Happy National “Everything You Think Is Wrong” Day!

March 15th is National #EverythingYouThinkIsWrongDay.  Let’s celebrate by reading some things that many people believe, but are wrong:

  1. “Living together for 6 years means we are married.” No, at least not in Ohio.  Common law marriages in Ohio are recognized only if they occurred prior to October of 1991.
  2. “Contracts must be in writing.” Oral contracts are enforceable in many situations.  Exceptions exist, including most contracts for real property.
  3. “The United States Supreme Court has the final say of all laws in the U.S.” The U.S. Supreme Court is the final decider of federal laws and controversies involving federal law.  State supreme courts have the final say over state law.
  4. “I can’t be arrested for public intoxication if I’m on private property.” You can be standing on your front porch, beer in hand, and if you are creating a disturbance you can be arrested for public intoxication.
  5. “I don’t have a will.” You might not have prepared a will, but every state has a plan for your asses should you die without having prepared your own will.
  6. “I don’t need a will because my spouse will get everything anyway.” Not likely true if you had a child together, or you have children from a previous relationship.
  7. “My donations to a nonprofit are tax deductible.” In order for donations made to a nonprofit to be tax deductible to you, the nonprofit must have tax exempt status from the IRS.  Most commonly this is 501(c)(3) status.
  8. “If I’m arrested I’m entitled to one phone call.” This is partly true.  You have a right to one call to an attorney.  Generally the police allow an arrestee to call family or a friend but it is not a right.
  9. “The First Amendment protects your free speech from everyone.” This is a very common myth.  The First Amendment only protects your right free speech against the government, and even that protection has limitations.  People getting fired from a private employer for what they (employees) say is permissible, despite a hundred Facebook commenters lamenting that this person’s right to free speech has been violated.
  10. “If the house is in just my name, my spouse can’t get it if we divorce.”  Not true, typically.  Things acquired during the marriage are subject to equitable division and distribution.  And, equitable doesn’t mean equal, it means fair according to the judge.
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Minors and Sexting: Real Ramifications

Sexting among teens is very common.  Yes, parents, at least 57% of teenagers have been asked to sext, according to one study.  The ramifications of minors’ sexting are real, can be serious, and can affect many involved.  Lesley Cross, licensed professional counselor in Worthington, Ohio, addresses sexting among children and teenagers, with my discussion of the legal severity of sexting following.

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“Minors and Sexting: Real Ramifications,” by Lesley Cross:

From the time they understand what is in their parents’ hands, they want it.

The smart phone.

And many of us are guilty (myself included) of handing over the device for entertainment value.  Kids today are more technologically savvy than many of their parents. They’re on smart phones, chrome books, iPads and tablets more each year and with this technological freedom comes real risks.

While our children can receive true benefits associated with technology (learning apps, research, hand eye coordination, etc.) there are downsides to the use of technology as well.  One of these risks is sexting (sending nude or semi nude photos via text and email.)  We want to think this is a topic that our tweens and teens don’t have to worry about but the reality is, middle and high schools nationwide are battling the sexting war.

It’s important to have conversations with children EARLY about the risks of technology.  Even if your child is not the one sending photos to others, they may be the recipient of such photos which can be just as emotionally upsetting and legally responsible. Sharing what the expectation is for phone use, discussing consequences and helping to ensure the child’s self-esteem and self-worth is grounded in more than their physical appearance is important.

Children need to have a healthy understanding of relationships and the communication between partners is part of that. Consider what you are modeling to them and what movies and shows are teaching as “the norm.”  Shows like the Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Dating Naked, etc., promote that sexuality is a power tool and privacy is not of value.  What are children observing in our homes and community?  They take it all in!

In addition to our conversations with our children, parents need to be extra involved with their children and technology.  Parents need to check the text messages, have limited access to sites, be aware of their children’s history and also be informed about Vault style apps that hide “the real” information from easy sight.  Parents are encouraged to have passwords to their children’s accounts, limit social media access and continually check the ways in which devices are being used.  If inappropriate use is discovered, consequences must occur, such as reporting to schools, removal of access to technology, counseling if appropriate, etc.

Kids sext for a number of reasons, none of which are emotionally healthy.  And what may have started as a flirtation-intended message might result in opportunities for bullying, isolation, anxiety, shaming, fear and depression. These psychological risks are not the only lasting impact of sexting as there are also legal risks associated.

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Legal ramifications of minors’ sexting:

As Lesley states, the ramifications for minors of sexting, whether they are sending or receiving sext messages, can have detrimental and long-lasting psychological effects, especially because teenagers often lack an appreciation for the consequences of not being able to “take back” a nude photo.  There are very serious legal consequences, however, that teenagers, and their families, might not fully appreciate.

If a minor (under age 18) sends a sext message, generally regarded as creating, sending, receiving or showing sexually-oriented content, including images and words, via cell phone, email, social media or other online communications, the following people could face legal consequences: the person who sent the sext, received it, forwarded it, kept it, posted it, showed it to anyone, and the minor’s parents.  Although Ohio has no specific sexting laws, charges will come under child pornography statutes, including pandering, obscenity involving a minor, child endangerment, possessing nude images of a child, and other crimes.  If a teenage girl sends a nude picture of herself (called “promoting” under the law) to her teenage boyfriend, both can be charged.  If the boyfriend forwards the picture to his classmate, the classmate can be charged.  And, since parents have ultimate control and responsibility of electronic use in the home, home computers and cell phones can be confiscated as evidence and parents can be charged, or sued for damages connected to their child’s distribution of obscenity.

Child pornography is a serious felony—the second most serious felony in Ohio.  Two teenagers near Cincinnati were charged under child pornography laws for one teenager—the girlfriend—sending nude photos to another teenager—the boyfriend.  Both have to register as sex offenders.  These are strict liability statutes and do not differentiate for sexting participants who are dating if at least one person is a minor.

Due to their feelings of being invincible, tweens and teens often do not consider consequences.  Interestingly, what grabs teenagers’ attention most is the immediate consequence of having their phone confiscated by police.  The moral and future consequences must be communicated to them clearly, consistently, and from an early age.

Published by Julie Mills, Attorney at Julie Mills Law LLC.

Five ways to make your survivors miserable

You have died, so your survivors are already grieving.  No one wants to “tie up loose ends” and take care of standard post-death things such as getting your death certificate, distributing your possessions, selling your house, etc.  These five ways will almost ensure that their job is made worse.

  1. Die without a will.  Dying without a will is called dying “intestate.”  Without a will directing what goes where, the person in charge of administering your estate needs to distribute according to statute.  This process could be easy, or could be difficult, but will almost definitely be more of a hassle.  If you have minor-age children, quadruple the “hassle quotient.”  Now the Court will need to determine who cares for your children (guardian) with no guidance from you–the person who knows best who the guardian should be.
  2. Have a trust prepared but do not fund it or put assets in it.  If you wisely have a revocable living trust prepared to, among other things, avoid probate, and you fail to re-title or deed the assets to your trust, then these assets will need to go through probate.  (This is not true if held in survivorship deed.)  I have seen probate estates opened just to probate a house or other deeded or titled property when the deceased had a trust prepared, but the trust was “empty”(unfunded).
  3. Fail to designate a point person to hold passwords to social media, email and other accounts.  Survivors might want access to your pictures, or to let others know you have passed.  At one point one company that stored pictures online would not let a surviving husband access his wife’s account.  Her account happened to contain almost all of their childrens’ pictures from birth.  For a professional with a LinkedIn account, notifying colleagues of your death might be critical to clients or matters.  In some circumstances a court order can lead to accessing the account.  Lessen the workload of your survivors by leaving a list of accounts and passwords in a secure place with a trusted person.
  4. Fail to leave instructions regarding cremation or burial.  This is one area that can turn amicable survivors into feuding adversaries.  Some people have strong feelings against being cremated while others have strong feelings against being buried.  Families often argue over which cemetery will be chosen, or where ashes are to be stored or scattered.  Do your family members a favor and specify these instructions.
  5. Neglect to provide for the care of pets.  Who will care for your dog, cat, horse, or other pets if you die?  Leaving a relative to distribute your assets and close your accounts is enough work without also leaving it up to him or her to find homes for your pets, or to be put in the heart-wrenching position of having to take them to the pound or shelter.  Leave provisions for pets in your will or have a pet trust prepared.