Meet the Team – Brandy L. Henderson, Paralegal

Meet Brandy L. Henderson, Paralegal to Mario J. Zappia. Brandy has been working with Mario for 7 years and handles all types of family law cases with special emphases in estate planning, estates , guardianships, and adoptions. She also maintains a corporate client collection account.

As the senior paralegal of the team, Brandy is the go-to person for help with anything from office décor to key word research techniques. She has a great passion for her clients and will always take the few extra minutes to make sure our client understands each step in the process. Brandy will always provide helpful insight for her clients to help them
Brandy’s love for the paralegal profession is well known amongst her colleagues and friends as well. As a member of the Michiana Paralegal Association, she has serve
d as the NFPA Primary Representative for the past three years where she has been blessed to travel to places such as Oregon, Vermont, Louisiana and even Hawaii. Brandy has just been elected President of MPA and is gearing up for this next chapter. She is also a member of the St. Joseph County Bar Association and plans on certification in the near future.


Brandy is also on the Board of Directors as the legal liaison for Kingdom Building International Ministries, a local outreach program in the community. She helps clients by providing direction to legal resources for those needing help with things like child support, reinstatement of driver’s licenses, expungements of records, and more. Her goal is to help those who want to become self-sustaining in our community. Brandy participates in KBIM’s backpack distribution and Toys for Tots programs every year as well.

Brandy’s number one passion and priority is her family. For the last 25 years, Brandy has had the most important role of Mom of three and ‘Mom of the House’ for nine more. This has taught her patience and organization like none other. With only the youngest, Daelin, 14, left at home, her daily schedule is not so hectic leaving Brandy to enjoy a new passion, being Nana BB to her grandson, Ronen, who just turned 1.When Brandy isn’t in professional meetings or spending time with family, she is working with her dogs, crafting or discovering new DIY projects.

Meet the Team – Jessica Ribaudo, Paralegal

If you have ever called or visited the Mario J. Zappia Law Office, you have probably met my paralegals. For those that have not, meet Jessica.

Jessica has been working as one of my two paralegals for the last year. As a paralegal, she acts as a legal administrative assistant to me, providing legal research, scheduling appointments, drafting documents, maintaining client files and taking calls. Jessica also takes care of billing and collections, as well maintaining our social media presence and blog here on

Attorney Mario J. Zappia and Paralegal Jessica Ribaudo

Jessica is the mother of two children, Serafina age 12, and Vincenzo, age 1. You may have seen one or both of them around the office. Serafina is on the autism spectrum and has given Jessica the drive to understand and help people and their families who live with autism and varying other abilities. Having spent considerable time at South Bend’s Sonya Ansari Center for Autism when Serafina attended their adolescent program, Jessica was pleased to connect with the staff and other families. She found the common goal for staff and families alike was to enrich the lives of autistic adolescents, and to celebrate their differences.  Jessica continues to bring that outlook on disability to work with her every day when working with families touched by autism and other neuro-atypical abilities.

Jessica maintains a presence in the civic and social activism community of South Bend, Indiana. If there is a community event on women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, the rights of people of color, and the rights of the LGBTQ community, you will likely see Jessica there.

When she is not busy as a wife, mom, and paralegal, Jessica enjoys visiting local brewpubs with her husband, Pete, playing Old Time Appalachian music on her fiddle, hitting the weight room  and catching up on Netflix!

Relationship Deal Breakers

What is a deal breaker? A deal breaker is a list of disqualifications in a partner.

On the Mario J. Zappia Attorney at Law Facebook page last week, we talked about infidelity and it’s status as a deal breaker. While some people are able to write off infidelity, most agreed that infidelity is a deal breaker.

What are some other common relationship deal breakers?

  • differing values
  • imbalanced sex drive
  • lack of agreement in having children
  • untrustworthy
  • drug/alcohol problem
  • anger problem/abusive

While it’s true that this list is subjective, as humans we are designed to weed out partners that could be deemed as unsafe. We find safety in going with a partner who has the fewest negative traits.

Studies also show that even people with some fairly optimal traits (good looks, intelligence) can have trouble maintaining relationships because their good traits are heavily eclipsed by their bad traits (impulsivity, lack of ambition)

What are some of your relationship deal breakers?

Answer in the comments below or on the Mario J. Zappia, Attorney at Law Facebook page.




Is My Divorce Going to Destroy My Children?

Is My Divorce Going to Destroy My Children?

When considering the idea of pursuing a divorce, certainly the question of how it will affect the children arises. Is the divorce going to destroy the children? In a word, no. But, that is not to say that divorce does not provide an impact to children at any age.

One perspective is that parents of infants or young toddlers may have an advantage over older children because the children are too young to understand a change is happening. In reality, babies require a different set of considerations when it comes to divorce.  For instance, more frequent, short visits are better for parenting time with an infant or young toddler. Overnight visits may be more of a hindrance than beneficial. Not to mention, as soon as object permanence has developed, babies notice when mom or dad is not around. And while they may notice something has changed, they lack the ability to verbalize that it’s bothering them.

How does divorce impact children

For parents of school aged children, divorce can have a negative impact on behavior at both home and school. School is frequently the environment where children display the distress that comes with divorce.  These children typically have a sense that they have no control in the situation that their family is going through. They often display this lack of control by acting out in aggression, regression, withdraw, and defiance. In addition, these kids have the mental wherewithal to understand that one or both of their parents have made the choice to no longer live together as a family.  That can leave kids with fears of abandonment and self blame.

What can you do? As with most scenarios, the best way to soften the blow of divorce at any age is to be sensitive to your child and their needs. They need security, they need continuity, they need routine, and they need their parents to be kind to each other in their presence.



How can I get custody of my children?

At the Mario J. Zappia Law Office, during consultations for divorce and paternity matters, we are asked “How can I get custody of my children?”

Whether the question is legal custody or physical custody,  the State of Indiana takes several factors into account. The State of Indiana states that custody is determined by what is in the best interests of the child. While there is a preconceived notion that the State of Indiana favors the mother when it comes to custody, that is not accurate. Most often, the best interests of the child are to have consistent loving relationships with both parents.

So, aside from general involvement from both parents, how does Indiana decide what is in the best interest of the child? Each party’s attorney presents their case and the judge considers the information based on the parameters Indiana has set forth.

The State of Indiana considers everything from siblings, age and sex of the child, where the child goes to school, and the mental health of both parents.

The State of Indiana also takes into consideration the people and family members the child will come in contact with in each of their parent’s residences. For instance, if one party is parading new partners into the home during scheduled parenting time, the Court is likely to take a dim view on the stability of that home.

In some instances, in a divorce or custody matter, the judge may decide that the children involved need their own advocate, aside from their parent’s attorneys. This advocate, called a Guardian Ad Litem, collects information from all parties, including the child, and compiles a report. This report then contains the Guardian Ad Litem’s recommendations to the Court in regard to what is believed to be the child(ren)’s best interest.

Whether you’re embarking on a divorce or a custody matter, getting trusted legal advice is of the utmost importance. Contact the Mario J. Zappia Law Office  at (574)277-8720 for your completely confidential consultation.


When should I write a will?

“When should I write a will?”  is a  question we hear at Mario J. Zappia, Attorney at Law frequently. There is a common misconception that writing a will is something that is done when embarking on retirement age. This is not the case. With many of the following major milestones, contacting an attorney to either draft or revise your will is a wise decision.


Estate planning



  • Marriage/Divorce – With either marriage or divorce, most people change the listed beneficiary in their wills. While some people are under the impression that a divorce will automatically negate an ex spouse written in a will, that is simply not the case. Revising your will to reflect your spouse, or lack thereof, is a measure taken to ensure your assets are going where you believe they should.
  • Having Children – Updating your will with the birth of your children is important not only for the purposes of delegating who gets your assets, but also for the purpose of naming a guardian for underage minor children.
  • Re-Marriage/Divorce – Though marriage and divorce has already been listed, it is important to note that subsequent marriages present their own special set of circumstances. Particularly, when it comes to blended families, naming guardians and asset allocation in a will can prevent potentially costly legal hassles. Updating a will to reflect both your current spouse and children resulting from this marriage and previous marriages will provide the clarity that is usually sought when drafting a will in the first place.
  • Illness/Accident – While no one necessarily wants to dwell on their mortality, death is an inevitable part of life. A brush with death in any form tends to cause us to evaluate our wishes and the needs of those we will be leaving behind. Writing a will can alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with thoughts of our own mortality in that it allows you to provide for your loved ones.
  • Accretion of assets – whenever your assets increase, by way of real estate, business, property, or even just cash, it’s important to revise your will to reflect your worth.


Call South Bend Attorney, Mario J. Zappia at (574)277-8720 to draft a will to meet your needs.



Mario J. Zappia, attorney at law

When should I call a lawyer?

A common question we hear at Mario J. Zappia, Attorney at Law is, “When should I call a lawyer?” Whether you are just contemplating divorce, or you have already made the decision to proceed with calling it quits, contacting an experienced divorce attorney is  always the smartest decision to make.


Couple divorcing

In this age of technology, it can be tempting to consider utilizing websites like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and the like and forego legal representation entirely. And when people ask us at Mario J. Zappia, Attorney at Law, “Why can’t I just use an online legal service to get a divorce?”, we have a pretty simple answer: Online legal services  are simply a fill-in-the-blanks style approach on various legal proceedings.

Can  you technically get a divorce using an online legal service?


Is it wise?

Certainly not.

Online legal services lack the ability to legally advise you. There is a lot at stake in a divorce. Tightening the purse strings to avoid paying for advice and representation to end your  legal agreement with your spouse could prove to be disastrous.

“How much child support should I be paying?”

“What happens to our house when the divorce is final?”

“Can I be ordered to pay alimony in Indiana?”

“How does infidelity on either side affect who gets custody of the children?”

“Can I keep my retirement account?”

“Why do I need a separate lawyer if my spouse already has one?”

These are just some of the most common questions we get asked at Mario J. Zappia, Attorney at Law. Without experienced legal representation, you are putting yourself in peril of losing everything you are legally entitled to in a divorce. You could be risking not only physical and financial assets, but you could also be saddling yourself with more liability than is wise.

Mario J. Zappia, attorney at law

*$125 consultation fee applies toward retainer*

After the Divorce is Final – What’s Next?

After a divorce is finalized, there are still steps to be taken for the parties to go their separate ways. While many people open up a separate bank account when they decide divorce is the route they plan to take, there are other assets that require a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) and Divorce Decree signed by the judge to proceed with division.

After Divorce, What's Next?

As soon as the divorce is final, it is important to obtain several copies of the Decree and PSA, complete with a raised seal and signatures from the Court. If either of the parties has changed their name in marriage and wishes to change it back, these documents will be necessary to restore their former name.  Once the Social Security Administration and Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles processes these documents, modified Identification is issued.

With the newly obtained Social Security Card and either Indiana State Identification or Indiana Drivers Licenses, as well as the Decree and PSA, credit cards and bank accounts can be modified with the appropriate names, and divided according to the agreed upon terms.

In terms of retirement accounts and real estate, documents in addition to the Decree and PSA will be required to complete the division.

Some retirement accounts are divided with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order QDRO). QDROs, which essentially act as addenda to the Decree and PSA, recognize an alternate payee (former spouse)’s interest in a retirement account.  QDROs are signed Orders from the Court, granting the division of a retirement account, as spelled out the PSA. Once the QDRO is signed, it can be sent to the account holder’s employer and processed by human resources for implementation.

If a couple divorces and they still share interest in real estate, it should be decided if one party will keep the real estate or it it should be sold to divide the proceeds. If it is agreed that one party should keep the marital real estate, the party relinquishing their interest should execute a Quitclaim Deed.

Grandparents Rights

In Indiana, the subject of grandparent’s rights has become a hot topic issue. The growing drug epidemic in Indiana has ripped families apart. It has not only burdened the Indiana foster care system, it has also given grandparents a heavier load to bear by having to raise their grandchildren. This increasingly common societal trend has left many wonder, what rights do grandparents have in Indiana?

Grandparent's rights in Indiana


In the instance of grandparents who have been granted custody of their grandchildren due to the parent’s inability to adequately provide a stable home, grandparent’s rights are more clearly established. The Courts  have already decided that a grandparent/grandchild relationship is in the child’s best interests. And even in the best circumstance, Mom and Dad turn their lives around and Parent/Child are reunited, the Courts will likely look at the relationship already established and encourage visitation in the child’s best interest.

But what about those grandparents who have never had to step up to the parenting plate, in regard to parenting their own grandchildren. In Indiana, are grandparents legally entitled to visitation with their grandchildren?

That could depend on a few different factors.

  1. If the parents are married, the Court will not order the parents to provide visits to the grandparents. Because parents have a constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit, the Courts will not step and decide for them that the grandparents are entitled to involvement. The visitation grandparents receive when the parents are married is purely at the parent’s discretion. If the parents are divorced, or have never been married, that opens the door for potential visitation, granting the paternity has been established within the Court.
  2. If one or both parents is dead, then grandparents in Indiana may have a leg to stand on in terms of Court Ordered visitation with their grandchildren.
  3. If it is in the best interest of the child. At the end of the day, the Court’s ultimate goal is to act in the best interests of the child involved. If the grandparents had been involved in the child’s life.


Regardless of the circumstance, attempting to establish grandparent’s rights in Indiana can be a tricky process. Having an experienced attorney will be vital for success.


How Mothers Lose Custody in Indiana

Indiana is a state that favors both parents equally. In the best interest of the child, meaningful relationships with both parents is the standard. In the eyes of the law, a married mother and father in Indiana start out with joint legal custody. Meaning, both parents share equal rights to their children.


Child custody mothers indiana


Historically, there has been an assumption that mothers are automatically granted custody of the children by default. However, with more mothers working,  and more men moving beyond  the title of “family breadwinner,   taking on more aspects of childcare responsibility, custody is fair game between the sexes.

While equal involvement from  both parents is ideal, in some cases, the Courts may decide that it is in the children’s best interest for the father to have custody instead of mother.  Statistics show that 50% of the time, men are awarded custody of the children in a divorce.

So, how does a mother lose custody in Indiana?

  • Lack of involvement – If the court can see that the mother is neither the primary caretaker, the parent meeting most of the child’s basic needs, or even an active participant in the child’s life, granting custody to the parent who hasbeen involved on a consistent basis is likely.
  • Alcohol or substance abuse – Abusing drugs or alcohol is a surefire way for a mother to lose custody of a child in Indiana.  Any parent using illegal drugs, whether in the presence of their child or not, is risking the custody of their child.
  • Domestic abuse – First, abuse in the presence of the child will result in an investigation of neglect by the Indiana Department of Child Services. Physical aggression, even with a female perpetrator, is  domestic violence. A mother can lose custody in Indiana for being physically abusive to her children’s father.
  • Online activity – In the age of technology, there is a virtual paper trail with every click of a mouse we make. Not making responsible choices with posting online content, such as posting videos of irresponsible behavior, or even chronic disparaging remarks about the other parent can lend to a mother losing custody in Indiana. Certainly one instance of badmouthing the other parent on social media isn’t all that it takes to lose custody, but flippant use of technology can help the other party build a case against the mother.
  •  Discouraging the father/child relationship – If a mother does chronically make disparaging remarks about the father, online or otherwise, it can be seen as a form of interfering in the relationship between father and child. The Court will, at very least, issue a reprimand for interference in the father/child relationship, but it could also amount to a mother losing custody in Indiana when coupled with other factors.


When a mother faces losing legal custody in Indiana, one of the most important steps to consider is consulting with a seasoned family attorney. Once the attorney has gotten all of the information, and gives their opinion, following their advice is imperative. The advice given from an experienced family attorney could mean the difference of whether or not a mother loses her child.