By Evan Compton, Divorce and Family Law Attorney
In nearly every domestic relations case that involves financials, one form exists to rule them all: the financial affidavit. Maybe your attorney has just handed this blank document to you, or the Judge has just ordered the parties to complete them. Either way, there’s some homework to be done.
The financial affidavit is a powerful tool that I’ve seen make or break a case. The last thing that you want to do is get caught falsifying information. The affidavit is so serious that codified in the statute (750 ILCS 5/501 (a) (1)) are the penalties that can be imposed for someone caught intentionally or recklessly filing a false financial affidavit.
The financial affidavit is meant to be a completely true and accurate representation of your income, expenses, assets and debts—and is a jumping-off point for additional discovery to be conducted. It is typically not filed into the public court record, so you should feel safe in putting your personal information on this form.
How will my financial affidavit be used?
The Court and attorneys will rely on these documents for summary financial hearings, such as awarding attorney’s fees or child support. Attorneys will also use this document for behind-the scenes-work, such as calculating maintenance (spousal support) and dividing the marital estate.
A bad financial affidavit can start your case off on a wrong foot, and you may never recover. For example, let’s say someone wants to be clever and hide that they make all of their money in cash. The person lists their income as $0 a month. The Court can’t make you pay support if you’re flat broke, right? Wrong. Judges aren’t dumb—and opposing attorneys will jump on poorly completed affidavits.
How to Fill Out Your Income and Expenses Section
While filling out your income section, do your best to fill in all of the lines as accurately as possible. This section is absolutely crucial. Our attorneys at Stern Perkoski Mendez make sure we scrutinize this section as closely as possible before affidavits are sent out, because we understand the importance of an accurate financial affidavit.
Also remember that the affidavit is a monthly screenshot of income and expenses. If you are paid bi-weekly or bi-monthly, make sure that you are calculating that correctly when filling in your income and deductions.
To further illustrate the example of the person stating they have $0 in income, let’s say this person is still showing that they have rent or car payments, or maybe they list they eat out for $500 a month. If all of these expenses exist, the person must have the income to pay them every month—and they could end up being imputed income comparable to what they’re able to spend every month. Beyond not getting away with hiding their income, now the Judge is going to question their credibility throughout the rest of the case.
This is not to say that you need to worry about every minute detail. While the form seems simple enough on its face, it asks for details that you may just not know. Not everyone meticulously tracks how much they spend every month on garbage removal costs (an item listed in the monthly household expenses section). So, while I always emphasize with my clients the importance of being truthful and honest with every line item they fill in, your best guess may be all you can do. Just be prepared to always have to back up everything you write in.
As another cautionary tale, and similarly with the above example of hiding your income, artificially inflating your expenses won’t do you any good either. Eye-popping expenses on vacations or donations will need to be able to be verified if scrutinized. If the expenses far outpace the income, eyebrows will be raised as to how you’re making ends meet.
The last section asks you to list the assets you own, including vehicles, bank accounts and life insurance policies. Again, be honest! List everything you own, even if you think it doesn’t matter. You never know when you’ll get asked about it later on.
As always, make sure to ask your attorney questions if you are unsure about something. Better to be safe than sorry.
What else will I need to submit with my affidavit?
Along with your affidavit, you will also need to submit supporting income documents, such as bank statements, taxes or paystubs, and additional discovery may be conducted.
As mentioned earlier, the affidavit is a jumping-off point—and depending on the complexity of your case, this could be all the discovery you end up doing. It could also be just scratching the surface of a whole host of information that you or your attorney need to know more about.
In summary, take this document seriously! Whether you’re completing it as part of your case or reviewing the other party’s, the financial affidavit is an incredibly important tool and can be used in all variety of manners to impact your case.
Contact Our Family Law Firm in Evanston, Chicago and Lake Forest
If you are looking for support with a financial affidavit or any other family law matter, contact Stern Perkoski Mendez for a free consultation. We can be reached at (847) 868-9584 and can meet you at our offices in Evanston, Chicago and Lake Forest, or at another location.