A successful divorce is all in the details, and arguably some of the most important details of your divorce will be the financial information you provide in your Case Information Statement (CIS). Get your CIS right and your divorce — including asset division and alimony — will be all the better for it. Get your CIS wrong by supplying mistaken or incomplete information and be prepared for a divorce settlement that’s subpar.
The best way to start creating a CIS that is as “right” as possible? Begin by learning these 3 top CIS mistakes to avoid!
[For more CIS tips, see Bari Weinberger’s new in-depth article: It’s all in the details: Avoiding a disastrous divorce]
CIS Mistake: Income information that doesn’t tell the whole story
Each spouse completes a CIS and the documents are exchanged during the Discovery phase of divorce. One section of the CIS that receives particularly close scrutiny is Part C: Income Analysis. In this section, information about income is used to demonstrate each party’s need for child and spousal support from, or ability to pay child or spousal support to, the other party.
Income may be a straightforward issue if you truly have only one source of income and a steady pay rate. In this case, required paystubs, W-2s or 1099s, and tax returns are generally adequate. However, in today’s world where so many people have multiple and highly varied forms of income, or are self-employed, added documentation and context can prevent your income information from being misunderstood.
For example, perhaps you are self-employed and just completed a big one-off job contract that brought in a lot of money for a few years, but the contract is now over and your income has taken a dip as you line up new clients with no certainty about your future income. This is critical to document to show anyone who examines your CIS (including your spouse’s counsel and the judge) the variable nature of your income. If you don’t do this, it may be assumed that the 200K you made over the past two years is a constant source of income. You don’t want spousal support to be based on an income from the past that doesn’t exist anymore!
The more documentation you can provide, the more it will help your attorney make the strongest case for you. Attach contracts and explain what they mean to provide context. Not doing so could put you at risk for not receiving the alimony and child support you need — or put you at risk for higher payments that you can not afford.
CIS Mistake: Guessing at Monthly Expenses
The CIS also requires each spouse to create an accurate picture of their monthly budget (Part D). Budget line items include such expenses as shelter and monthly payments for all utility charges, insurance costs, taxes, etc. The budget also requires a detailed list of all of your transportation and personal expenses, including car payments, gasoline costs, food expenses, entertainment costs, hair care, and even how much you typically save each month.
The big pitfall with Part D is that people can be sloppy in their calculations, usually because they don’t want to spend the time to track down receipts and bills.
Be aware, however, that underestimating or overestimating monthly living expenses can negatively impact your divorce settlement. If you low-ball yourself, don’t expect your spouse’s side of the bargaining table to object! By underestimating or overlooking expenses, you could be setting yourself up to struggle with inadequate alimony and child support amounts.
If you overestimate living expenses, which is also common, and you then can’t produce documentation when asked, you may lose standing with the judge, or worse, be accused of falsifying information.
As you complete part D, it’s absolutely worth the time it might take to accurately document expenses — so start digging out those receipts — especially when it comes to irregular or unusual expenses. For example, if you tend to pay more for groceries because your son can only eat gluten-free foods, attach a month’s worth of grocery receipts AND a doctor’s letter explaining that your has Celiac disease. This type of added information may be enough of a justification for the judge to allow a much higher than average expense to stand.
CIS Mistake: Hiding Assets & Debts
The CIS also contains a list of all assets and liabilities, including real estate interests, bank and securities accounts, motor vehicles, business interests, pensions, savings plans (such as IRA and 401k plans), other retirement accounts and employment-related assets, mortgage and home equity balances, automobile loans, credit card debt, etc.
Failure to disclose assets and debts — whether or not the omission is intentional — can land you in hot water. If detected during your divorce because your spouse lists very different assets and debts on their CIS and further accounting shows that you skipped listing these, your standings in negotiations can be severely hampered.
If the assets you leave out are not detected during your divorce, but are further down the road, you may end up back in court to correct the distribution of these assets — leading to legal court costs and fees that may be total more than the original asset!
Take your time, provide context and be honest. A smart divorce attorney will be able to use your CIS information to create the best solutions possible for you. Put in the work to making your CIS the most thorough document possible. It’s an investment that will pay off in a future that is bright and secure.
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