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.
Robert Epstein is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of Fox Rothschild’s Family Law Practice Group. Robert practices throughout New Jersey in all areas of family law and family law litigation. You can reach Robert at (973)994-7526, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps its the stress of family life during the holiday season, but many clients of late have claimed that the supporting spouse has stopped supporting the family as he did during the marriage. The reasons are varied, but often of the same cloth – i.e., the payor spouse claims that he is now earning less money than before, the payor spouse claims that the payee spouse is overspending (despite there being no change from the marital lifestyle) and believes that the supported spouse should get a job after having never worked during the marriage, or, most egregiously, that they simply believe that the marriage is over and a support obligation is over unless a Court directs otherwise.
These situations often leave the supported spouse afraid and wondering how they are going to meet everyday expenses for herself and the kids, while also litigating a divorce matter against their financially superior spouse. Often this is part of the supporting spouse’s underlying strategy – economic coercion, i.e., essentially trying to force the supported spouse to settle under his terms without going through a protracted litigation.
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.
So often we hear about how to prevent identity theft. Do not give out your social security number; do not give out bank account information, etc. But what do you do when you are going through a divorce, and the Court requires you to provide documents that contain your social security number and/or bank account information. The thought of one’s personal income tax returns and bank statements floating around the courthouse for all personnel to see can make anyone feel uncomfortable.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey recognized this issue and adopted R. 1:38-7. Said Rule requires that any document or pleading submitted to the Court containing confidential personal identifiers must be redacted. A confidential personal identifier is defined as a Social Security number, driver’s license number, vehicle plate number, insurance policy number, active financial account number, or active credit card number. In addition, in the event one of your accounts, i.e. bank account, brokerage house account, etc. is the subject of the litigation, the Court Rules provide that only the last four (4) digits of the account be disclosed if the account cannot otherwise be identified.
When determining an alimony award, New Jersey courts look at a variety of factors that are listed under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b). At the very top of that list is "The actual need and ability of the parties to pay." Similarly, when determining child support, one factor that courts in this State consider is "All sources of income and assets of each parent." When determining a payor spouse’s income, courts will consider both the supporting spouse’s present earnings and potential earning capacity.
The question becomes more complicated when the payor spouse owns his or her own business. Oftentimes tax returns do not tell the whole story and cannot be relied upon as the sole source for rendering an income determination. For instance, that spouse may have a bank account under the business name, but uses it nevertheless for personal expenses. Oftentimes such personal expenses are not accounted for on a tax return as income and it then becomes a matter of determining what the actual income level is. Another example may involve the spouse being reimbursed through the business for personal travel expenses.