“Sheridan Issues”

Sheridan v. Sheridan, 247 N.J. Super. 552 (Ch. Div. 1990) is a New Jersey case that requires trial judges to report evidence of any illegal activity to the proper authorities. In most matrimonial cases, this comes up in the context of dealing with unreported or under reported income. Such cases are known as “Sheridan cases.”

When a couple is arguing over alimony and/or child support, which are mainly calculated based on parties’ earnings; tax returns are often offered as proof of income. However, when those tax returns indicate that the tax filers have taken too many liberties with deductions, credits, or simply have under-reported or failed to report their income, judges may then report them to both the New Jersey and Federal Taxing Authorities, who in turn may then decide to conduct investigation into these tax filings.

If the tax return was filed jointly, both parties may be at risk here, and both may be reported by the judge. It is not family judge’s job to make determination which spouse is guilty and which spouse may be innocent of tax fraud.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is a serious matter with grave consequences for those who are found to have “cheated” on their taxes. There are hundreds of convictions of people who attempted to evade paying taxes. As such, anyone who is aware that his or her taxes are questionable, should think twice before offering them into evidence in family court.

Individuals and business owners often have more than one way to complete a taxable transaction. Most try to conduct business and personal transactions in such a way as to reduce or eliminate tax liability. Although they sound similar “tax avoidance” and “tax evasion” are drastically different. Tax avoidance lowers your tax bill by structuring your transactions so that you reap the largest tax benefits. Tax avoidance is legal. Tax evasion, on the other hand, is an attempt to reduce your tax liability by deceit or concealment. Tax evasion is a crime.

But how can you tell when tax planning goes too far and becomes tax evasion? The distinction usually turns upon whether actions were taken with fraudulent intent.

Business owners often find themselves subject to more scrutiny than wage-earners with a similar level of income, because a business owner has more options to avoid tax, both legal and illegal. Here are some of the most common criminal activities in violations of the tax law:

  • Deliberately under-reporting or omitting income. Simply put – concealing income is fraudulent. Examples include a business owner’s failure to report a portion of the day’s receipts or a landlord failing to report rent payments.
  • Keeping two sets of books and making false entries in books and records. Engaging in accounting irregularities, such as a business’s failure to keep adequate records, or a discrepancy between amounts reported on a corporation’s return and amounts reported on its financial statements, generally demonstrates fraudulent intent.
  • Claiming false or overstated deductions on a return. These range from claiming unsubstantiated charitable deductions to overstating travel expenses. It can also include paying your children or spouse for work that they did not perform. The IRS is always vigilant when it comes to inflated deductions from pass-through entities.
  • Claiming personal expenses as business expenses. This is an easy trap to fall into because often assets, such as a car or a computer, will have both business and personal use. Proper record-keeping will go a long way in preventing a finding of tax fraud.
  • Hiding or transferring assets or income. This type of fraud can take a variety of forms, from simple concealment of funds in a bank account to improper allocations between taxpayers. For example, improperly allocating income to a related taxpayer who is in a lower tax bracket, such as where a corporation makes distributions to the controlling shareholder’s children, is likely to be considered tax fraud.
  • Engaging in a “sham transaction.” You can’t reduce or avoid income tax liability simply by labeling a transaction as something else. For example, if payments by a corporation to its stockholders are in fact dividends, calling them “interest” or otherwise attempting to disguise the payments as interest will not entitle the corporation to an interest deduction.

New Jersey judges who have found underreported income can and have reported such returns to the authorities for further investigation. That is why litigants who are willing to go to court knowing that they have potential tax issues, do so at their own risk. These individuals should give serious consideration to settling their matter out of court and/or hiring a reputable tax specialist to help them.

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Rescheduling Biometrics Appointment

Once an application for the immigration benefit is filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the receipt notice(s) are mailed out, the next step is biometrics. A biometrics services appointment will be scheduled at a local Application Support Center (ASC) as USCIS conducts checks on every applicant to make sure he or she is eligible and truthful on his or her application.

USCIS will use the biometrics to confirm the identity of the applicant and to conduct the necessary background check.

The Notice of Action will list a date, time and location for the appointment. Applicants need to make sure they do not miss their biometrics appointment. But, if you cannot make your biometrics appointment, there is no need to despair, as USCIS allows applicants to reschedule their appointments to a later date, if they are unable to appear for the scheduled appointment. Applicants can find information on rescheduling  on their appointment notice.

To request a later date, you need to fill in information in the space provided below “Request for Rescheduling” and send it to the USCIS. remember to retain a copy of the notice for your records. Rescheduling request needs to be mailed out before your scheduled appointment.

Alternatively, you might be able to just go to the ASC before your scheduled appointment, but then you may have to wait as the ASC will process walk-ins only after the scheduled applicants have been serviced. You will still need a government-issued identification document and your  biometrics appointment notice. Without the biometrics appointment notice, ASC will not capture your biometrics.

If you fail to appear for your scheduled appointment and also fail to reschedule your appointment, USCIS may deny your application or at the very least the processing of your application will be delayed.

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Divorce and Your Finances

One of the biggest reasons that make getting a divorce so unpleasant is figuring out your finances. As horrifying as gathering all financial data may sound, many people have actually found the process of collecting and weighing financial information to be highly beneficial. While collecting financial records is certainly time consuming, and possibly depressing, it is a required part of the financial planning process.

By reviewing where your money is really going, you will gain more knowledge about your actual monthly spending habits and expenses, both necessary and unnecessary. The experience will be an “eye-opener,” especially for those individuals who have not been primarily responsible for managing family’s finances. Even spouses who routinely have handled family finances are likely to finish the process with a far greater understanding of their true financial picture. Among other things, this experience may cause you to rethink spending decisions and other lifestyle priorities. You now may want to change your spending habits and investments, as certain choices may be a better fit for your financial future and goals than others.

Here is an example of making financial choices: if your house needs new windows, you can deal with that in a number of ways, all impacting your finances.

A) You could use your savings to replace all windows. Your house will be less drafty, thus saving you money long term in heating and cooling costs, but you will no longer have savings.

B) You could buy new windows using a loan or credit card, thus preserving your savings for emergencies. But this option means you will have a new monthly payment, and depending on how long you take to pay off the credit, the real cost of your windows will increase to include the finance charges.

C) You could replace only some of the windows, preserving some savings and avoiding debt, but your house will still have some bad windows.

D) You also could spend all your savings on lottery tickets hoping to win the big jackpot that would allow you not just to buy new windows, but a nicer and bigger house! Though, if you don’t win, you will now have no savings and you still need new windows.

For the person who never had a financial plan, divorce provides an opportunity to finally create one. For the person who has had a financial plan in place, but that plan depended on a breadwinner spouse and/or all the assets accumulated jointly during the marriage, that plan will have to be modified to fit the post-divorce needs.

Remember that the financial decisions you now make, may affect the rest of your life. So don’t just rely on financial and legal advice from friends, relatives, or others who may mean well, but may not have an accurate understanding of the process, the options, or the interrelated nature of some of the financial choices to be made. Also, sometimes it’s hard to separate financial planning from the emotions that often accompany a family law proceeding. That is why it is best not to make any rash decisions, and to consult a competent and trustworthy professional to help you figure out what needs to happen so that you have a secure financial future post divorce.

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Expunged Records and Immigration Cases

For most people with a minor criminal record that conviction becomes not only a personal embarrassment, but frequently also an employment problem. Having a criminal record can make finding and keeping a job much more difficult. Having a record that shows that you broke the law, were accused of breaking the law, or were convicted of breaking the law, may also derail your plans to travel as border agents are very interested in anyone with a record.

That is why most people want to eliminate their criminal activities from their official background, if they can. That usually means requesting that the information be expunged, or record be sealed.  Expungement means that the record is destroyed, and anyone looking up your name in the jurisdiction in which the record was generated should not be able to find any information regarding the expunged incident. Once an expungement petition is granted, in theory the court administrator where the record was originally generated should notify any other agencies to which the criminal record was sent, requesting that this information be removed from those databases as well.  But in reality, such requests may or may not be made by the original keeper of the records, and the other agencies that received the criminal record information may or may not update their files, so information about the conviction(s) may still show up in other databases.

As to immigration consequences, before seeking to expunge a criminal record you should know this:  USCIS and the federal immigration courts often require that you disclose whether you have ever been arrested or detained by a law enforcement officer, charged with a criminal offense, convicted, what the sentence was if convicted, and the sentence actually served.  Immigration agencies require this information regardless of whether the record has been expunged. And they demand certified records of these events, or a statement from the relevant agency stating that no record is available. This especially comes up in applications for citizenship benefits, and in deportation proceedings, where the respondent usually must prove “good moral character.”

Once the record has been expunged there is no way for the record-keeping agency to issue a certified copy of that record. If you request a written statement that the record is no longer available due to expungement, the record-keeping agency may refuse this request… and then you have a big problem. Immigration authorities have already received some sort of notice, whether through required self-disclosure or background checks, of you having a criminal record, however you cannot prove what actually happened. If you find yourself in that position, you may have no choice but to seek to have your criminal record reopened, and that is a tedious and unpleasant process, best avoided if possible. That is why you should at least delay having your criminal record expunged until after you have obtained certified copies of the arrest, conviction, and sentence, as well as the sentence actually served.

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Making Your Divorce Easier On the Children


baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369.jpegAs you find yourself getting consumed by your divorce, whether coping with anger, sadness, stress, or financial problems; keep your eyes open for signs that your children may be negatively affected by your divorce too.

Keep in mind that unless it’s very apparent to kids that their parents are better off without each other, most children do not want their parents to separate. As such, it is only natural that the children will be affected by your divorce. However, there are certain steps that you can take to make the process easier on them.

  1. Don’t get so caught up in your own grief, anger or stress that you end up neglecting your children.
  2. To the best of your ability, explain to your children the reasons why you and your spouse are separating. Consider gathering the whole family and telling them the news together. Note that younger children generally cope easier with the divorce as they frequently do not yet understand the upcoming changes and are easier to distract.
  3. Make sure that your children understand that the reason you are divorcing is not because they did anything wrong.
  4. Don’t have your child serve as a go-between and deliver messages from one parent to the other.
  5. Try not to argue in front of your children. The less negative communication the children see between their parents, the better. Kids are really sensitive to things like voice tone, and it’s very upsetting for them to see their mom and dad fighting.
  6. Stick to a routine, if possible. Keeping children’s schedules, school, and activities the same will help them adjust to your divorce easier.
  7. If possible, ensure similar rules at both households.Having the same bedtime and chores at mom and dad’s house makes the transition easier.
  8. Never use your child to punish your spouse. It’s hurtful to the children to restrict their access to the other parent. Children love both their parents and want to see them both.
  9. Don’t interrogate your child about what they did while spending time with the other parent.
  10. Don’t’ make your child feel guilty about wanting to spend time with the other parent, and most definitively don’t ask them to choose sides. Children love both their parents and it’s not fair to ask them to favor one parent over the other.
  11. Try not to put down your ex-spouse while the children are around.When you make negative comments about the other parent, it indirectly hurts the children too.
  12. Don’t make your child be your therapist. Do not burden your children with your problems and anxieties, as your children are hurting too and might be trying to handle their own fears.
  13. Keep ties with family and friends strong. The more the children can stay connected to their support group the better they will feel.
  14. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Get enough rest. Try to eat healthy. Let friends and family be there for you in your time of need. You will not be able to effectively parent your children, if you get sick or are too exhausted to care for them.
  15. Let your children know that you are there for them no matter what. Kids are fairly resilient and if they know that they are loved and can count on you, they will eventually adjust to the changes.
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The End of DACA

President Trump has ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals known as DACA program, which granted work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children.

The White House plans to delay the enforcement of the president’s decision for six months giving Congress time to pass a replacement, possibly allowing “Dreamers” (DACA recipients) to adjust, or so some now hope.

Thus, effective September 5, 2017, Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

  • Will adjudicate—on an individual, case-by-case basis—properly filed pending DACA initial requests and associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) that have been accepted as of September 5, 2017.
  • Will reject all DACA initial requests and associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents filed after September 5, 2017.
  • Will adjudicate—on an individual, case-by-case basis—properly filed pending DACA renewal requests and associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents from current beneficiaries that have been accepted as of September 5, 2017, and from current beneficiaries whose benefits will expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 that have been accepted as of October 5, 2017.
  • Will reject all DACA renewal requests and associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents filed outside of the parameters specified above.
  • Will not terminate the grants of previously issued deferred action or revoke Employment Authorization Documents solely based on the directives in this memorandum for the remaining duration of their validity periods.
  • Will not approve any new Form I-131 applications for advance parole under standards associated with the DACA program, although it will generally honor the stated validity period for previously approved applications for advance parole. Notwithstanding the continued validity of advance parole approvals previously granted, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will—of course—retain the authority it has always had and exercised in determining the admissibility of any person presenting at the border and the eligibility of such persons for parole. Further, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will—of course—retain the authority to revoke or terminate an advance parole document at any time.
  • Will administratively close all pending Form I-131 applications for advance parole filed under standards associated with the DACA program, and will refund all associated fees.
  • Will continue to exercise its discretionary authority to terminate or deny deferred action for any reason, at any time, with or without notice.

In summary, all existing EADs will remain valid until their expiration, DACA recipients can apply to renew up until October 5, 2017, DHS will not terminate the grants of previously issued deferred action or revoke EAD’s solely based on the new directive for the remaining duration of their validity periods.

DHS stated online that its data files “will not be proactively provided” to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The two immigration enforcement agencies will remain able, however, as they are now, to access this data in criminal cases.

But DHS said that its policy of confidentiality “may be modified, superseded, or rescinded at any time without notice,” and that even the temporary promise of confidentiality “may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable by law.”

No formal guarantee was offered that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation, and ICE officers in the field who encounter them will be making a case-by-case judgment as to whether to arrest that individual and process them for deportation.

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What to Do If You Receive the RFE (Request for Evidence)?

Supposedly about one in every ten immigration applications/petitions receive an RFE.  The first step to answering an RFE is to understand what USCIS is asking, was this information already provided, and if not – then why not, and who can provide that missing information. Sometimes it’s the applicant’s/petitioner’s fault.  Sometimes, USCIS is at fault.  Sometimes the RFE is the result of a computer/system glitch and makes no sense.

You should read the RFE carefully and determine what kind of evidence or document is requested. Some RFE’s are more complicated than the others; if you receive a complex RFE and do not think you understand what is needed or how to respond, you should at least consult with a competent immigration attorney to address the issues raised in the RFE. Note that only petitioner and/or attorney on the case receive RFEs for employment-based petitions.

In any case, the first step to effectively answering your RFE is to discover why it was issued in the first place.  Remain calm and focus on finding a solution.

What if it’s your fault?

This happens quite often.  Some applicants/petitioners will make a mistake, others will provide erroneous information, send in poorly or even fraudulently translated documents, or just fail to obtain or attach supporting documentation. If it’s a minor mistake, like failing to attach documentation, you now have an opportunity to correct this omission and you can send in the missing documents. Remember to do it within the specified time frame, and to put the RFE letter on top of the mailing.

What if it’s preparer’s fault?

Was the application/petition filed incorrectly?  Sometimes this happens.  If you retained a respectable lawyer, someone who stands behind her/his work product, your preparer should be able to find out what went wrong and what to do to fix it. Oftentimes, when the preparer is at fault, it’s for the same reason that you are at fault: inaccurate or incomplete documents were submitted.

What if USCIS is at fault?

Sometimes an RFE may be factually incorrect or issued in error. Your application/petition could be absolutely flawless, put together perfectly, and filed on time, and USCIS will still issue an RFE.  While these RFEs are frustrating, they are also easy to address because you already have all of the documents and information you need.

What if your application/petition is not approvable based on ineligibility or the evidence does not fully establish eligibility?

Sometimes, an RFE will expose an underlying ineligibility or you simply cannot gather in time all requested documents/proofs. In such a case you may want to consult with an attorney to see if another solution can be found to your problem.

An RFE cannot be ignored. Depending on the complexity of the RFE, you may be given 30 to 84 days to respond, whatever the USCIS officer indicates on the letter. It is crucial that you file the response by that deadline. Late response will not be accepted. If you ignore the RFE, USCIS will make a decision based on the previously submitted evidence, which generally will be unfavorable or insufficient, and the ending decision is likely to be a denial.

You should not see an RFE as being in danger of denial; rather look at it as a chance to strengthen your case.  When there is a particular piece or pieces of necessary evidence missing, or there are questions regarding the evidence submitted, you now have an option to send in additional documents that can bolster your petition/application so that eligibility determination can be made in your favor.

There is a big difference between an RFE and NOID (Notice of Intent to Deny). In an RFE, USCIS is simply seeking clarification on submitted evidence or requesting missing documents in order to make a decision; whereas in a NOID, initial evidence is predominantly present, but the immigration officer is not convinced the evidence establishes eligibility, and so your application/petition is at risk .

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