Financial Declaration Forms in Family Court
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Financial Declarations in Family Court
By M. J. Goodwin
Financial Declarations are crucial documents in Family Court litigation. A Financial Declaration is a complex, five (5) page form mandated by the South Carolina Supreme Court. It is a “sworn” document, executed under oath. Rule 20(a) provides for its use in Family Court and provides that Financial Declarations are required “in any domestic relations action in which the financial condition of a party is relevant or is an issue to be considered by the court.” And further provides that “a current financial declaration in the form prescribed by the Supreme Court shall be served and filed by all parties.” The document has to be filed. It is not optional.
With the exception of name change actions, I cannot think of a situation in Family Court where the financial condition of the parties is not relevant.
The current form was revised in December 2009. (A shorter version was unveiled on February 28, 2014 for use in child support enforcement actions only.)
The Financial Declaration covers a litigant’s gross monthly income, from all sources, as well as deductions, arriving at a net income figure on the bottom of page one. The next three pages are devoted to expenses and assets. The form can be found here: http://www.sccourts.org/forms/searchFormTitle.cfm
The form is straight forward enough. To arrive at a monthly expense for taxes, for example, one would take the yearly figure and divide it by twelve. For things that might be paid weekly, take the weekly payment and multiply it by 52 and divide that number by 12. This is very basic math. But the numbers are important. These numbers are used to compute child support and alimony. These numbers are used to decide which litigant is ordered to pay the mortgage. These numbers are used for everything. And because the document is under oath, the numbers are held to be truthful and reliable.
Sometimes clients do not take completion of these forms seriously and that is a mistake with potentially devastating consequences.
In the hands of a skilled attorney, a Financial Declaration can be used against the other party very effectively. For example, perhaps a litigant claims that he or she cannot pay their child support obligation, but have a very high rent payment or cell phone bill. This information, which is from the support obligor himself, is very damaging. Another mistake is not listing all debts and obligations, whether “frivolous” or not. To do so may cause a party’s income to appear inflated.
I believe that all litigants benefit from having experienced Family Court legal counsel when completing a Financial Declaration. The document is far too important to be disregarded or thrown together. The best advice is to be thorough and accurate in completing the Financial Declaration. The entire financial future of the case depends on it.