As we have blogged before, perhaps the most critical document in the New Jersey family law landscape is the Case Information Statement.  A document designed to provide the court, parties and legal counsel with a complete economic picture – income, expenses, assets and liabilities – the CIS, which is signed by the party under oath, can be used to address several issues including, but not limited to, alimony, child support and equitable distribution.

Rule 5:5-2(a) requires the filing of a CIS in “all contested family actions, except summary actions” where there exists any issue as to custody, support, alimony or equitable distribution.  The rule also provides that a CIS may otherwise be required by Court Order or on motion of the court or other party.

For the more specific purpose of this blog entry, Rule 5:5-4(a) provides that, when filing a motion in the family part for “the entry or modification of an order or judgment for alimony or child support based on changed circumstances”, the motion must be accompanied by a copy of the prior filed CIS/statement(s) upon which support was originally determined and now sought to be modified, and a newly updated CIS.  This subsection of 5:5-4 concludes by providing that if the party seeking the modification establishes a “substantial change in circumstances”, the court will then order the other party to file a copy of a current CIS.

Bringing us to the Appellate Division’s newly unreported decision in Livingstone v. Daniel, wherein the Court found that the trial judge did not properly state a basis for his decision to modify child support after he terminated alimony following a plenary hearing.  As part of the alimony termination decision, the trial court directed the parties to submit their last 3 pay stubs, medical insurance information, and work related child care expenses for a child support calculation to be made.  After such information was submitted, the trial court issued a new order, without further briefing or oral argument, increasing child support based on the parties’ gross weekly incomes, mom’s net annual work-related child care expense, and the children’s health insurance premiums.  Importantly, the Appellate Division found that the trial court’s reliance on pay stubs in lieu of Case Information Statements was improper, since there was the full financial picture for both parties was lacking.  As a result, the trial court was directed to conduct further proceedings upon review of the parties’ CISs.

Interestingly, the court also remanded as to whether dad was required to contribute to the children’s private school expense, even though the parties’ settlement agreement only referenced such contributions in relation to college.  The alimony termination was deemed a change in circumstances meriting new review on this issue, to which the trial court failed to perform the proper analysis/consideration of several factors in deciding that the settlement agreement controlled.  In addition to determining whether a child support modification was warranted based on CISs to be filed, the trial court, thus, was also required to consider private school contributions.

The scenario in Livingstone only serves to reiterate just how important filing that CIS for several reasons, as it is the complete financial picture that is critical to rendering a proper determination on issues of support, education contributions, and the like.