First Holiday……

Is this it? Regardless of how big or small you have done the Holidays in the past, if you are being forced to spend even part of the Holiday without your children for the first time because of separation or divorce, it’s not easy and the anticipation is probably worse?  It may suck initially but it doesn’t have to be all bad, even though it will be very different.  Consider different ways you can adapt your Holidays to accommodate your new routine, here are a few tips.

  1. Realize that life is different now and will never be the same again and it’s okay!!  Embrace change!
  2. Plan early!  Don’t wait until the last minute to coordinate with your Ex what the schedule will be. And remember that the kids want to spend time with both parents.
  3. Christmas does not have to be Dec 25th!  If you won’t be with your kids on the 25th, simply plan a “Special Christmas” when you will be. There is no reason to give up anything, just rearrange.
  4. If this is your first Christmas without the kids, reach out to friends and family, invite yourself if you have to!  Don’t spend it alone!!! 
  5. Start new traditions. To help both you and the kids embrace the new reality, start some brand new traditions that you’ve never had! Some of my favorite traditions are the accidental ones. Plan some adventures and see what sticks!

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. If this is your first Holiday as a single person, you are still in the grieving process and you can expect to have some emotional ups and downs.  Do your best to think about your new future and try not to dwell on the past. Think of new possibilities. Are there activities that you’ve always wanted to try but never had the time? Now’s the time to make it happen! Take an art class! Schedule a weekend trip out of town with a girlfriend or a spa day all by yourself.  Of course, I’m a financial advisor so make sure it’s within your budget.

Speaking of budgets, be careful to not let yourself fall into the “best parent” trap of trying to outspend your ex on presents. The kids see right through it and trust me, they don’t care. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll love all the gifts – for about 2 seconds. If your kids are still small, sometimes the empty box is the most exciting part of the gift, don’t overspend just because you need to win.  Kids want your time not your money.  Pass on the iPad and buy a board game that will force you to interact with each other for an extended period. These are the memories the kids will treasure and you will too. Good luck this Holiday season. Remember, it doesn’t have to be defined as the end unless you choose to. Choose to see the beauty of a new beginning. You can do it!

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3 Tips to Surviving Divorce During the Holidays (in 2020)

In a year like 2020 it may be impossible to identify the one stress that ultimately found you in the middle of divorce. Combatting a pandemic, job loss, financial stress, never ending hurricanes, and the countless other phenomena that have caused even the most average of humans to explain 2020 with a hashtag. Now here you are staring the holidays in the face and probably wishing we could just skip ahead and jump right into 2021. Since time travel is not an option and burying your head in the sand until it all passes likely is not a choice either then I would suggest these tips to help manage the short period of 2020 we all have left to survive.

  1. Find the good!

My preschool aged children are memorizing a verse for Sunday church, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good”. (Psalm 107:1) When we are faced with challenges it is so easy to focus on only that, and then tack on all the other things that are also going wrong. I’m not suggesting you should put on a happy face and pretend your divorce is not happening or that it is easy, but I am suggesting that you instead try to focus on the good things in your life. Each morning think of ONE thing you are thankful for and instead CHOOSE to focus on that the remainder of your day.

  • Treat Yourself

The holidays are a wonderful time to connect with family and friends, but it is also a time we tend to run ourselves ragged trying to do for everyone else.  It is so easy to forget about caring for ourselves in a time that is all about giving. It is ok to give a little to yourself as well. Consider a spa day or a lunch date with girlfriends. Find the thing that calms you and make sure it is added to the calendar.

  • Choose to Celebrate your way

You may not be celebrating the Holidays the same way this year but that is okay. Consider making new traditions and reinvent how you celebrate. If you will be spending Christmas day without your children for the first time, then find another way to celebrate YOUR WAY. During a pandemic you may have to be a little more creative in your festivities, but just roll with it, you may enjoy something new more than you expected.

You may have been dreading the time between Halloween to New Year’s this year but trying the steps above may make it a little more bearable. For more tips and financial guidance in your divorce contact us, your Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, at Next Step Divorce Solutions.

Author – Tessa Elrod CFP®, CDFA®

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Finding a Career After Divorce

I recently had the opportunity to interview a successful female business owner. Through our conversation I discovered how and why she started in her line of business.  What caught my attention was not that she had an overwhelming passion for the work, which isn’t a bad thing, but that it started as a solution to a problem.  This woman now owns a growing insurance agency, but it all started because of some key factors. First, she was looking for her next move after working inside the home,  she was intrigued that the previous owner seemed to have the flexibility to be present at school volunteer functions, and she had growing children so learning about auto insurance seemed like useful information at that time.

Why do I tell you this?   I believe there are some valuable tips we can learn from other women that have stepped outside of the home or temporary jobs and built successful careers. In many cases women face more struggles after divorce because they find themselves having to make more life changes than their ex-spouse.  In Texas it is uncommon to see spousal maintenance and even more uncommon to see it last for any real length of time.  So, if you find yourself near the finality of your divorce or recently divorced and needing to find work consider these tips:

  1. Give yourself some grace! People do not commonly become successful business owners or build big careers overnight, there were baby steps. Start with step one.
  2. Define your priorities and the lifestyle you want to create for yourself. For just a minute think beyond the dollars you need to earn. What are the things that come to mind? (ex. flexibility, routine, growth, increased knowledge)
  3. Pay attention to those around you that emulate the lifestyle you are seeking, what is it that they do, is it something you could do down the road, and if so where do you start?

There can be success and growth after divorce. Focus your attention in front of you, not behind, find a direction and then learn what initial baby step you need to move in that direction. Taking that first step is scary, but you never know where it could take you unless you try.

Contact Next Step Divorce Solutions to learn more about preparing for your next financial move after divorce.

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Two Major Factors that Impact Divorce – Q&A with Family Law Attorneys

After more than a decade in the financial service industry, I have learned a lot about how emotions can drive investor behavior and how a lack of financial education can cripple an individual’s ability to successfully reach their goals. When I began working as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® I anticipated the possible challenges I might face, but it didn’t take long to recognize how the same two facets of decision making, emotions and lack of knowledge, can have such a drastic long term toll on an entire family unit when put into the divorce process.

Was it possible that my opinion was formed due to my experience and views from the financial service industry, or was there something to it? Who better to ask than family law attorneys; so, I contacted a few family law attorneys around the Houston area to see what they thought.

  • What is the biggest mistake couples make during the divorce process?

The overwhelming response to this question all centered around making emotional decisions and having unrealistic expectations about the legal process. Allison Mundy, Attorney and Founder of Mundy Legal Services PLLC, said that walking in with an attitude of “wanting my day in court” is not only a bad starting place but will ultimately cost clients the most money for very little or no trade off to the ultimate settlement. Hayley Hollands, Attorney with the Hunt Law Firm, said the most expensive words a client can say is “it’s the principal of the matter” and goes even further to explain to her clients that going to court is like “throwing a hand grenade into a family”. Nobody said divorce wasn’t an emotional process but choosing your responses to those emotions is up to you. A couple of the attorneys painfully explained that having that attitude only hurts the parties involved, and that includes any children, because in a city the size of Houston the judges have heard it all and are mostly unphased at the story or reasons behind the divorce decision. 

The other mistakes mentioned were aimed at the lack of preparedness and assuming that actions or attempts to hide assets would not be caught, or possibly have an influence on the outcome of the final settlement.

  • What should clients know or investigate before they call you?

As a CDFA® it was encouraging to hear from each of the attorneys interviewed, including Jennifer Casey, Family Law and Bankruptcy Attorney of the Law Office of Jennifer Casey, that it would be extremely helpful to have at a minimum the basic understanding of the financials. Based on this and other comments, it is so important to have a meeting with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® at the research phase of the divorce process. Having a CDFA® on your team early can provide huge benefits to the initial start of your attorney relationship.

Hayley Hollands added that having already thought and considered your post-divorce wants and needs can go a long way in providing meaningful direction in the settlement negotiations. She often asks her clients in the initial consult ‘what they want to get out of the process and/or what they need to be set up for their next chapter.’  

Outside of financial preparedness and thinking beyond the short term, we also discussed the importance of understanding co-parenting. This is such an important topic and common area of contention for any divorce with minor children. It’s important to recognize that co-parenting goes beyond age 18 and the best possible gift a divorcing couple can give to their child(ren) is working together as amicably as possible when it comes to parenting.

  • What are some realistic expectations about the divorce process?

Ms. Casey emphasized that every single case is different and that no matter how similar your case may be to someone you know; the final settlement can be vastly different. An outcome to a negotiation is not just about the facts of the case, it is largely driven by the parties involved. There is so much about the divorce process that is not common knowledge and each couple’s experience will be different.

Ms. Hollands tries to help her clients recognize the long-term benefits cooperation can have on the impact of their post-divorce relationships. This understanding can help to minimize the negative impact divorce has on children who are often stuck in the middle.

Some logistical expectations that were mentioned included Texas 60-day “cooling off period. This does not mean a settlement can’t be reached in that time, but it does mean that a decree can’t be finalized until the 60 days have passed. Ms. Mundy also pointed out the misunderstanding of a retainer.  Most attorneys that I have spoken with charge an upfront retainer; this retainer can vary from attorney to attorney, but it is often NOT the final or full cost. Be prepared that you will have additional bills due to your attorney before the divorce is all said and done. The more contentious the divorce the more expensive the attorney gets.

After speaking with each of these family law attorneys, as well as several others, I think it is safe to conclude that the root of many challenges faced throughout the divorce process come from emotions and lack of knowledge. Surrounding yourself with the right team can help to mitigate some of these challenges. I encourage you to seek out a family law attorney (consulting or retained), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, and therapist or counselor. You may also consider working with a Mediator as well.

At Next Step Divorce Solutions, we help to turn your financial fears and confusion into clarity and confidence. Contact us to learn more.

For more information about the attorneys mentioned in this blog please visit their websites below.

Allison Mundy –

Jennifer Casey –

Hayley Hollands –

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What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and When Should you Hire One?

There are two questions I am commonly asked after sharing that I am a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®.

  1. Are you an Attorney?
  2. When is the best time to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®)?

Thankfully, the answers are simple.

  • Am I an attorney?

The answer is NO, I am not an attorney. I enjoy working with family law attorneys and they are a huge asset when going through a divorce, but I am not an attorney and I do not (nor can I) give any legal advice. 

When a couple enters a divorce, they are immediately asked to provide a basic financial affidavit attesting to the martial finances. That’s at the very beginning of the process! From there they will make one financial decision after another.

I am sure you have heard friends or others you know that may describe their divorce based on how much they think they won, whether it be with child custody or assets. The truth is very few individuals come out of divorce feeling as if they won anything, and many are fearful of how they will move forward financially.

As a CDFA® I bring my 10+ years of financial service experience to the forefront of the divorce process. Not only can I better help individuals understand what they own, valuations, and how or if the asset can be divided, but I provide confidence. Confidence that they know and understand the facts of their case and what they truly need to move beyond the final decree. With education and understanding my clients can make decisions clearly and without fear.

  • When is the best time to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®)?

As early as possible! Financial guidance is valuable at every stage of life. As you navigate any life transition, a financial advisor by your side can help you be more prepared for any challenge and minimize any mistakes. A CDFA® can guide you through the steps of how to prepare for divorce before you even file, walk with you throughout the process, and then make sure you have fully implemented the decree, leaving no loose ends. The added value to having a CDFA® early on is making sure all the appropriate financial documents are requested or gathered the first time. While your attorney focuses on fighting for your legal rights, helping you to understand the law and how it is interpreted in your area, your CDFA® is fighting for your finances and making sure all items are in order before any finite decisions are made.

For more information about working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® contact Next Step Divorce Solutions.  

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Don’t Forget the Cool Down: Post Divorce Action Items

With the emotional and physical exhaustion that encapsulates the divorce process, it may seem like getting across the finish line is nothing short of running a marathon. However, it’s imperative that you don’t skip the final step of the process, your cool down. After any workout or race it is important to catch your breath and then cool down, walk, and stretch before moving on to the next thing. Same goes for the divorce process. Your cool down should include several items necessary to fully implement your divorce, so you don’t find yourself in a mess tying up loose ends year’s down the road.

A couple of those important post-divorce items are outlined below.

  • Updating Estate Documents

This is often the most overlooked step after divorce. Statistics show that many married couples have already gone years without properly obtaining important estate documents like a Will, power of attorney, and medical directives. Don’t assume that if you have no kids, or little in the way of assets, that you don’t need estate documents. They are extremely important as a single individual or if you are stepping into a second or third marriage (check out a previous blog ‘Most Overlooked Mistake Post Divorce’ ( for a more detailed example of the pitfalls of overlooking this step).

  • Establishing your Own Financial Identity

I find that many of couples have most, if not all, accounts and debt listed under one spouse’s name. The danger in this setup is that now the other spouse, most often it is the wife, walks out of the marriage with limited or no credit history. Unless you are Dave Ramsey and plan to pay for everything in cash, it will likely be necessary to show good and available credit to make a purchase at some point in the future. To establish your own financial identity, you can apply for a credit card (just make sure you pay it off each month) and open bank accounts in your name.

  • Update Beneficiary Designations

This step could fall under #1 but is important to highlight on its own. Make sure to notify your insurance companies and remove your ex-spouse as beneficiary (unless mandated in the decree that they would stay on as beneficiary). Also be sure to verify that you have reviewed and updated beneficiary designations on all retirement accounts.

There are also plenty of other steps that should be included as part of your post-divorce action items. If you are working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® they can assist you with that process.

For questions or more information please contact Next Step Divorce Solutions.

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Alternative Solution to Collecting Back Child or Spousal Support

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is commonly used to divide the community portion of a qualified ERISA governed retirement plan in a divorce asset settlement. The process of dividing an employer retirement plan, like a 401(k), requires a QDRO however the process of obtaining and processing a QDRO is not always simple. If you are negotiating a divorce settlement, I strongly suggest contacting your local Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® to help you understand that process and the tax ramifications of utilizing those dollars post-divorce.

Unfortunately, there are situations in which someone, intentionally or not, gets behind on their agreed obligations of either child support or spousal maintenance (aka alimony). In working in the financial service industry and guiding couples through the divorce process it is not uncommon that the two largest assets an individual has are locked in either home equity or a 401k. A possible solution for these types of situations is to utilize a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO (the same used to divide an asset in a divorce) to access funds that would seemingly be locked up. The drafting of the QDRO would need to be specific as to who the alternate payee should be and who is paying the taxes. There may also be a required federal withholding on the QDRO transfer so the amount would need to be calculated properly to account for that automatic withholding. It’s important to note that this is still a taxable event and who is paying the taxes should be clearly outlined so that the correct person receives the 1099-R. Also, if someone is under the age of 59 ½ there is normally an additional 10% tax penalty for withdrawing funds from a qualified plan, but that is waived if the funds are pursuant of a QDRO (would bold this just to signify the importance of it).

If you find yourself, or know someone, trying to obtain back child support or spousal maintenance I would encourage you to seek the guidance of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) at Next Step Divorce Solutions. We help you identify all your financial options and can provide guidance on determining whether utilizing the QDRO strategy is the best solution for your situation.

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A Divorce that Includes a Child with Disabilities: Part 2

Last week I outlined some considerations to be made in divorce negotiations as it relates to child support as well as child custody and your parenting plan when caring for a child with special needs. This week I will highlight spousal support and recordkeeping.

Spousal Support

Texas is known for not being friendly when it comes to spousal support, however if your child requires around the clock care which limits the main caregiving parent the ability to work and support themselves, then spousal support can be a tool to support that caregiving parent to continue that role. However, if the caregiving parent must work then you need to determine how respite care would be paid for, if not with spousal support.


As you negotiate your settlement be sure to bring all your child’s records to assist in the negotiation. These may include a care notebook, time each parent spends caring for the child, and a detailed list of all medical expenses. Properly structuring and negotiating your divorce agreement will be imperative to the care of your child with disabilities. There are resources available to aid you and your spouse through this process. I strongly encourage you to include a family law attorney, therapist for you and your child, estate planning attorney that specializes in special needs trusts, and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) for financial guidance and coaching. For more information contact Next Step Divorce Solutions, LLC. 

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A Divorce that Includes a Child with Disabilities: Part 1

Entering the divorce process is scary and overwhelming for anyone but adding the complexity of caring for a child with special needs can be even more intimidating. There are additional complexities with child custody and finances that should be considered and spelled out clearly in your agreement. Some of those areas include child support, custody and parenting plan, spousal support, and recordkeeping. Over the next two blogs I will discuss some things to consider in each of these major areas.  

Child Support

Standard child support often ends at age 18 or when the child graduates from high school. However, in the case of a child with disabilities that financial support may need to last for the life of that child. There are state specific Medicaid Waiver programs that could minimize some of that financial support need, but those programs have very long wait list. It’s important to consider all scenarios when negotiating child support. If you are not familiar with Medicaid waiver programs you should contact your state Health and Human Services organization to learn more about what is available in your state.

It is also important to keep in mind that standard child support does not take into consideration extracurricular activities. When you have a child with disabilities those extracurricular costs turn into medical needs such as medications, therapy, or special equipment. You also should consider the caregiving costs, especially if one spouse is no longer able to stay with the child as much as they did prior to the divorce. 

Child Custody/Parenting Plan

Special care should be taken when determining child custody and your parenting plan. If your child will be unable to emancipate, there will be life changes you want to consider well beyond your child turning 18. Some of those include how you will handle guardianship, who will make decision about medical care and school, attend Admissions Review and Dismissal (ARD) or Section 504 meetings, etc. Some bigger changes to consider could be what if one of you moves out of the area and can no longer participate in daily care or one of you can no longer be the primary caregiver. Thinking through some of the what ifs is important to determine what you may need to define in your settlement agreement.

As you build out your parenting plan consider keeping detailed records that travel with your child. Note things like their therapy schedule, daily routine and medical needs and medication schedule. A parenting plan is imperative in any situation but could be life threatening for a child with disabilities if not taken seriously by both parents. If you are struggling with these issues bring in third-party counsel who has experience in these matters to assist you.

As you begin to negotiate these various areas of your divorce be sure to also consider and fully understand the ramifications of how these should be outlined in your agreement. One area is with Medicaid Waiver Programs, these services offer much needed help to families and are beneficial for higher income earning families because the eligibility is based on the child’s income. As you structure child support or any beneficiary designation you should consider a Special Needs Trust. Contact your local estate planning attorney that specializes in these types of trust to learn more. Properly structuring and negotiating your divorce agreement will be imperative to the care of your child with disabilities.

There are resources available to aid you and your spouse through this process. I strongly encourage you to include a family law attorney or mediator, therapist for you and your child, estate planning attorney that specializes in special needs trusts, and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®). For more information contact Next Step Divorce Solutions, LLC. 

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What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order and Do You Need One

You mean, there is more work to do after the final divorce decree is signed?!?!?

Yes, unfortunately the long process to get to your final decree is not the end. Once the decree is signed, now the actual work of separating the assets, as detailed in your agreement, begins.

I have heard over and over that individuals post-divorce have split everything, but there is one retirement account that they just haven’t messed with. Some investments do require a little more time, energy, and financial cost to split, such as ERISA covered plans like 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, pensions, 457 plans, deferred compensation plans, some RSU, and restricted stock unit accounts. These types of plans require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to be filed with the plan administrator.  Once the QDRO is submitted and the assets split, then the non-employee spouse can roll the funds to an IRA account for future management. Note: Even though an IRA is a qualified account, they do not require a QDRO; a signed divorce decree is sufficient documentation to split that account.

One of the special features that individuals have with a QDRO is a ONE-TIME opportunity to take a withdrawal in which taxes are owed but AVOIDS the 10% TAX PENALTY if the distribution is taken prior to 59 ½. This could be beneficial in providing some needed financial flexibility, but if not done properly you could miss that special window.

As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® our firm acts as a liaison to a local Houston QDRO drafting service. We can help aid you in the process, as well as make sure that you have defined if and how much of an up-front distribution you may need from the plan.  In Texas, if the QDRO is not started within 30 days of the decree being filed, a separate motion must be filed with the courts throughout the process. For this and many other reasons, such as a tracing nightmare, it is imperative that you complete the QDRO process as quickly as possible once the decree is finalized.

The QDRO process is not for the faint at heart and following a long divorce settlement process can be downright overwhelming. Contact us at Next Step Divorce Solutions, your local Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, and we will help walk you through the QDRO process one step at a time to get everything done in a timely and efficient manner.

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