Resources 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
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:
Correcting a Credit Report
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.
Dealing With Collection Agencies
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:
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.
Divorce and Child Custody
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:
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:
Common signs that your identity has been stolen include:
To avoid identity theft, make it a habit to:
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, you can report it and get help at IdentityTheft.gov, 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:
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:
California also places requirements and restrictions on landlords to protect tenants and grants tenants specific rights, as follows:
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.
Chain | Cohn | Clark provides free consultations for personal injury cases from motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents, workplace injuries (workers’ compensation), and other civil legal matters as listed in our practice areas.
For other legal issues, consult LawHelpCA’s legal aid directory for Kern County to find an aid society (such as Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance) that can provide free legal advice, representation, and other legal services.
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.
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:
To learn more about small claims and civil court cases, refer to the self-help guide on the California courts website.
Social Security and Disability
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 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.
Starting a Business
There are several types of business entities available to entrepreneurs in California:
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:
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.
Wills and Estate Planning
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:
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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