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Law Library

If you have a specific legal question that is unrelated to one of our practice areas, feel free to use our Law Library. It contains information relevant to each of the areas of law listed below.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in our Law Library is generic in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Viewing this information does not create an attorney–client relationship. Changes in the law or the specific facts of your case may result in legal interpretations different from those presented in the information below.

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Bankruptcy is a legal way to be relieved of most—but not all—debts. The bankruptcy process is carried out under federal law, not California law. So, for Kern County residents, it takes place in a federal court in Fresno.

Before you declare bankruptcy, make sure you learn what kinds of debts the process does not take care of. Because there are significant consequences to declaring bankruptcy, it is usually a last resort. If you are struggling with debts, consider consulting a non-profit debt counseling agency or a bankruptcy lawyer.

Civil harassment restraining orders are different from those issued for child abuse or neglect, elder abuse or neglect, or domestic violence.

Civil harassment involves a person you do not have a close relationship with—not a relative or an intimate partner. For example, civil harassment might involve unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate conduct by a coworker. You can read the legal definition of harassment and stalking in the California Civil Code, Section 1708.7.

If you are a victim of stalking or harassment, you can get help with obtaining a restraining order by visiting the self-help guide on the California courts website or going to the Self-Help Center at Kern County Superior Court (1415 Truxtun Ave, Bakersfield, CA 93301).

A restraining order can prevent someone from:

  • Having any contact with you
  • Harassing, stalking, threatening, or harming you
  • Coming within a specified distance from you
  • Owning or possessing a gun

Credit reporting agencies collect information about your credit card use, loan history, bankruptcies, liens, and other financial details. They share this information with potential lenders when you apply for credit (new credit card or a loan), landlords, insurance companies, or other entities that have a legitimate business purpose in reviewing it.

Errors in your credit report can affect your ability to get credit. Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you check your report with one agency every four months, you can monitor your credit status three times a year for free. It’s a good practice to check your credit report regularly to keep it clear of incorrect information or catch signs of identity theft early.

If you find an error on your credit report, you can dispute it by sending a letter to the reporting agency. If you’re unsure what to write, follow the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) sample dispute letter.

If the credit reporting agency doesn’t remove the incorrect information, you can submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If the dispute remains unresolved after contacting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, your last resort is to take legal action against the credit reporting agency.

If you owe money on an account (e.g., a credit card, auto loan, or medical bill), the creditor will usually contact you in writing, asking you to make payments. If you don’t respond or are still unable to make payments, the creditor will most likely refer your debt to a collection agency.

Collection agencies work on behalf of creditors to recover money owed by debtors. They earn a percentage of whatever money they collect—so their interests are with your creditors, not with you.

Because debt collectors tend to be aggressive in their contact with debtors, there are laws in place that give you rights and limit the actions they can take. Your rights include the following:

  • No contact: Debt collectors must stop communicating with you if you request in writing that they stop contact. After they receive your notice, debt collectors can only contact you to let you know (1) they’re stopping collection activities or (2) they’re initiating a lawsuit to collect the debt.
  • No harassment: Collection agencies cannot harass you. Harassment includes calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., calling repeatedly to bother you, using foul language, or threatening you with violence.
  • No deception: Collection agencies are not allowed to lie to you about the consequences of not paying your debt (e.g., falsely saying that you can be sent to prison for not paying). They also can’t claim that you owe more than you do or pretend to be someone they’re not (e.g., a lawyer).
  • No collection for debts resulting from identity theft: If you inform a debt collector in writing that the debt they’re trying to collect occurred because of identity theft, they are required to stop collection activities.

The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) provides a more complete listing of your debt collection rights. If a collection agency acts illegally, you can submit a complaint to the DFPI or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If you have a legitimate dispute with a creditor, tell the collection agency. Debt collectors often do not pursue collection if there is an unresolved dispute with the creditor.

If you cannot pay your debt, you can negotiate with the creditor and/or the collection agency. Write a letter explaining your situation and propose a reasonable repayment plan. Don’t agree to make payments you cannot honor. Whether or not your creditor agrees to your payment proposal, send payments by money order according to your plan. This demonstrates good faith.

If you need additional help, contact a local non-profit credit counseling service.

California law provides for no-fault divorce. This law means that it isn’t necessary to prove your spouse did something wrong in order to get a divorce. You can start a divorce (and, in some cases, complete the entire process) without a lawyer by filling out the required forms, paying a fee, and serving the papers to your spouse or partner.

The main issues in most divorces revolve around finances and children:

  • When spouses or domestic partners divorce in California, they must evenly divide the assets they acquired during their marriage. If a couple cannot agree on a plan for the division of their assets, the issue is decided in a family law court.
  • If a couple has children, the court will decide who should have custody by considering what’s in the best interest of the children.

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing forms of consumer fraud in this country. Identity thieves use various methods to obtain your personal information and use it to make purchases, open credit cards, or take out loans:

  • Sifting through trash to find discarded financial statements
  • Using malware or spyware to collect information
  • Impersonating legitimate institutions to try to get you to give them your information

Common signs that your identity has been stolen include:

  • Charges on your credit card or bank statements that aren’t yours
  • Receiving financial statements for accounts you didn’t open
  • Erroneous information on your credit report
  • Being denied credit unexpectedly

To avoid identity theft, make it a habit to:

  • Shred financial statements and receipts when you no longer need them
  • Check your bank statements and credit card bills each month for unrecognized charges
  • Get a free credit report and check it for errors at least once a year

If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, you can report it and get help at, an FTC website.

There may be significant challenges in working your way through the U.S. immigration system. Common issues include completing applications for visas, green cards, citizenship, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Because the system is so complex, you may benefit from the services of an immigration lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, many non-profit organizations in California can help with immigration-related issues.

U.S. law protects intellectual property (e.g., inventions or creative works) so that inventors and artists can earn money from their work. These protections are governed by federal law.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) receives registrations for:

  • Patents—newly invented technology
  • Trademarks—words, phrases, or designs (e.g., a brand’s logo) that distinguish an individual or company from others

The U.S. Copyright Office receives registrations for copyrights for written, recorded, or visual works. However, anyone who creates a work of art automatically owns the copyright for their work as long as the work is original and has been recorded in some way (e.g., on paper, in a computer file, etc.).

If you have questions about intellectual property that go beyond the resources available on the USPTO and U.S. Copyright Office websites, consider consulting an intellectual property lawyer.

In California, landlords have legal rights related to their rental properties. They can:

  • Determine the terms of a lease (CCC Section 1942)
  • Require a security deposit (CCC Sections 1940–1950.5)
  • Collect rent (California Civil Code (CCC) Section 1951.2)
  • Enter a rental unit with proper notice to the tenant (CCC Section 1954)
  • Place liens on tenant property if they don’t pay rent (CCC Sections 1861 and 1988)
  • Evict tenants, but only for reasons allowed by law (CCC Sections 1940–1947)

California also places requirements and restrictions on landlords to protect tenants and grants tenants specific rights, as follows:

  • Landlords must keep rental units safe and properly maintained. If you have an issue with the maintenance or safety of your rental, notify your landlord in writing and ask them to resolve the issue.
  • State law limits rent increases to 10% annually, and landlords are required to notify tenants of rent increases in writing.
  • Eviction procedures must go through the court; your landlord can’t lock you out or shut off your utilities to try to get you to leave.
  • When you move out, your landlord has to return your security deposit unless there are legitimate deductions for damage to the unit, cleaning costs, or unpaid rent.
  • It is illegal for landlords to discriminate based on race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, disability or marital status, and other factors.

If you need more clarification regarding your rights or feel that they have been violated, you may be able to get free legal help from LawHelpCA.

If you want to change your name, there is a specific legal process you need to follow. The process varies depending on the reason for your name change. You may see do-it-yourself name-change kits advertised online; in general, these kits are unnecessary.

The self-help guide on the California courts website provides detailed instructions for making a name change if you simply want to change your name or if you want to change your name to match your gender identity. There is a filing fee ($435–$450), but the fee can be waived in certain circumstances.

The name-change procedure is different if you are changing your name because of marriage, divorce, or naturalization (becoming a U.S. citizen).

Small claims court is a venue where you can sue a person, business, or government entity if you believe they owe you money. Although a judge presides over a small claims court, it has some unique features:

  • Your claim cannot be more than $10,000. If your claim exceeds $10,000, you can open a case in civil court.
  • Filing fees are only $30–$100.
  • Cases don’t take as long to move through the system.
  • Lawyers are not permitted in small claims court. You can seek legal advice beforehand, but you must present your own case before the judge.

To learn more about small claims and civil court cases, refer to the self-help guide on the California courts website.

Social Security benefits are monthly payments available to those who meet certain requirements. You need to apply for Social Security benefits with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Requirements include the following:

  • You must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years.
  • You must be at least 62 years old for partial benefits. If you were born before 1960, you can receive full benefits starting at age 65. If you were born in 1960 or later, you must wait until you reach age 67 to receive full benefits.
  • You may also qualify for benefits based on your spouse’s work history.

You may also qualify for Social Security benefits if you have a disability that meets the SSA’s definition of a disability. These benefits can be either temporary (until you recover from a disability) or permanent.

There are several types of business entities available to entrepreneurs in California:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Limited liability company (LLC)
  • Partnership (several different types)
  • Corporation

The specific process of starting your business will vary depending on which option you choose. The California Office of the Small Business Advocate offers a start-up guide for small businesses. There are additional small business resources on the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

If you have an issue with your federal taxes, you may be able to resolve it by communicating directly with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If your efforts are unsuccessful, you can appeal IRS decisions with the help of a tax attorney.

If you have an issue with your California income taxes, first try to resolve the problem with the Franchise Tax Board (FTB). If you receive a letter from the FTB, it should include instructions on how to provide additional information or dispute the Board’s decision. If you cannot resolve the issue on your own, try contacting the Taxpayer Advocate or a tax attorney.

Drivers receive points on their record for traffic violations in California. If you accumulate too many points, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can suspend or take away your license. In addition, your insurance company may increase your rates if there are points on your record.

If you plead guilty and pay a ticket, the points for your particular violation will remain on your record for years. If you want to avoid the points, you can:

  • Ask for traffic school (not available for all offenses)—after paying court fees and completing a qualifying course, the points are removed from your record.
  • Plead not guilty and contest the ticket in traffic court. If you win the case and the ticket is dismissed, you won’t receive any points. If you’re found guilty, you can still ask for traffic school.

If you have a more serious violation—such as a DUI (driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol)—it may be wise to hire an attorney.

Creating a will and planning for what will happen to your estate (your assets and property) after you die isn’t something most people like to think about. However, a good estate plan is a way to take care of those you love, ensure your property (e.g., your home) goes to the people you want, and avoid delays and court fees.

In California, you can create a simple will called a statutory will for free by filling out a form included in California’s Probate Code (Section 6240). If you need a more complex will, you may need help from a legal service or lawyer.

Although there are legitimate reasons for firing (terminating) a worker, there are also invalid reasons for firing an employee. For example, California businesses cannot fire an employee because they:

  • File a complaint about the company with the state Labor Commissioner.
  • Report a business’s illegal activity to law enforcement.
  • Refuse to participate in a political activity.
  • Refuse to violate the law in the course of their work.

If you are terminated for one of these reasons, you can contact the Labor Commissioner’s office for assistance or hire an employment lawyer.

If you’re treated unfairly or fired because of your race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age, you can file a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC can also help with workplace harassment.

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