By: Jeff Landers
At first, the idea sounds simple enough. In all contested (and some uncontested) divorces, the Courts require each spouse to file what’s called a “Financial Affidavit,” a formal document that details the typical financial factors that play a role in every marriage: how much you earn (income), how much you spend (expenses), how much you own (assets), how much you owe (liabilities/debt), etc.
A Financial Affidavit provides the Courts with a snapshot, so to speak, of a couple’s current financial picture. Plus, it compels both sides to swear they are telling the truth about their finances.
Sounds rather routine, right? Wrong.
Even though it may sound rather straightforward at first, many women find that completing a Financial Affidavit is anything but easy. Determining accurate figures for your income, expenses, assets and liabilities can be a very complicated undertaking –and it doesn’t get any easier when you realize how essential this document is to the final divorce settlement agreement. The Courts will use your Financial Affidavit when deciding alimony, child support (including temporary alimony and support) and the division of property, so it’s critical that the numbers included are completely accurate. But, unfortunately, many women get overwhelmed with the prospect of sorting through their family finances, especially if they haven’t been previously involved. They end up “guess-timating” . . . and potentially damaging their case in the process.
Regulations vary from state to state. As with many aspects of divorce (see my earlier articles about the division of separate and marital property and the division of debt, e.g.), the regulations governing Financial Affidavits will differ depending on where you live. To start with, Financial Affidavits are called different things in different states. In New Jersey, divorcing couples file a “Case Information Statement.” Meanwhile, the courts in Utah require a “Financial Declaration,” and in Connecticut, it’s simply called a Financial Affidavit. In New York, we use a “Statement of Net Worth.” You can see an example of the (14-page!) document here.
Your divorce attorney will review only for glaring mistakes. Although your divorce attorneys will provide you with the proper forms and fundamental guidance, don’t expect them to use a fine-tooth comb to go through the numbers you submit. At best, most divorce attorneys will check for only the most obvious errors, and quite honestly, they really don’t have the time or inclination to verify your mortgage bills, canceled checks, etc. or sort through several years of your credit card statements to determine what each and every charge was for (clothing, groceries, restaurant, gas, gifts, etc.). In other words, if you show your monthly telephone expense at $5,000 or you’re spending 30% of your monthly income on clothing, they’ll question you. But don’t expect them to know if you’re really spending $100 per month on clothing or $1000 (unless that amount sticks out as a very large percentage of your income or expenses) or if you forget to include the garage costs for your car.
The “little” details can make a “big” difference. Going through a divorce is emotionally draining, and it’s no wonder that most women cringe at the prospect of sorting through the past few years of assorted credit card bills, utility payments, bank statements, etc. But, knowing your finances at that level of detail can make a significant difference in the financial picture you present to the Courts via your Financial Affidavit. No matter how difficult the process becomes, resist the urge to guesstimate! Most people guess wrong –and usually, they’re wildly wrong. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the task of completing your Financial Affidavit, consult with your divorce financial planner who will complete a Lifestyle Analysis and the Financial Affidavit on your behalf. (A Lifestyle Analysis identifies the spending habits of a couple along with the day-to-day living expenses incurred during their marriage, with an emphasis on the last three to five years. It includes recurring and ordinary expenses, as well as unusual and non-recurring expenses. It’s often required by the judge and serves as a verification of the net worth and income and expense statements submitted by both spouses.)
A divorce Financial Affidavit is executed under oath, often before a notary public. When you file your Financial Affidavit you must swear under oath that the information you provided is true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. Obviously, your husband will have to do the same when he files his Financial Affidavit. That means he can’t “accidentally” forget to tell you about the vacation he just charged on your jointly-held credit card or the raise he got three months ago. Anyone who intentionally provides false information on a Financial Affidavit is committing perjury and could face serious legal action. Note: Sometimes, during the process of completing your Financial Affidavit and/or Lifestyle Analysis, you may discover that your husband is hiding assets. (This happens much more often than most women realize.) Anyone who submits false information on a Financial Affidavit can be held in contempt of court and can face additional sanctions, including possible criminal charges.
Your Financial Affidavit can be revised. If your financial circumstances change, you can –and should –update your Financial Affidavit (even after it’s filed with the Courts).
Remember: The information you include on your Financial Affidavit will be used to determine the division of your assets, alimony and even child support. So, it should come as no surprise that omissions and/or errors in this document could have a significant impact on the financial outcome of your divorce. Please make certain you prepare your Financial Affidavit properly. In most cases, it creates the foundation for your future financial well-being.
All articles/blog posts are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.