In July 2001, the United States Department of State implemented a law regarding passport application procedures. Under the Two-Parent Consent Law, as amended in 2008, both parents are required to consent to the passport application for a minor U.S. citizen under the age of 16. By putting this law into practice, the Department of State sought to decrease the likelihood that a U.S. passport will be used to facilitate an international parental child abduction.

Basic Requirements of the Law

Under U.S. immigration law, passport applications for minor children under age 16 must be filed in person by a parent or an individual specially authorized as a person “in loco parentis.” (This term is used to identify a foster parent, or other appropriate authority, e.g., a county custodial agency, protecting the minor’s legal rights). The minor must appear in person when applying for the passport. Either parent, whether a U.S. citizen or not, may apply for a U.S. passport on behalf of the minor child. However, in addition to establishing the child’s identity and U.S. citizenship, the adult applicant must also document his or her compliance with the Two-Parent Consent Law.


Continue Reading U.S. Department of State Implements Two-Parent Consent Law

 Most people are aware that a surviving spouse is usually entitled to inherit all or a large portion of the estate of a deceased spouse. Fewer understand the effect on estates if one spouse dies during a legal separation or after a divorce. After a divorce, many neglect to change wills that specify bequests to a former spouse or their beneficiary designations for life insurance and retirement accounts. State law may dictate what will happen in such situations. However, provisions and procedures can vary substantially from state to state. Additionally, federal law may be implicated, especially when pension and retirement accounts are involved.


Continue Reading Inheritance Rights of Spouses after Separation and Divorce

 Minors have no legal capacity to manage property. Thus, transferring property and other assets to minors can be problematic. For example, parents or other adults may wish to convey a small amount of property to a minor without investing the time and expense of establishing a trust.

Another option is to set up a custodianship for the minor. Under a custodianship, the transferring party names a custodian and transfers the property into an account in the minor’s name. The custodian holds and manages the custodial property for the benefit of the minor. A custodial account is irrevocable and belongs to the minor as the owner.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)

The Uniform Transfers to Minors Act of 1986 (UTMA) was passed in order to eliminate some limitations of the earlier Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA). All states have adopted some form of the UTMA or UGMA. The UTMA provides a convenient method of allowing the transfer of property to minors without setting up a trust.

In a custodianship, an adult custodian holds and manages property for the benefit of a minor child until that minor is old enough to receive the property. A UTMA transfer is irrevocable, and the custodian must relinquish the property to the minor as soon as they reach the age of majority, which varies by state (usually 18 or 21, sometimes 25)

 


Continue Reading Keeping Assets in a Custodial Account for a Minor

 The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by President Clinton on September 21, 1996. DOMA defines “marriage” to consist exclusively as a heterosexual union of a man and a woman. Further, DOMA directs federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of enacting any agency programs.


Continue Reading DOMA Defines “Marriage” as Union of Man and Woman

Over the years, intra-family immunity from lawsuits against other family members developed; “parental immunity” and “spousal immunity.” Some have suggested that these immunities were part of a body of rules that historically limited tort recoveries in general. At one time, there was even a certain stigma to bringing a lawsuit against another family member for damages. This radically changed in the latter half of the 20th Century, when courts (and laws) began to expand liabilities and recoveries for a number of reasons. Not all states recognized the doctrines of parental and spousal immunity from suit, but most states did. Recently, however, more states have abandoned or created exceptions to these doctrines.


Continue Reading The Right to Sue Family Members

An increasingly large portion of the assets of married couples consist of rights to payments and stock from pension plans.  In many states such assets are subject to division during a divorce.  Divorce and division of property are generally controlled by state law, but pension plans are controlled by federal law in many respects.

 

 According to the Child Welfare League of America, an estimated 200,000 children have a mother in prison, and at least 1.6 million children have a father in prison. As such, many children have been forced to enter the foster care system, and there has been a significant increase in the number of children visiting their incarcerated parents.

 
Such overwhelming statistics have influenced federal adoption law and, more recently, played a role in a notable U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of restricting prison visitation by the children of inmates.
 
Adoption and Safe Families Act
With the goal of achieving prompt permanency plans for children in foster care, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997. The law requires states to move to sever a parent’s right to a child after the child has spent 15 months in foster care.
 
As mothers are often their child’s primary caretaker, ASFA has certainly affected the parental rights of incarcerated mothers, whose sentences prevent a timely reunification with their children. For example, under ASFA, a state would most likely file to terminate the parental rights of a mother serving five years in prison, where her children have been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months. In fact, an incarcerated mother will often surrender her parental rights after her children have spent 15 months in foster care, so that her children can be formally adopted by their foster family. 


Continue Reading Severing the Parental Rights of Inmates and the Constitutionality of Restricting Visitation

The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by President Clinton on September 21, 1996.  DOMA defines "marriage" to consist exclusively as a heterosexual union of a man and a woman.  Further, DOMA directs federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of enacting any agency programs. 
 
Statutory Language
Among other pertinent provisions, DOMA states: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife." 


Continue Reading Same-Sex Marriages and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act

An increasingly large portion of the assets of married couples consist of rights to payments and stock from pension plans.  In many states such assets are subject to division during a divorce.  Divorce and division of property are generally controlled by state law, but pension plans are controlled by federal law in many respects.
 


Continue Reading Tax Issues Associated with Division of Pension Benefits in a Divorce