All posts by Shelly Ruiz

How Many Kids Are Up For Adoption In The United States?

You’ve probably heard the argument before: if you can’t have your own kids (or even if you can), then you should really consider adoption. There are so many kids out there who need a loving home where they can be given a chance to succeed in today’s harsh world! It’s a good argument. That’s because there are currently 422,000 kids under the age of eighteen who are living in foster care in the United States. 

6,541 of those kids live in New Jersey.

Do you know what foster care is? First and foremost, the ultimate goal of any foster care system is to reunite children with their biological parents (or other biological family members) when possible. The reasons why they were placed in foster care in the first place are varied and complex — for example, a child was recently placed in foster care when arriving in the United States even though her biological aunt was waiting to pick her up when her plane landed.

When reunification is not feasible, the foster parents will sometimes have the option of adopting the child they’ve fostered. This makes becoming a foster parent the first step for many adults trying to adopt. Foster parents are almost always considered first when a child is up for adoption.  

In order to adopt or foster children, prospective foster parents must be able to maintain and support a stable family environment. That’s the point: to give these kids a loving family life and keep them happy and healthy. Parents can be single or married; it doesn’t matter when determining whether or not a stable home is possible. Parents will need to complete 27 hours of PRIDE training in New Jersey, though. These classes are meant to prepare parents for the potential difficulties of foster parenting.

There are a variety of kids up for adoption. Older kids are far less likely to be adopted, which is why you might consider lending your home to make their lives go a little easier. Some have developmental or emotional issues that must be managed, and often these are the result of past events in their lives. They need love and support, but sometimes they can be more of a handful.

The costs of adoption are basically just the costs of raising any kid at any age. The process itself doesn’t cost anything extra, aside from costs incurred from ensuring each family member is medically examined prior to a foster or adopted child’s introduction into a new household.

A Fresno, California Family Law Attorney Was Accused Of Sex Crimes

What happens when a lawyer is accused of unspeakable crimes? It might surprise you that one Fresno, California family law attorney couldn’t even manage to find a defense attorney with a reasonable strategy. Then again, it might not. Jennifer Walters was arrested and charged with seven felonies, all of which fall under the umbrella of sex crimes — not exactly the sort of reputation you want for yourself when you’re a family lawyer!

Family lawyers are known for helping people through tough situations like divorce, alimony, child custody, and adoption. Many of these circumstances involve building an intimate relationship with adults and their children. That’s why this particular case is enough to leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. 

Walters’s attorney, Mark Broughton, said the charges were a sham — that she had been completely set up!

“I’m not completely sure of the exact motivation for why these allegations would have been contrived,” he said. “We have our ideas.”

That last phrase — “we have our ideas” — might be code for “I’m your attorney and even I don’t believe in what I’m saying. You’re totally guilty.” 

The alleged crime Walters committed was having a relationship with a boy, who was fourteen or younger at the time, likely beginning in 2015. Walters routinely works on cases involving Child Protective Services, but it isn’t known if that’s how she met the victim. He was described as a “family friend.” He is seventeen today.

When Walters went on a trip to Italy, authorities jumped at the opportunity to serve warrants for a chance to search for evidence of her crimes unimpeded. She was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport when she returned from her trip.

Broughton said he isn’t convinced by the so-called evidence against Walters: “Well I got a whole pile of police reports, but as far as I’m concerned, those aren’t going to add up to any sort of valid conviction.”

The pair have assured the public that Walters is still practicing law — and that everyone loves her. “Everybody who knows her,” Broughton said, “everybody on the bench, all the other attorneys, her clients have all been supportive.”

If Walters is convicted on all counts, she might spend nineteen years in federal prison.

Do you believe an official you’ve had contact with is breaking the law? Corruption is something we take seriously in New Jersey. Please contact us with your story! Are you going through a divorce? We also have family law attorneys ready to take your case.

Where Can Same-Sex Couples Legally Adopt Children In The United States?

LGBTQ adoption rights didn’t exist for a long time — in fact, historically there has been a prejudice that prospective LGBTQ adoptive parents have had to withstand when simply stating their desire to adopt or foster children, and this prejudice has failed to disappear even with the furthering of gay and transgender rights. Can same-sex couples legally adopt in the United States? 

Many of the laws that barred same-sex parents from fostering or adopting children have been struck down even though many of the aforementioned prejudices persist, but same-sex couples are statistically much more likely to foster or adopt children than their heterosexual counterparts (proportionally). That means they are an integral part of the lives of many children who have been churned through this system; a system that is far from perfect.

Two million LGBTQ people have shown interest in foster programs or adoption.

Thankfully LGBTQ individuals are legally allowed to adopt in every state after a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a Mississippi law that banned the practice in 2016. It was the last state to hold such a law. The 2015 marriage equality ruling helped pave the way for legal adoption rights for LGBTQ parents.

Unfortunately the prejudice still prevents many prospective LGBTQ parents from fostering or adopting children even when it is perfectly legal to do so. The problem is that some agencies or individuals within those agencies use these prejudices to prevent LGBTQ individuals from placing children.

LGBTQ individuals who would like to become adoptive parents are urged to thoroughly research the agency they would like to use, and its history of allowing LGBTQ adoptions. It is always best to choose an agency with your future child’s best interests at heart, but if you believe that a particular individual or agency is actively trying to prevent a child from being placed in your home because you are LGBTQ, then you have rights!

If this is happening or has happened to you, then you should absolutely contact a qualified family lawyer for a free consultation. We will work toward making sure the adoption takes place if possible. Same-sex adoption works the same way for you as it does for heterosexual couples — or at least it’s supposed to work the same.

You may also want to keep in mind that the attitudes of your neighbors may reflect the aforementioned prejudices: you need to be ready for this, which is the one disadvantage to parenting when LGBTQ. Otherwise, your children are as likely to be raised in a stable home as they would if they were raised in a home with heterosexual parents!

Why Do We Need A Victim’s Cooperation To Prosecute Domestic Violence Charges?

The law sometimes doesn’t make much sense. Take a side-by-side comparison of murder and domestic violence charges, for example. When prosecuting a person for committing murder, there’s no need for cooperation (because the victim is deceased). But when prosecuting a person for many other violent crimes, domestic violence included, the law requires the cooperation of the victim.

Why?

It’s plain for all to see that the person who committed an act of violence not only did something immoral and illegal, but also that an arrest should be forthcoming. Yet that isn’t the way the system works, even when there is plenty of additional evidence a crime took place.

Part of the reason that the legal system is hesitant from prosecuting without cooperation is because victims will often do the exact opposite: obstruct justice. That would pave the way for arresting and trying someone who almost anyone would agree is a victim, but the law is the law, and on occasion no one wants it to work the way it does.

A victim of domestic violence, Michelle, wrote about her husband in an affidavit: “He beat me in front of my kids. He made death threats in front of my children, sisters and his parents.” She had requested a restraining order, afraid for her life and the lives of her kids. The problem is, her husband’s parents denied ever hearing such threats, and only days later she recanted her sworn affidavit in a hysterical visit to the district attorney’s office.

Michelle’s husband had already been arrested. When he promised his father and stepmother that he’d never do it again (as perpetrators of these crimes so often do), they bailed him out of jail. Because Michelle recanted, the case was precipitously dropped.

Michelle and her two kids were dead two months later. Her husband shot and killed them all before committing suicide.

In the 1980s and 1990s, prosecutors became tired of this familiar story and decided to do something about it. A new movement of “evidence-based prosecution” was born from their fight, which would allow criminals to be prosecuted without forcing the victim to testify against the abuser.

The cases have been historically difficult to win, though, in part because prosecutors aren’t experienced enough. Still, the system has come a long way and some prosecutors have learned the tricks of the new trade. Thousands of prosecutors have been trained to move forward with cases for which the victim had either recanted former accusations or didn’t make them at all. More cases are being won than ever before, and more lives have been saved because of it.

Still, though, many prosecutors won’t follow through with these cases without a victim’s cooperation because some prefer an easy win over justice. We can do better, and we need to do better.

Starting The Step Parent Adoption Process

Despite popular belief, the most common form of adoption is stepparent adoptions. Stepparent adoption is when the stepparent assumes financial and legal responsibility for their spouse’s child or children and releasing the non-custodial parent of their responsibilities including child support.

There is no federal law that oversees stepparent adoptions and therefore the process is handled by each individual state. In order for a step-parent adoption to take place in New Jersey, the following is required:

  • The stepparent has been a resident of New Jersey for at least six months
  • The paperwork is filed in the county where you reside
  • There is consent from the absent parent**
  • If the minor is between the ages of 14  and 17,  they have to give consent to the adoption as well.

**If the whereabouts of the absent parents is unknown or if there has been no contact from the absent parent for over 12 months, the adoption can still be processed. If the child is over 18, this is known as an adult adoption and doesn’t need consent from the absent parent.

In New Jersey, the court believes that is better for a child to live in a home with two parents. This is why the stepparent adoption process takes roughly 3 months to complete. An adult adoption can take a little as 2 months to complete.

Once the adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate can be issued to the adoptee. The adoption will also give the stepparent the ability to make decisions on behalf of your stepchild including medical care, school, religion, and other life issues. And in the event of a divorce, the stepparent who adopted the child will be able to entitled to child visitation and child support depending on the circumstance.

For more information on how to arrange a stepparent adoption in New Jersey, contact our law offices.

 

The Legal Consequences Of Adultery: Can I Get A Divorce?

Many people might not realize this, but because marriage is a legally binding contract, adultery is often considered a crime. In fact, in 20 states it is illegal to cheat on a spouse. Adultery is defined as any sexual relation occurring outside the bond of marriage. How these relations are defined is dependent on where you live, so it isn’t a bad idea to read up on the local laws if you believe your spouse has committed adultery.

Of course, the consequences exceed legal boundaries as well. Those who have cheated on a significant other, married or not, will likely face social stigma, and possibly religious consequences as well.

Historical penalties for this crime usually involve torture, mutilation, and death. Here in the United States, we don’t take it quite so far anymore. Even so, this country is one of the few developed nations that still criminalize the act at all. Adultery is considered a felony in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Michigan. In the other states the crime is considered a misdemeanor, even, surprisingly, in New York.

Penalties vary wildly. You may receive as little as a ten dollar fine in Maryland, or as many as four years in prison if convicted in Michigan.

There are a few odd laws that are still on the books that stem from the base accusation of adultery. For example, Florida only recently decriminalized a law that made cohabitation of unmarried couples a crime.

In six other states, the “damaged” party can sue the homewrecking party for “alienation of affections.”

The more likely consequences for infidelity occur in divorce court if a couple can’t settle its differences through more amenable means. An unfaithful partner is least likely to be treated as an equal when it comes to the splitting of resources or alimony.

There is a lot of criticism against adultery laws that still exist because most were allegedly put in place as a deterrent to keep women faithful, and not the other way around. These laws are steeped in religious belief, as many spiritual texts allow the faithful to believe that women have a duty to remain submissive to their male counterparts.

If the offending party is a member of the U.S. armed forces, then he or she could be subject to a court-martial. These cases are rare, but not unheard of.

Transgender Issues Meet Family Law: How To Get It Right

President Trump might roll back protections for transgender individuals, and that means there’s no better time to review transgender issues as they relate to family law. If you aren’t born in the right skin, it can make all sorts of things more complicated: identity, marriage, parenting, separation, and divorce, or even just get the right kind of ID. All of these issues are interrelated, and wading through the mess isn’t easy. Here are a few tips.

First and foremost, make sure your personal identification is current. If you go by a new name, be sure to file for a name change with the town clerk (who can be found at the nearest courthouse). Once the name has been legally changed, it’s time to start updating all of your mailing lists. On top of that, you’ll need a new Social Security Card with the new name. The final stop is the DMV. From there, get online and start updating insurance, accounts, and your passport.

Marriage is always in question as well, but when marriage allowances and protections were extended to same-sex couples, they were also made to apply to transgender individuals. If you need to divorce, your transgender identity won’t change the way proceedings are handled. Depending on the outcome, you may be allowed alimony.

Parenting can be difficult, as laws vary from state to state. It also depends on how you go about becoming a parent. If biological parentage isn’t possible, then adoption remains a viable option. You’ll want to talk to an attorney at a family law firm about potential protections for you as either a non-biological or biological parent.

The Trump administration would loosen the current protections to instead define gender as determined by physical characteristics (genitalia) at the time of birth. The Obama administration had increased protections by allowing each individual to make the decision for him or herself. The latter policy change is what led to the bathroom backlash a few years back. Trump has targeted almost every Obama-era policy on the books, so it’s not too surprising that he’s finally getting around to dismantling this one.

I Want To Adopt: What Should I Know About Federal Laws?

Adoption is a tricky process even during the easiest cases, but it can be a true nightmare if would-be parents haven’t done their homework. The good news is that everyone wants those kids to have good homes, and if you present yourself as a responsible, loving and caring parent, then you will be approved for adoption. Here are a few things you should know about the process and the federal laws that govern it.

  1. First, some laws will help you out. The Multiethnic Placement Act was conceived as a way to reduce the time children spend with foster parents in an effort to see them adopted faster. This is good for everyone. It also prevents discrimination toward foster parents and adoptive parents. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 guarantees your adoptive children the same rights to health insurance coverage as any children you conceive naturally. If your child has special needs, a state must provide financial assistance because of the Adoption Assistance Act.
  2. There are a number of forms you must complete in order to be eligible for adoptive parenting. It’s not a bad idea to get a family law attorney in order to ensure all the appropriate steps are followed to the letter. This is not the kind of process you want to make mistakes with.
  3. To adopt without restrictions you must be at least 21 years old and a resident of the U.S. This restriction applies whether you are single or married, so long as you prove yourself to be a responsible, financially secure adult capable of caring for a child.
  4. If the child lives outside of the country, then you must ensure that the Central Authority of that country has made the child eligible for adoption.
  5. The child’s biological parents may have signed a consent to adoption, but this is only valid if the parents are unable to provide the child with appropriate care.
  6. Some criminal charges will prohibit an adoption from moving forward. The agency handling your adoption will conduct a thorough background check to ensure the household is safe. In addition anyone in the household who is 18 or older will undergo an evaluation for child abuse.
  7. Some psychiatric illnesses will eliminate your chance of adopting.

Three Ways To End A Marriage: Divorce, Annulment, and Separation

Deciding to end a marriage can be a very emotional decision. There are several decisions that need to be made including child custody, visitation, and support, spousal support, property, and asset division. Another thing that needs to be determined is how you will proceed to become legally unmarried.

The most popular legal way to dissolve a marriage is through divorce. There are two are two different types of divorce. The first is a no-fault divorce and the second is a fault-based divorce. A no-fault divorce is when both couples amicably agree to divorce. Common grounds include irreconcilable differences, irremediable breakdown or loss of affection. A fault-based divorce is when one spouse files for divorce regardless if the other spouse agrees. Common grounds include medical malpractice, adultery, abandonment, domestic violence and/or drug and alcohol abuse.

Another way to legally end your marriage is through an annulment. While divorce ends a valid marriage, an annulment erases the marriage which means that the marriage never happened. In order to obtain an annulment some of the following conditions need to be met:

  • The marriage was incestuous or bigamous
  • The marriage was the result of force, fraud, physical incapacity, mental incapacity or under the influence of drugs and alcohol
  • The marriage took place when one or both spouses was under the legal age
  • The marriage took place when one or both spouses were already married

A legal separation may physically end a marriage, however, legally the spouses are still married. Neither spouse can become married or enter a domestic partnership. In some states, it is required to become legally separate before filing for a divorce. Many courts use the date of legal separation as a way to determine the division of marital assets.

If you are looking to legally dissolve your marriage, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our family law attorneys.

The Child Support Calculator: How It Works

Divorce and custody battles can be complicated, emotionally and mentally exhausting and very expensive financially – especially when both parents want to be the primary parent for the child(ren).

When there is a divorce and you hire a lawyer, you generally know what it will cost to take the case out to completion. But when it comes to children, sometimes it is hard to anticipate how much child support will impact your financial life – and that is often one thing that we all want to know ahead of time so we can plan our budget in order to accommodate.

Often, however, child support can seem to be arbitrary from a judge – it could be more or less than your attorney may advise. Fortunately, if you live in New Jersey, you can at least use an online calculator to at least get a ballpark figure of what your child support award or order will be.
A judge’s discretion will change the final number, but you can plug into the calculator several factors that can have a numerical value to them to help create the framework for the custody award.

The factors that would be plugged into the calculator include:

  • Who is the custodial parent and who is the non-custodial parent?
  • Will there be shared parenting? In other words, will the non-custodial parent be with the child for at least 104 overnights in a year? A yes or no answer will impact the number potentially significantly.
  • What is the gross income of both parents?
  • What are the actual or anticipated expenses of the parents (i.e. who stays in the house and pays the bills, and who gets a different place and pays different bills)?

The online child-support calculator is, again, just a guideline and rough estimate based on court precedent and general factorial considerations the courts usually determine. The actual amount will likely differ, but plugging in the information as completely and accurately as possible will help you at least get a read of what to expect when the case is resolved.

There is no doubt that child support is not just about the money, but it is more about responsibility. Checking out a child-support calculator can be a responsible step you can take with your finances to ensure that your child, the most important remaining asset of your dissolved marriage, s still as cared for as would be needed or expected. Your child’s life need not to be disrupted, and neither parent should feel a financial hardship in providing for the child.

It is about fairness and preparation – two virtues that we all should impart on our children as they grow up, and are a sign of adults in the room who are watching out for the children.