Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Time Shares and Bankruptcy

Consider this a public service announcement: Do not buy a timeshare.  

In bankruptcy, we run across dozens of people every year who bought a timeshare.  In 25 years of handling bankruptcies, I cannot remember a single person who did anything other than give up the timeshare as part of the bankruptcy filing.  The bankruptcy trustees are always on the lookout for assets they can sell.  I cannot remember a single instance when any of those trustees took an interest in selling a timeshare.

The way most people come to own timeshares is on vacation. They get caught up in the moment, seduced by an impressive resort tour and slick presentation about the benefits of buying a timeshare. Sometimes, it is a promise of an open bar or a cash payment for sitting through that presentation.

The resort will usually pair up a salesman with each couple listening to the presentation.  For the minimum two-hour presentation, you have your new best friend hanging out with you, telling you what a good deal you are about to get! The immediate downside of the presentation is that you lose between a few hours and an entire afternoon of your vacation time, listening to information about one of the single worst investments you could possibly make.

The salesman will usually tell you the timeshare is an investment and will go up in value.  They will pitch the idea that you can rent your luxury condominium to other vacationers, if you are not able to use it yourself.  They will tell you that the points are transferable to another vacation resort, if you do not want to take your vacation to this same place every year.

Timeshares almost never go up in value.  When you try to sell it, you will not have the benefit of a team of salesmen individually working prospective purchasers for the sale. The points are transferable, but they usually leave out the fact that you will have to pay a fee to use the time at a different resort.  They play down the cost of maintenance fees at the facility (or don’t mention them at all). They neglect to point out the fact you will be paying interest on this expensive investment at a rate higher than some automobile loans…andyou will pay property taxes on this condominium as well.

Once all the units are sold, it is not uncommon for the maintenance on the properties to be neglected and the entire complex to fall into disrepair.  After all, they do not have any more prospects to tour the resort, and the salesmen have moved down the beach to the next hot property.

If you figure out the cost of ownership, which includes the interest and other fees, you will almost certainly come out cheaper renting the very unit they are pitching you, instead of owning it. 

While they are usually not the main reason people file for bankruptcy, timeshares always something brought up at the consultation, because almost everyone wants out.

Written by: Greg Gouner

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.

Divorce Doesn’t Need to be the Worst Thing to Happen to You

Divorce is hard. For most people, it is one of life’s most difficult events, but the pain a divorce causes can be minimized. Louisiana allows for a no-fault divorce option. If your marriage is over, there really is no point in making this process any more difficult than it already is. The Gouner Law Office is here to make your divorce as painless as possible, and to give you all the tools you need to begin the next chapter of your life.

Why Time Matters
There are certain time delays which will affect any no-fault divorce (A “fault based” divorce is a different story). If you and your spouse have minor children, you must be separated for 365 days, before a judge will grant your divorce. If there are no minor children between the parties, a 180-day separation is required. If you have already lived separate and apart for the requisite time period, it is a quick process. If not, you will have to wait to be separated for the applicable time period. 

Two Types of Divorce
A divorce can be filed under Louisiana Civil Code Article 102 or Article 103. Under Article 102, the divorce petition is filed, and you then live separate and apart. Article 103 is used when you have already lived separate and apart for the requisite time period. A special note: If you have been living apart from your spouse, but have not reached the entire time period required by law, your divorce can be filed under Article 102, then simply amended when you hit that date. You can also ask the court for the granting of your divorce at that time.

When Fees Can Be Waivered
The divorce procedure can also be easier and cost you and your spouse less money. As you may know, almost every single legal document filed in any case costs you a filing fee. You then have to pay additional money for service of that document upon the other party. You and your spouse can avoidpaying those extra funds by waiving service of process and visit our office together,to make the process move faster and more smoothly. 

Consent Judgment
Some of the most painful and expensive parts of the divorce process are child support, child custody, spousal support, etc. Instead of appearing in front of a judge and dredging up any and all bad things you can think of about your spouse, you can come to an agreement on the above listed items and have them included in a consent judgment.Our office has assisted in forging many agreements between parties regarding child support, custody, and other incidentals--without the need for a lengthy court hearing. You also save money on hefty legal fees, since most attorneys will bill you hourly for their time. If you decide at a later date that the agreement needs to be modified, this can be done by a judge, after a showing a good reason to do so.

The attorneys the Gouner Law Office understand that going through a divorce is one of the most difficult hurdles you will likely face in your life. It is our job to make sure it is less painful. At the end of the day, the best thing for all parties is to come to an agreement, and peacefully move on with your lives. We do understand that parties are sometimes unable to come to an agreement. In those cases, we are here to fight for you, to get you everything you deserve. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a consultation.

By: Alyssa L. Collara-Wineski 

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.

18 Year Olds Get To Dance?

Louisiana was one of the first, if not only states to require a 21-year minimum age to be an exotic dancer--or, as most people would say, a stripper.  

Once again, the Federal Court of Appeal in New Orleans struck down a law allowing 18-year-olds to make a living working a pole.  Basing their ruling on free-speech and vagueness grounds, the Court of Appeal held the Louisiana law unconstitutional.  

Of course, Louisiana once considered a law limiting the weight of strippers.  Perhaps, the legislature will try again on that one.

Read The Advocate's story here.

Written By: Greg Gouner

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Bankruptcy and Student Loans

It is hard to get a discharge of student loans in bankruptcy.  Most attorneys think it can’t be done. That’s because the standard is high, and most do not qualify.  Here’s how the Gouner Law Office has obtained discharge of student loans for our clients: 

In order to discharge your student loans in either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must begin an adversary proceeding requesting a determination of undue hardship which is separate (but connected) to your bankruptcy case. You can do this even if you already filed for bankruptcy, by reopening your case and requesting this determination. The heightened Brunnerstandard*, which has been adopted in every federal court of appeal other than the First (in which we lie) and Eighth Circuits, requires the following to be proven:

  1. The Debtor cannot maintain a “minimal” standard of living for the debtor and their dependents, based on their current income and expenses, if they were forced to repay the student loans.
  2. Additional circumstances exist which indicate that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the student loan repayment period.
  3. The debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the student loans.

If you successfully prove “undue hardship,” your student loans will be completely forgiven. But, even if you cannot meet the heightened Brunnerstandard to discharge your student loans, a bankruptcy can still be helpful. 

As in all bankruptcy proceedings, an automatic stay is placed into effect as soon as the case is filed. This protects you from annoying, harassing calls and communications from creditors. This also includes collection efforts from student loan companies. During your Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your student loan creditors must leave you alone until your case is resolved or until the creditor goes through the lengthy steps of lifting the automatic stay to start collecting again. Either way, by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you will get some relief from the constant communications from your creditors. 

Filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to give you relief from your student loan debt can be even more helpful. Within a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you are put into a reorganization plan. Your plan will likely include your student loan debt, so you are making payments on your loans while in the bankruptcy. Your Chapter 13 plan, NOT your student loan servicer, will determine the amount and ability you have to pay your student loans in that five (5) year period. As in a Chapter 7, you will have a reprieve from the harassing collection efforts while you are in your Chapter 13 bankruptcy. There are judges in some districts which allow debtors to give priority to their student loan debt during their Chapter 13 plan, and repay them over other creditors. 

Regardless of whether or not you are able to prove “undue hardship” and completely discharge your student loan debt, a bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13), can still be helpful for you. At the Gouner Law Office, we understand how hard it is to endure the daily harassment from your creditors, and by filing a bankruptcy, you will get the relief you deserve to get back on your feet to start fresh. 

*(Brunner v. New York State Higher Educ. Servs. Corp., 831 F. 2d 395 (2d Cir. 1987)

Written By: Alyssa Collera-Wineski 

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.

Why Contact An Attorney After Your Car Accident

Insurance companies will insist you do not need to involve an attorney following a car crash. They will also tell you they will be able to assist you through the settlement process in a quick and easy way. The insurance company does want to help you quickly settle your claim, but is that the best thing for you?
For one thing, you may not realize you have been injured until a few days after the accident. If you settle a claim with the “at fault” insurance company too quickly, you may waive your right to have future related treatment for your injuries covered. Insurance companies will try to wave a settlement check in front on you early on, in an effort to get you to settle your claim with minimal treatment. 
Another issue that frequently comes up in car crashes is that insurance companies generally look for a way to put liability on both parties in a wreck. The insurance company may try to tell you that you have some negligence, or fault, in the accident, even if you are the one who was hit. Hiring an attorney early in your case will give your lawyer a chance to argue your case with the insurance company and ensure you get the full amount of the settlement you deserve.
Hiring an attorney to represent you following an accident will help ensure your case is being handled in a timely manner, investigated properly and settled fairly--only after you have completed your treatment and are fully comfortable with settlement. In the event of lengthy treatment or issues with the liability decision of the insurance company, your attorney can file suit to extend the life of your case and preserve your right to collect for your injuries, as well as your pain and suffering.
Don’t get pushed into an early or partial settlement by insurance companies following an accident. Call the Gouner Law Office for representation.
Written By: Katherine Gouner

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.

Shoplifting Letters

When someone is caught shoplifting, getting arrested and charged with a crime is only part of what happens.  About a month or so after the arrest--and almost always before the first court date--a letter demanding money is usually sent from one of a handful of out-of-state law firms or collection companies.  The letter is ambiguously worded, and most people interpret it to mean that if they pay the money, no prosecution will happen.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Most states, including Louisiana, allow stores to collect a civil penalty from people caught shoplifting to cover the cost of their security.  The letter is a carefully worded request for cash (usually around $500 to $800) representing a prorated percentage of the annual store cost of equipment and personnel.

If you read the letter a few times, however, you will realize the store is not actually promising to do anything in exchange for the money.  In 25 years, no prosecutor I have seen has ever demanded a criminal defendant pay a store for these costs.  This is just free money the store is demanding. 

Year after year, I tell people not to pay this money.  Most of the time, they pay it anyway, hoping it will somehow make a difference.  Either way, the store will still prosecute.  No leniency will be shown for paying the extortion.  I have never seen any of these stores ever file suit to try to collect the statutory penalty.

Whatever you do, resist handing money to the store, unless there is a written deal in place to drop the prosecution and the local DA has signed off on it. If you or someone you know has been charged with shoplifting, please call the Gouner Law Office.  

Written By: Greg Gouner

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Camera Tickets

I have addressed this before, but we still get a lot of calls about camera tickets.  People ask if they should pay the citation or go to trial.  Louisiana does not suspend drivers’ licenses or take any other action against alleged violators other than referring them out for collection. This means there is no real penalty for ignoring the ticket at present.

I included a link below about what is happening in other states.  In Illinois, Chicago is so aggressive with their red light program people are having to file for bankruptcy to get out from under fines.  It looks like other states are much more aggressive with their collection efforts and taking drivers licenses.  We have filed a number of bankruptcies for people who had penalties at the DMV that were too high to pay so they had to go the bankruptcy route.  That is something we do not see much of in the state.

Under our new governor, the DMV will now accept payment plans and has made it easier for people to get their licenses back.  The way things stand  it is hard for me to recommend for anybody to take a day off from work to fight a camera ticket, when there are really no consequences from ignoring it.

The only exception I know about is the City of New Orleans.  They have a fleet of camera equipped trucks roaming around automatically checking license plates for people that have tickets within their city limits.  They pay particular attention to the area around the courthouse.  But if your car is not marked on the street, they are not known to check parking lots or other private parking areas.  If they find you, they will boot your car and get a cash payment before releasing it.

There is always the chance that places like Baton Rouge will step up their collection efforts.  The fines, however, are treated as civil penalties.  This means the city or town where you get the ticket does not really have much recourse.  It is not practical to sue each individual motorist for the $200 or $300 fine.  You may get a few letters, but that is about as far as it is likely to go.  No one has reported to me that the amount has been sent to the credit bureau.

There really is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question. If you tend to worry, maybe you should pay the ticket or show up in court.  There is always some risk in ignoring a so-called official notice. Speaking just for myself, I would not voluntarily pay one of these fines for the time being.

Written by: Greg Gouner

May we help you with a legal situation? To schedule a private consultation, call the Gouner Law Office at (225) 293-6200 or toll free (800) 404-1921. You can also fill out our contact form.