I tell virtually every client I work with that the Case Information Statement which must be completed by anyone going through the formal divorce process in NJ is one of the most important documents to be completed – arguably, the most important document.
The recent unpublished decision of Raesky v. Brody, A-6148-08T1, decided May 26, 2010, reinforces my mantra. When completing a Case Information Statement it is important to be honest (it’s a document signed under oath with the risk of penalty for perjury), realistic, and thorough. The budget, assets and liabilities listed on this document will assist a judge in determining the issues of spousal support and the division of assets. These statements are the maps which judges follow to lead them to a final determination of these issues.
By over inflating your budget, you give the other side the ability to poke holes at your credibility. Sometimes the thinking that the higher my budget the more money I can get may backfire, as it appears to have done for Ms. Brody. Also, in the case where the budget is artificially low, the payor spouse’s credibility will be questioned. If it is the payee spouse with an inaccurately low budget, they run the risk of receiving inadequate support and thus they’re unable to meet their needs let alone maintain even a semblance of the marital standard of living.
While this is part of the lesson learned in Raesky, this case is noteworthy for another reason. Here, where the parties had negotiated and entered into a settlement agreement in which the husband paid a greater sum of alimony than he would have otherwise been required to pay but agreed to do so because there was an end date specified and where the court found the wife’s testimony about the marital lifestyle along with her Case Information Statement incredible, the court still modified the parties’ agreement and turned the rehabilitative alimony obligation into a permanent alimony obligation because of the wife’s disability. One wonders whether alimony would have been extended if it was deemed limited duration alimony initially as opposed to rehabilitative alimony has limited duration alimony is not to be extended absent extraordinary circumstances.
In coming to its decision the court specifically noted that the wife was not found credible but that as a court of equity, the principles of equity dictated the outcome achieved. Notably, the wife was awarded an amount far less than what husband had originally been paying. In reaching that number, the court relied upon the husband’s Case Information Statement and found his testimony regarding the marital lifestyle to be credible.
Lesson to be learned- while filling out the Case Information Statement can be confusing, burdensome, frustrating, time consuming- whatever your description, practitioners and litigants alike must pay close attention to the information being provided.