Virtually every family law case requires the completion and the filing of a financial affidavit. In fact, a financial affidavit is required to be filed in any proceeding for temporary financial relief as well as in any proceeding for an initial or supplemental request for permanent financial relief, including, but not limited to, a request for child support, alimony, equitable distribution of assets or debts, or attorneys’ fees, suit money, or costs. See Rule 12.285, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. This means that parties in a divorce action, a paternity action, a child support action as well as a modification action, provided financial relief is at issue, must complete a financial affidavit.
There are two types of financial affidavits. One type of a financial affidavit is referred to as a “short form” financial affidavit and is completed by a party whose gross annual income is under $50,000.00. Those whose gross annual income is $50,000.00 or more, must complete what is known as a “long form” financial affidavit.
Both short and long form financial affidavits require a party to complete information about their income, expenses, assets and liabilities/debts. Financial affidavits are the backbone of any action for financial relief as they are relied upon not just by the parties to an action but also by third parties such as the mediators and the judges. The mediators rely on the parties’ financial affidavits during mediation to assist the parties in reaching an agreement on all the outstanding issues, whereas the judges rely on the financial affidavits either at a temporary relief hearing or at trial, provided spousal support, child support, equitable distribution of assets and debts and/or fees are at issue.
Regardless of which financial affidavit is being completed, it is imperative that the information contained in the affidavit is accurate. After all, the purpose of a financial affidavit is to provide everyone involved with a snapshot of the party’s current financial state. Once circumstances change, a party should immediately amend his or her financial affidavit. In fact, Rule 12.285 requires the parties to update their financial affidavits when there is a change in income, expenses, assets and/or liabilities. Specifically, the “[p]arties have a continuing duty to supplement [their] documents, including financial affidavits, whenever a material change in their financial status occurs.” See Rule 12.285(e)(1) of the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.
So why should a financial affidavit be accurate? First, a party signs his or her financial affidavit under penalty of perjury. That is significant. If a party’s affidavit contains falsehoods, that party can be subject to a wide variety of sanctions. In fact, the affidavit itself contains specific language above the party’s signature line on how the party, by signing his or her financial affidavit, “understand[s] that [he or she is] swearing or affirming under oath to the truthfulness of the claims made in [their] affidavit and that the punishment for knowingly making a false statement includes fines and/or imprisonment.”
So how can a party be punished if his or her financial affidavit contains falsehoods? A party who has lied or has otherwise made misrepresentations on his or her affidavit will not only lose credibility with the Court but the Court can also penalize that party in its equitable distribution of the parties’ assets and debts as well as through the imposition of severe monetary penalties. Although the Court can also jail the recalcitrant party, in practice, that rarely happens. However, the threat of significant financial penalties should be and often is enough to deter a party from lying on his or her financial affidavit.
Consequently, it is always best to take your time when completing a financial affidavit and when things change or if an innocent mistake is discovered after the fact, a new, updated financial affidavit should be completed right away. Otherwise, a party runs the risk of being ordered to pay the other party’s attorney fees and having the Court’s equitable distribution of the parties’ assets and debts significantly favor the other party.