free thirty minute bankruptcy consultation to prospective clients.

— Michael

“We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code.”

Parenting Classes Available at San Juan Schools for Adults

The other day I received a booklet in the mail from San Juan Unified School District advertising upcoming classes for adults.  I was surprised to see parenting classes among the offerings.  The family law court often orders parents to attend these types of classes after attending mediation.  San Juan’s programs are convenient and affordable.  Here’s a few that may be of interest:

Co-Parenting

This six week class is designed for families going through the divorce and/or mediation process and will meet court requirements.  Birth parents should take this class separately.  $35 per person.  Orange Grove Adult School, Tuesdays 1-10 to 2-14 or Fair Oaks Preschool 4-18 to 5-23.  Both will be held from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Parenting the Toddler

Attended by both parent and toddler together, this class provides active participation by all parents, provides growing and learning experiences for both adults and children.  Age:  18 months to 3 years.  $45 per month and $45 annual registration.  Fair Oaks Elementary on Mon, Weds or Fri from 8:45 to 11:45.

Positive Discipline

A six week series — learn about alternatives to spanking, how to avoid nagging and power struggles.  Use of time outs and logical consequences.  $30 — Thursdays 3-2 to 4-6 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Fair Oaks Annex.

Registration started on December 5th, so do not delay if you are interested.  Parenting classes often fill up quick.  For more information visit San Juan’s website.  Many other classes are also available including many related to computers and business.  I might even enroll in one myself.

Michael

Welcome!

Welcome to my new Xanga!  I hope you find it informative and
entertaining.  I’ll be posting entries related to my law practice
as well as musings of a more general nature as the spirit moves me.

Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome!

Michael