The details matter

By Carolyn Torres-Mabe — Going through a divorce, custody modification, child support modification, legitimation, or contempt proceeding is emotionally taxing. It is common, and quite understandable, for someone to be overtaken by the feeling of just wanting the case to be done. Therefore, many times people want to rush through an agreement or the preparation of a document just so that the legal portion can be concluded and normal life can resume.

But be careful. The details really do matter. Consider the following.

1.) If the parties in a divorce own real estate, the value of the real estate becomes a negotiable issue. If there are no separate property claims, then the parties usually divide the equity (value less debt) in half. But how should the value of the house be determined? Should you get an appraisal? Should each person get an appraisal and use the average? Is on online estimation provided by websites like sufficient? Or should you use the tax value? An appraisal is the only way for the value of the house to be determined by the inside and outside of the house, so it is more accurate but does take additional time and money than the other valuation methods. One solution is to resolve who gets what portion of the equity with a percentage or formula so that the case can conclude and not be delayed while appraisals are completed.

2.) Various expenses of a child can be included on a child support worksheet, such as education expenses, child care expenses, and extracurricular expenses, and then those will affect the final amount of child support owed. Bear in mind that as children mature, their expenses will change. Over time, child care expenses will tend to decrease while extracurricular expenses will increase. The most accurate way to handle these expenses is for each parent to be responsible for his/her pro rata share and then reimburse each other accordingly, rather than include an arbitrary and potentially outdated figure in the child support worksheet. It can be time-consuming and frustrating to keep track of receipts and timely notify each other of expenses, so find a reimbursement system that makes sense. And stick to it.

3.) The parenting plan addresses all the substantive non-financial issues concerning the children, such as who has the children when, how decisions are made, and how communication between the non-custodial parent and child occur. It can be easy to take shortcuts and/or overlook the details that will likely create confusion or even turmoil in the future. For example, many parents agree to simply rotate the holidays/school breaks but do not adequately define the time the holiday/break starts and ends. Also, if a birthday falls near a holiday or school break, which event takes precedence should also be determined. It is important that these details, as trivial and minute as they may seem, are specified so that travel can be planned, attendance at events, and potential conflict can be avoided.

4.) When one person does not adhere to a court order, a contempt action can be filed. However, the legal remedy depends on the wording of the document being enforced. What happens if someone does not or cannot refinance the marital residence into his/her sole name? If the document at issue does not have a clause stating what happens if failure to refinance arises, such as selling the house, then the legal remedies are limited. For a provision to be adequately enforced by the court, consequences must be included.

Thinking about all the future possibilities can be taxing, it is nonetheless essential to avoid a legal limbo.

Carolyn Torres-Mabe, owner of Mabe Family Law, has seventeen years of legal experience and specializes at identifying and resolving these kind of complex and detailed family law issues. Contact by email at or call today at 678-420-5519. Visit us online at