Understanding the Community ‘Pie’

It’s all in the Pie

In this video I want to talk a little bit about the ‘his’, ‘hers’, and ‘community’ and how all that works together in the realm of divorce. It is a common thing that I hear, “that was his account” and “that’s her account” and they get stuck in this fact that it’s not a community account. Texas is a Community Property state which means that everything that you own at the time of divorce is assumed that it is community, now I’m not going to talk in this video about the difference between community and separate property so for sake of argument let’s say that everything that you own today is in fact community. I want you to get out of the idea of thinking that there’s this ‘his account’ ‘her account’ mentality because it’ll confuse you and it forces people to get stuck in negotiation unnecessarily.

How to Divide the Pie

When you think about community you need to think of it like a pie; it could be any kind of pie that you want, I like apple pie so let’s assume it’s apple pie. Everything that we own is inside this apple pie and when you are negotiating your divorce it doesn’t matter if it’s his account in his name or her name or y’all’s name is on it, it’s all in the pie including all the debts. Everything is in this pie! When you are going through and negotiating things, you’re going to actually each cut out different pieces of the pie. You may have smaller pieces you may have bigger pieces but at the end of the day you’re going to get to a just and right division, now I did not say a 50/50. You have to be really careful because in the state of Texas it is common that there is not an actual 50/50 division, again that a discussion for another video on why that is, but it it’s not always 50/50 so there may be a slight variation. Now, I want to preface that with I have not seen, others might have, but I don’t believe that I’ve seen anything above a 60/40 division, so we are going be close to a 50/50. It’s going to be a ‘just and right’ division but you’re going to each have different pieces of that pie, different sizes, you may have a sliver of this account and a sliver of that account at the end of the day you’re each going to have your portions and you’re going to then have to retitle or transfer things so that everything goes into the proper name at the end of the day.

When you’re thinking about your property division think of everything in the pie, we’re going to put everything in the pie, don’t get stuck on ‘his account’ or ‘her account’ or ‘y’all’s’ account, everything is community. If you have additional questions or want to understand how this impacts your specific situation, give us a call at Next Step Divorce Solutions and we will be happy to explain it more to you. Have a good one!

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What is a CDFA®

What is a CDFA® a CDFA® is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, they are a professional that helps parties of a divorce understand and educate them about the various options they have in negotiating their property division. As a CDFA® they can help each party either individually or as a neutral, working with both parties, to understand what post-divorce will look like from a property and income and cash flow situation. In another video we’ll actually talk about who would be appropriate to use CDFA® and how that might look.

Who Should Hire a CDFA®

In my last video I talked a little bit, very briefly, about what is a CDFA® or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®. In this video I want to deep dive a little bit into who can a CDFA® serve and who is best to hire a CDFA® as part of their divorce team.

The first question you have to ask yourself is ‘do you have property’, a CDFA® specifically is a part of the divorce when it comes to property being divided. So, if you do not have any property; don’t own a home, you don’t own a car, you have no bank accounts, maybe you’re newly married and it just didn’t work out and you don’t own anything together and you decide to separate, in those situations a CDFA® is really not beneficial to you. There’s not much we can do for you as far as being hired in the process. Now if you have some of those things and you’re saying ‘OK what level of those things do I need to have before CDFA® is beneficial to me’ in my opinion, in the years that I’ve had in both divorce and financial planning, in general anybody with some assets, whether it’s just a house, or just some cash, or just brokerage accounts, or a combination of all those things, it is always a good idea to at least have a consultation with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. The reason that I say that is because you’re going through a transition and it’s always helpful to have some level of information and education about the decisions that you’re making in the process. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® should be able to give you kind of a road map of whether or not it is valuable to hire them during the process or not. One of the things you have to be very careful about and just understand is that when you’re doing a negotiation, when you’re doing your divorce, when you sign an agreement whether it’s the final decree or it’s just that mediated settlement agreement, once you sign an agreement on property it is done you cannot go back and fix it. There are certain things in a divorce that are modifiable, child things typically are modifiable, but property division is not. So, you really have one chance to make sure that it is right. That is where CDFA® can come in to make sure that you’re making educated informed decisions about the property division.

So, who can a CDFA® help? They really can help anybody with property. I would encourage you to reach out to your local CDFA® and talk with them to find out if it’s necessary to have them brought into the overall process. Thanks, and if you have more questions, you can always reach out to us at Next Step Divorce Solutions.

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Taxes and Divorce

Understanding the tax code is a full-time job, but it’s imperative that you understand how your divorce decree impacts your tax situation. There are a few main things you should be familiar with as you negotiate.  

Tax Filing Status 

Your tax filing status is dependent on your marital status on December 31st of each year. If you are mid-divorce you will need to file your taxes as Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separate. If you finalize your divorce on December 30th you will have to file as either Single or Head of Household.  Each one of these filing statuses comes with its own breakdown of income for each of the tax brackets and some nuanced rules around credits and deductions allowed and to what level. If you are in the process of getting a divorce and there are children involved, make sure you understand the difference between Head of Household and Single filing status. You can speak with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® for a high-level overview, but your CPA or accountant can guide you in the specifics. As you change tax filing status’ make sure to adjust the withholdings on your paystub by updating your W-4 so that you are withholding the proper amount for taxes.  

Tax Credits 

There are a few important tax credits to highlight in divorce, especially for the 2021 tax year. The Child Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit are two credits that often come up in divorce if children from the marriage are involved. Typically, the primary parent, usually the one claiming Head of Household, would claim both credits if they qualify however the non-custodial parents (or the one that has the child(ren) less time) could negotiate that the child tax credit be transferred or alternate. Why is this valuable? A credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your tax bill. The maximum child tax credit is $2,000 per child up to certain income limits. In 2021, thanks to the American Rescue Plan passed by the Biden Administration in early 2021, there is an additional $1,000 per child ages 6-17 and an additional $1,600 per child ages 0-5. The 2021 additional credits are limited to lower tax brackets than the standard child tax credit, and your tax filing status matters in determining what that threshold is. This could be quite substantial! Be aware that these additional tax credits are also getting partially paid out in the second half of 2021. They are not stimulus payments so you need to understand how you will file for 2021 to determine whether you may have to repay those credits. There were also major increases to the Child and Dependent Care Credit, for some, it could be as much as an $8,000 credit! For more information contact your local Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® or CPA to understand how these changes may be impacted by your decree.  

Ordinary Income vs Capital Gains 

When you divide investment assets in lieu of a divorce the transfers themselves don’t normally cause any tax implications, but if you need to begin accessing funds from those assets to live on or make a large purchase then tax implications will come into play. As you negotiate your settlement make sure you are aware of your short- and long-term needs because it may adjust how you should approach the property division. There are two types of tax that could come into play if you sell an asset, the first is capital gains. Currently, most people fall in the 15% capital gains bracket however it can be higher if you are in the top tax brackets. This tax comes into play in the sale of a home or investment property or if you sell from a non-retirement investment account. You pay the tax on the amount of the gain, which is the difference between the value at the time of sale and what you paid for the asset. The second type of tax is ordinary income. Ordinary income is the tax you pay on all income including any distributions from pre-tax retirement accounts, like a 401(k), IRA, or annuity.  

As you can see taxes are complex and have a lot of moving parts. As you negotiate your divorce settlement be sure to understand how your decisions will impact your tax situations now and in the future. For more guidance contact your local Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and CPA for guidance.  

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Top 3 Financial Tactics to Plan for Your Divorce

Divorce does screwy things to a person’s head. The once intelligent together woman that you were turns into an emotional, brain-fogged, unorganized basket case. I’ve seen it first hand. You try really, really hard to keep it together but you know this will not go down as ‘the best of times.’ You want to sit down and get it together and plan your future but feel paralyzed and surrounded by a pea-soup fog of indecision.   

What’s a person to do? 

Well, first, see your reality and get ready to do something about it.  


When it comes to the family finances, what’s your role? Do you handle the bill paying? Are you “in the loop” on all your investment accounts, retirement plans, bank accounts, etc. or are you in the dark? If you’re in the dark, you need someone to help you turn the lights on – and fast!  If you and your spouse are cooperative, ask for statements on all your asset accounts and your most recent tax returns so you can find a CDFA® to help you out and bring you up to speed.  If you can’t access information that’s okay a CDFA® can help you think of ways to get some information or we will work to obtain it through Discovery, which is now required in the state of Texas. A CDFA® is specially trained in the financial aspects of divorce and will be your best friend in this process! He/she’ll clear out that brain-fog with determination of those West Texas Winds! 


This is hard at first, but start thinking about what the next phase of your life looks like. Unfortunately, this has to happen at the same time that you are grieving what you thought the next phase was going to look like. But if you allow yourself some space, it can actually be fun. You now have the chance to start from scratch. What did you used to dream of doing that got lost while you were married? Is it time to go back to school? Maybe a cool downtown loft condo should replace that huge family home that you had to keep clean.  Whatever you dream of, you have to have your budget and financial picture top of mind. So the step above has to come first so your dreams don’t outsize your wallet! 


Often through marriage all the credit cards, mortgages, loans, etc. are in the names of both spouses. All of those accounts will have to be closed or converted. After the marriage is over, your credit picture may not be nearly as strong, so you want to be sure to put some things in place while you’re still married. Immediately open a checking and savings account in your own name to begin the process of establishing your own financial identity. Next, find a good rewards credit card to apply for in your name alone so that you will be assured of having access to credit post divorce and maybe even during if legal fees are necessary.  

These steps seem small but are valuable first steps to get you thinking financially and looking out for your future. You can get through this but a little help from a CDFA® friend is a great place to start. 

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#1 Rule in Getting a Divorce

In Texas we often make our own highway exits. If you have ever driven Interstate 10 through Texas you may notice there are spots that may look like an emergency exit, or well-traveled spot off the highway, but we all know that is just where Texans believe the exit SHOULD be. You may be asking yourself how this applies AT ALL to Divorce?  More than you might think… 

In working with women navigating the divorce process there are a few things that I try to keep reminding them. The most important, THIS IS YOUR DIVORCE. However, when you begin to bring in other professionals, like Attorneys, Certified Divorce Financial Analysts, Business Valuators, Parenting Coordinators or Custodial Evaluators, Mediator, or a Therapist the two people that are getting the divorce can become silenced by so much direction and input. By no means am I saying you may not need some or even all of these professionals giving you direction but it is extremely important that you remember YOU are in the DRIVERS SEAT.   

You are the one that has to live with the outcome of your divorce, you and possibly your children. If you keep in mind that you are in the driver’s seat and there is ever a point you need to exit the highway, whether it is a standard exit or not, don’t be afraid to “go Texan” and deviate.

This can be necessary if you feel you started with the wrong professionals to begin with.

I have worked with women that feel stuck with an attorney they started with because they already paid a retainer. If you find yourself in this situation don’t be afraid to interview some new attorneys. Hiring the wrong attorney can make the entire process more challenging than it needs to be.  

Remembering you are in the driver’s seat of your divorce is also important in HOW you choose to get divorced. There are other ways to get a divorced that doesn’t always involve an attorney. Now, I enjoy working with attorneys and believe they are extremely beneficial to have in a case. However, you may find a single consult is all you need, and seeking the assistance of a mediator is more advantageous for you. If you are moving in one direction, you are not locked in! Take a step back and assess what process would really work best for you. Mediation is a wonderful solution especially if you want to negotiate a more creative divorce settlement.  

Again, YOU ARE IN CONTROL of your DIVORCE! Repeat after me,

I am in control of my divorce. If necessary don’t be afraid to “Go Texan” and deviate on your own exit.  

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Was it Really a Fairy Tale?

As a little girl I had created my own little fairy tale life of marrying my high school sweetheart, having kids, and settling down young…and living happily ever after. Welp…that’s not how it went down at all, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t try to take control and make sure my story came true just the way I had planned.

Nearing the end of high school, I started dating someone that seemed smitten with me and seemed to care a lot. Unfortunately, what I saw as protective was actually possessiveness and jealousy. If you know those character traits in a relationship you can probably see where this is going. After four years of struggling, I was fortunate enough to get out before it was my permanent lifestyle. With that relationship ending, so too was the death of the only fairy tale I had imagined.


For years it was whispered, and yelled, in my ear that I was HIS whole world…that nobody would ever love me the way HE could. My understanding of love and affection was so backward, and I knew it, but it didn’t mean the fear of being alone and unloved wasn’t real. I felt empty and completely alone and misunderstood. I wanted to be alone in my despair but inside I was screaming for help, helpless in my dark pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40: 1-2

One day the veil just lifted, and I discovered I was strong and capable. I was a little (a lot) pissed off too and wasn’t afraid to show it! Through it all I discovered how to move forward. I prayed, a lot. I can’t say there was one defining moment that changed my world from darkness to light, and trust me more bad choices were to follow, but I was OKAY. I would be okay.

I consider myself fortunate that my “fairy tale” relationship was short lived and ended in a 20’s break up saga not a legal battle and divorce. If that’s you, I can’t say I truly understand what you are feeling but I would venture that there is a part of you that is grieving what was supposed to be, and maybe a little (or a lot) pissed off that it didn’t go as planned. When the Jews were living in exile in Babylon the prophet Jeremiah wrote “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope a future.” Jeremiah 29: 11

A lesson I feel I have learned and re-learned is that my plans may seem wonderful and perfect, but not only are God’s plans better and right, they are normally WAY MORE than what we could ever imagine or dream for ourselves. If you are in the thick of the pit, hold tight to Christ; he will meet you where you are and lift you out of your pit of despair.

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The Top 3 Foolish Divorce Settlement Mistakes

When you are facing a life changing decision like divorce, what do you think you will find more valuable:  Someone to make you feel better by saying that nothing has to change, or someone who will give it to you straight?  It worries me that not enough people in the world of divorce professionals will truly tell it like it is. They tell you what you want to hear, which can lead you to make some big mistakes.  Easily avoidable mistakes: Mistakes that need not happen!

This process is not easy but I want to properly prepare you for the tough decisions you will have to make. When necessary, I will tell it just like it is. Your household income as a couple will now be supporting two households, so yes, things will change.  Let me guide you through that change with some simple points. 

Here are a few things that I see when it comes to divorce.  Settlements are agreed to (and sometimes even ordered by a judge!) then the people come to me after-the-fact confused and bewildered and I read through their decree and just shake my head. Please, please, please – don’t make these mistakes!! 

#3 – The settlement doesn’t take taxes into effect – AT ALL!

          We all know that Uncle Sam will dive into our pockets at every opportunity. Absolutely do not agree to a settlement without knowing and understanding the tax implications! What people often find is that the tax burden on their half of the marital assets is significantly higher than their spouse’s, making their “half” of the assets worth significantly less than they thought.  More specifically, don’t expect your attorney to do this! Attorneys are not accountants or financial advisors and unfortunately there are some that won’t bother to warn you of that or emphasize the importance to consult with one.

#2 – Pensions are split 50/50 but no one knows what that really means.

                    Over and over and over I see divorce decrees that order pensions split 50/50 but no one has any idea what will actually happen or any clue as to what the pension is actually worth. An ‘X’ marking a 50/50 division with no dollar associated with it is not a proper division of a pension. You need to get answers to several questions like, when can you start collecting? Is there an option to take a lump sum? Will there be a cost of living increase each year? What if you or your spouse dies? Will it keep paying? Will it double? When I ask these questions, no one has ANY IDEA what the answers are? Really? How can you possibly agree to a settlement without understanding something so crucial to your retirement? Again, do not expect attorneys or mediators to be of much help here. Every Pension is different, and you need to have someone guide you through answering these questions for the specific pension in question.

#1 – Drum Roll – The biggest mistake I see is keeping a house you can’t afford.

          I understand you can get emotionally tied to the family home and really want to stay. Before you even consider this option, you must do a budget.  I also strongly suggest you meet with a financial planner and more specifically a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®.  I have witnessed where one or two years down the road the spouse who “won the house” has run out of cash and realized that they can’t sell a window to put food on the table, they can’t refinance because now they don’t have enough income, and they have no choice but to sell. The selling costs are about 8% of the sale – all of which would have been split 50/50 with the ex if they had sold as part of the divorce. The primary home is normally one of the bigger assets to split, before agreeing to keep or not keep the house make sure to do your homework and consult professional guidance.

As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® my goal is to help bring to light those things “you don’t know, you don’t know”. The purpose of the points above is to outline that there are areas where big and costly mistakes can be made, even in “simple” cases. Do your homework and seek advice before agreeing to any settlement. Don’t go this alone. You only have one chance to get it right!  Let us at Next Step Divorce Solutions help you.

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Divorce: How to Keep Your Money

As soon as you begin to contemplate divorce, the nauseating, panic-attack-inducing realization of losing half of your net worth and then having to figure out how to manage it all kicks in and you find yourself wondering if it’s even worth it to consider leaving if you’re just going to end up broke and starving.

There are ways to ensure that your financial future is not destined for disaster. First and foremost, be sure you involve a financial advisor that specializes in divorce, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® to be precise, on your team so that you will be fully informed of all the creative settlement possibilities that may be open to you.

A couple married 24 years were referred together to a colleague for assistance with their divorce. They had gone to an attorney together and were completely amicable. The attorney made it clear that he could only do their document preparation since he was ethically bound to represent only one party. That was ok, but they asked how they would determine their property division. He responded, “This is a community property state so we’ll just divide each asset and each debt exactly 50/50.”  The couple just didn’t feel like that was the smart thing to do. They were referred to the CDFA®, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, to explore options.

After gathering all of their financial documents and completing the analysis, the CDFA® put together two reports for the clients. The first reflected an exact 50/50 split as the attorney had suggested. The second was a creative settlement solution that also resulted in a net 50/50 split but took into consideration tax planning and consequences as well as the needs of each party as they planned for the next phase of their lives. One of the most crucial pieces that is often left out of negotiation talks is finding out what each party needs to be okay post-divorce. This step requires a financial advisor who understands the importance of forward planning and can identify those creative solutions that considers taxes and the desires both short term and long term of each party.

This couple had less than $800k in total net worth and the creative settlement solution resulted in an additional $20,000 EACH to their bottom line just because some financial intelligence was used to determine their settlement. That’s real money!  Needless to say, the couple was thrilled knowing that they saved $40,000!

Don’t go into this blind. There are so many ways to ensure that both of you get to keep more of your own money and that you negotiate for the money that is right for your situation and your needs. Get the right experts on your team.  We’d love to help you!  Call us today.

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Creating a Fair Divorce Settlement

As soon as you decide that divorce is a potential reality, immediately your thoughts will turn to your future and fears of your new reality. “I can’t support myself.” “I haven’t worked in 20+ years.” Or “How much of my income will I have to give up supporting my spouse and the kids?” “I’ll be living in poverty!”  A world of unknowns reveals itself in an avalanche of financial and emotional realities that must be dealt with. Despite the stereotypes around vindictive nasty divorces, my experience is that many couples truly and sincerely want what’s fair for all involved.

The problem here is that every person’s idea of fair is different. Depending on how much emotional wounding may have happened in the marriage, perceived wrongs that demand to be righted, apologies that remained unspoken, “fair” may be on the peaks of two separate mountains cut deeply by a river of conflict and resentments. This is the simple truth that has created a multi-billion-dollar divorce industry. I think there is a different answer.

What if you let go of the need for fairness? I know, sounds crazy but try this on for size. What if each party didn’t worry about what the other person was getting and sat down with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and simply figured out what they need for themselves to be able to be ok? You may find that what’s important is not getting everything equal but keeping certain things that are important to you. Consider this example, what if everything up for division could be depicted by a jar of marbles. You may find that you really care less about receiving the exact same number of marbles because what you really want are all the green marbles or all the small marbles and your spouse wants all the red marbles. Now coming to the table can look a lot different. Now, consider that you sit down with a mediator and start there? Maybe it’s not exactly equal. Maybe it’s not “fair” but it’s creative. Maybe it just works! For everyone involved! Now that is a win/win solution!

Focus on the next phase of your life and how you can move on in a healthy happy way that will preserve your family unit for the future. My goal is to help you be the best divorced family you can be, because you’re still a family.

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Common Money Mistakes Made During Divorce

For most people, the divorce process is emotionally draining and mentally exhausting.  Many people describe it as a time of being frozen, numb, being in a mental fog, or moving in slow motion. Despite that emotional and mental trauma, you will be expected to go through your finances with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that your settlement agreement is fair and equitable.  With divorce brain, that’s easier said than done, even for the financially educated!

Even if you feel like you are clear headed, here are a few of the most common money mistakes to look out for when getting divorced. 

  1. Underestimating post-divorce expenses.

You will be asked to do a financial disclosure that reflects your expenses AFTER the divorce. It is critical that you are realistic and don’t leave anything out. This information will be used to determine if spousal maintenance is necessary or not. You must be sure to include everything from your health care deductibles to anticipated home repair charges for the roof you need to replace next year. If you underestimate your expenses by $200 per month, that’s $2400 per year. Where are you going to get that extra money? When you’re the primary breadwinner this mistake could lead you to agree to pay maintenance that you ultimately can’t afford.  A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ will help you scrub your affidavit for errors and make sure that you don’t leave anything out.

  1. Believing that your attorney will handle everything. 

Your attorney is an expert in the law, not finances. Would you ask your doctor for advice about your car? No, so why would you expect your attorney to be an expert in finances?  The attorney’s job is to ask you to fill out your financial disclosure and take your word for it that it is correct. A good attorney will glance over it looking for any glaring errors but that’s about it.  The most commonly miss-valued asset is a pension. In some situations, the value has been left out all together and just assumed as a 50/50 split. There is so much wrong with that solution, but most people don’t find out until it’s too late. This is crucial when in some cases the pension is the most valuable asset in a marriage. I often see attorneys accept a present value statement from a pension as the correct value to include as marital property. It’s not. Not by a long shot.  A CDFA® can value it properly and make sure that tax ramifications are considered as well.

  1. Not Understanding Tax Implications

Not all assets are created equal. This is at least a common understanding however I still regular see houses be trades for equity in a 401k.  Not only do you need to understand the tax ramifications of that decision, that taxation on a home is different than taxation on a 401k, but also what quick cash you will need to get back on your feet and how you will access it. Getting cash out of a home is not easy and requires equity and the ability to refinance. Getting cash out of a 401k may be easier than the home BUT there are tax ramifications and it also takes time, in some cases months, through the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to access the funds. You need to at least have a basic understanding of the after-tax settlement division.

  1. Letting attorneys do the talking for you.  

The more you and your spouse can work out by just communicating, the more money you’ll save. I’ve seen many couples that could not bear to be in the same room, but consider the cost. If you have your attorney relay information to the other spouse’s attorney, you’re racking up bills upwards of $600 an hour because you refuse to talk. This makes sense to no one. Get over any anger and talk about what will work.

  1. Letting your emotions make your decisions.

So many people going through divorce just want to “get it over with.”  This is not the time to just throw your hands up and agree to a settlement just to be done with it.  This kind of thinking is why divorce so often leads to bankruptcy! A 50/50 split of assets is almost NEVER a truly equitable settlement. So, put the emotions aside, talk to your spouse.  Take your time and make sure you thoroughly understand what your future will look like after your divorce and be sure to hire the right experts to help you.

To avoid making financial mistakes in your divorce contact Next Step Divorce Solutions today to speak with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®.

-Tessa Elrod, CFP®, CDFA®

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