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Separate v. Marital PropertyProperty owned during a marriage in Tennessee is classified as either separate property or marital property. This distinction becomes quite important for many spouses when considering divorce. The concept is worth understanding because only marital property is subject to equitable distribution during a divorce. Separate property includes property which was owned by a spouse before marriage; property which was acquired in exchange for property which was already owned prior to the marriage; income and appreciation of separate property; property acquired by a spouse through gift, bequest, devise or descent; pain and suffering awards; victim of crime compensation; future medical expenses; future lost wages; and property acquired by a spouse after an order of legal separation in which a court has completed a final disposition of property.

Where the separate property analysis gets tricky is a carve out section, T.C.A. § 36-4-121(b)(1)(B)(i). This section states: ” ‘Marital property’ includes income from, and any increase in the value during the marriage of, property determined to be separate property in accordance with subdivision (b)(2) if each party substantially contributed to its preservation and appreciation” This requires an understanding of substantial contribution and preservation and appreciation. Thankfully, the statute includes some more helpful information by defining a substantial contribution. A substantial contribution may include, but not be limited to, the direct or indirect contribution of a spouse as homemaker, wage earner, parent or family financial manager, together with such other factors as the court having jurisdiction thereof may determine.” Preservation and appreciation are not further defined in the statute.

Let’s consider a few hypotheticals. In Marriage A, Wife was gifted a significant amount of publicly traded stocks from a family member prior to marriage. Husband paid taxes on Wife’s stocks when sold. Are the stocks marital property? In Marriage B, Husband bought a house before the marriage that was never used as the marital home. Wife’s name was never put on the deed. However, when the house needed repairs, Wife paid for the HVAC to be replaced. Is the house Husband’s separate property? In Marriage C, Wife purchased a house during the marriage and the house was foreclosed on. Can Husband be awarded dissipation?

Understanding USERRA

USERRAThe Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is a federal law designed to protect the civilian employment of active, reserve, and national guard military personnel in the United States called to active duty.1 The three major purposes of USERRA are protection against discrimination, minimize disruption by providing for prompt reemployment, and protection of one’s pre-deployment job.2 The law clarifies that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees because of past, present, or future military service

Enforcement

BLOG-PHOTO-GREEN-CARD-ON-FLAG-copy-300x199The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or so-called Green Card Lottery, gives a chance to millions of foreigners to receive a U.S. Green Card just by applying through USCIS.

There is no fee to enter the lottery and you can apply through www.dvlottery.state.gov. According to the Department of State, in 2010 there were approximately 50,000 Green Cards distributed throughout the entire world as part of the Green Card Lottery. The immigrant visas are drawn randomly among the entries.

The USCIS outlines a few requirements to enter the lottery if you are outside the U.S. You must establish that:

Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.”

Divorce PreparationAlthough we say, “until death do us part” and fully expect our lives with that special someone to last forever, unfortunately, sometimes those expectations fall short of the reality.  Whether it’s because one spouse did something unforgivable or you simply grew apart, divorce may become the new reality.  As an attorney, I often find that by the time a client has made it into my office, much of the damage has already been done. This article was inspired by such clients in an effort to prevent the same type of damage to others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  Make no mistake, although we would like to think the person we committed our lives to would never purposefully try to deceive or deprive us, a divorce can be, and often is, a battle to be won or lost.  Recognizing this fact and understanding the “Art of War” is the first proactive thing a spouse can do for themselves.  It was Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general and strategist, who literally wrote the book and emphasized the importance of preparation for any victory.  His words transcend the battlefield and could not be truer than they are here. Proper preparation can mean the difference between victory or defeat, and much of a divorce battle is fought before the first court filing.

Documentation

Hippa RegulationsHIPAA is a complicated law with numerous provisions. HIPAA is the abbreviation of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Public Law 104-191.1 HIPAA included provisions in the law that authorized the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to adopt national standards to protect the privacy of personal health information. HIPAA mandated that HHS take action that ensures privacy protection for individually identifiable health information.2 

According to the official HHS website, HIPAA requirements include those found in Public Law 104-191, a final privacy rule adopted in December 2000, a final Security Rule adopted in February 2003, an Enforcement rule, and an Omnibus Rule.3 An unofficial version of all HIPAA regulations is found in a combined regulation text on the HHS website.4 This unofficial version of regulations is 115 pages long. You may read the full regulations for yourself if you want. However, the purpose of this article is to provide a snapshot into what HIPAA is and the basic requirements it imposes on businesses.

First, it is important to note, that HIPAA does not impose requirements on all businesses. Instead it only applies to the following entities: “(1) A health plan; (2) A health care clearinghouse; (3) A health care provider who transmits any health information in electronic form in connection with a transaction covered by this subchapter; or (4) an individual or “business associate” that provides certain services to a covered entity.”5

DOCTOR HOLDING CREDIT CARDSIn most instances under the law, debt is incurred in the capacity of the person(s) involved in the transaction only. Yet, there are several exceptions to this rule. State contract and family law apply to determine if one spouse may be liable for the debt of the other spouse. Tennessee law has provisions for garnishment, to levy bank accounts, to foreclose on property, and place a lien in certain circumstances.1 Additionally, if you sign a contract as a grantor for the medical care of a friend or family member and agree to contractual provisions that you will pay in the event that they fail to do so, you may be legally bound by that contract.

One of these lesser known exceptions to debt being incurred in an individual capacity only is the obligation to pay the medical bills of a spouse. Tennessee courts have directly recognized the common-law doctrine of necessaries to require a spouse to pay the medical debt of the other spouse in certain circumstances since at least 1997.2 In Outpatient Diagnostic Center v. Christian, a medical care provider attempted to hold a husband liable for medical services provided to his wife.3 The husband argued that he should not be liable for his wife’s debt because she was not acting as his agent in the transaction and he did not ratify her debt. The court reasoned that a spouse’s duty to pay for necessary medical expenses for the other spouse is a straightforward application of the common-law imposed duty on a husband to furnish support for his wife.4 Additionally, the Tennessee legislature appeared to ratify this doctrine in 1974 in T.C.A. § 47-18-805 “Liability of spouse.”5 The court also reasoned that other states confronting similar disputes have recognized the common-law necessaries doctrine as creating this obligation.6

The Court defined the limits of the doctrine: “[A] provider of medical services can make out a prima facie claim for recovery under the necessaries doctrine by proving that

Military LawThe Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is located in Chapter 37 of the United States Code.¹It is Federal law that applies to the U.S. Military. The UCMJ “defines the military justice system and lists criminal offenses under military law.”² On January 1, 2019, major changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice took effect.³ According to the United States Army these changes include: “modernizing definitions for many offenses, adjusting maximum penalties, standardizing court-martial panels, creating new computer-crime laws, and much more.”4 A recent Military Times headline describes these changes as “the biggest update to UCMJ in decades”.5

Significant criminal offense changes include:

  • Replacing the offense of adultery with “extra-marital sexual conduct.” The offense was also broadened to include all types of sexual acts.

EsportsI am an attorney and former teacher as well as a mother and wife to a houseful of gamers.  People often find it difficult to understand how I could support the idea of my kids becoming competitive Esports players or my 19-year-old son, who scored a 33 on the ACT, foregoing college to pursue a career playing video games.  What those people may not know is that competitive Esports is quickly becoming the next professional sports arena with a booming industry that has generated over $900 million in revenues in 2018 and is expected to grow 38% over the coming year.  Forbes anticipates the Esports economy will exceed $1.6 billion by 2021.¹  This blog will be the first in a series to help educate and inform prospective pro gamers and their families about the business of Esports, and the potential opportunities and pitfalls of pursuing a career as a competitive player.

Living in a family of gamers has led to video games being a big part of my life for the last 20 years.  I have watched the technology advance and the gameplay become more and more realistic.  At an early age, we knew our eldest son had skills, and his passion and commitment to master every game he played was impossible to ignore. So, when he told us he wanted to take a gap year to focus on becoming a pro Fortnite player, my husband and I viewed and supported those aspirations no differently than if he had wanted to be a professional athlete, an actor or professional musician; all pursuits which require passion, commitment, skill and talent.  For a year our son worked tirelessly to hone his skills and improve his gameplay. Those efforts paid off and his dream came true when he won the PAX West Fortnite tournament this past August; a win that would change his life.

I share this personal story with you in hopes that it will inspire young players to continue the grind as well as provide some insight to families and parents who may not truly understand what Esports can bring to the table.  Whether you play League of Legends, Dota 2, Call of Duty, Overwatch or Fortnite, game developers and Esports Organizations are intent on bringing Esports into the mainstream.  So, before you completely discount your gamer’s dreams of going pro, consider some interesting facts about the burgeoning Esports industry that might surprise you:

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HB 2315Be informed about your options.

As January 19, 2019 approaches, fear and uncertainty have begun to spread among the immigrant and undocumented population in Tennessee. Some families have relocated to other states, other families have decided to consult with immigration lawyers in the area, and still others are eagerly awaiting the immigration reform so longed for by many. Regardless of what your choice has been, it is unquestionable that you must be prepared for this date. Please, get well informed, and keep reading.

YELLOW LABRADOR“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Wedding china, dining room table, artwork collection… pets?  As most of the United States today, Tennessee included, continues to deem pets as personal property, many divorcing pet owners will face the question, “Where will Fido go?”  This question is particularly important for couples who acquired pets during the marriage and, as many pet owners can attest, consider them to be fundamental members of the family.  In this situation, divorcing parties are typically expected to separately address and agree to an equitable division of all “other items” of tangible personal property – “umbrella” language commonly found in divorce settlement agreements – under which pets fall.

Despite traditionally itemizing Fido between the Instant Pot and the outdoor patio set, the issue of pet ownership in divorce proceedings is, in fact, becoming an increasingly popular topic in family law throughout the country.  Similar to child custody disputes, divorcing parties may want to first discuss how to best maintain the status quo for the pet(s) post-divorce.  If both parties have equally contributed to the well-being, care, and financial responsibility of the pet(s), will be in the position to continue same after the divorce finalization, and neither wishes to forfeit ownership and/or visitation rights, they may find an informal pet agreement to be a feasible solution.

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