By: Manjula Shaw, CFP®, CDFA®
“Tips from the Trenches” is a series of articles based on conversations with professionals who work with individuals facing or considering the prospect of divorce. Watch this space for discussions with professionals in Family and collaborative law, Forensic-Certified Public Accountants, Mediators, Marriage Counselors, Family Court Judges, and Valuation Specialists.
Manjula Shaw is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and an Asst. Vice President at Tanglewood Legacy Advisors. As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®), Manjula works with individuals facing late-stage divorce.
Manjula’s conversation is with Judge Gloria López, elected to the 308th District Court of Harris County, Texas, in 2018. Before taking the bench, Judge López was a family law attorney. Judge López is bilingual in Spanish and English, a tremendous advantage to her Spanish-speaking constituents; she is also the first Latina to be elected to the 308th District Court.
You can read the first article based on our conversation at Facing Divorce. Tips from the Trenches- Divorce and Family Court: Preparation – Family CFO (family-cfo.com)
Progression of a Divorce Case in Family Court
I. Final Trial: A trial may be necessary if the divorcing parties cannot resolve all issues. Both spouses present their cases, witnesses, and evidence to the judge during the trial. The judge then makes final determinations on property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support.
Judge López notes an interesting fact that many may not know. Texas and Georgia are the only states in the US allowing jury trials in divorce cases. For example, in Texas, a petitioner may request a jury trial in an intractable custody case.
II. Final Divorce Decree: After all issues are resolved through agreement or court decisions, the judge prepares and signs a Final Divorce Decree. This document is final and outlines the terms and conditions of the divorce, including property division, custody arrangements, support obligations, and any other relevant matters. It legally terminates the marriage.
If the parties find that the terms they agreed to are not working, subsequent changes to the Final Divorce Decree may need to be petitioned in court.
III. Distribution of Assets and Debts: The court’s orders regarding property division and financial matters are executed after the Divorce Decree is issued. These orders may involve transferring assets, changing ownership titles, or implementing other financial arrangements as specified in the decree.
One exception: The division of a company retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or a profit-sharing plan, is done via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) and needs to be signed by the plan sponsor before the final Divorce Decree is issued. Failure to do so may result in unnecessary tax obligations. Please consult a CDFA® for further guidance.
IV. Closure of the Case: Once all the terms of the divorce decree have been fulfilled, the case is considered closed. The spouses are legally divorced, and the terms of the final Decree determine their legal obligations to each other.
V. Child Custody and Support Enforcement: If child custody and support orders are part of the divorce decree, they are enforced as necessary by the court. The court may monitor compliance with these orders and take necessary enforcement actions.
Stay tuned for the final article of our discussion: Divorce and Family Court: Role of a Family Court Judge.
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