Some of the most frequent questions we get are “Why does the other side need to know how much money I have in my bank account?” or “What difference does it make how much I have in my retirement account?” These questions are often a byproduct of confusion about the financial disclosure process in general, and the requirement of the Financial Declaration in Family Court, in particular. So, what is a financial declaration, and why do you have to complete one when going through a case in a South Carolina Family Court?
The most important answer is the simplest one: because the Rules of Family Court require it. Rule 20 of the South Carolina Rules of Family Court requires each party to file and serve a current financial declaration “[i]n any domestic relations action in which the financial condition of a party is relevant or is an issue to be considered by the court…” Financial declarations must be filed and served “prior to or at the first hearing, or no later than 45 days after the complaint is served, whichever occurs first.” The Rule even contemplates imposing sanctions for an attorney or party for “willful noncompliance.”
What does that mean for you as the client? It means that even though it might be uncomfortable or tedious, a full financial disclosure must be made to the opposing party in any family court action in which your finances are “relevant” or “an issue to be considered by the court.” Generally, those terms are interpreted liberally by the Court. You shouldn't assume that just because your case initially involves only custody modification allegations or a request for a change in visitation, that financial matters won't come up. In most cases, one or both parties will ask the Court to require the other side to pay their attorney fees. That one request will make the financial records of both parties extremely relevant. The general rule of practice is that every time we go to court, we have an updated financial declaration prepared to present to both the Court and the opposing party.
The Financial Declaration form is a court-created form which is intended to be a “snapshot” of your current financial situation. It has multiple benefits. It aids the court in calculating child support and in determining if alimony should be awarded and if so, how much to award. It also aids each party in determining the financial health (or lack thereof) of the other party. The financial declaration lists your gross monthly income, monthly pay deductions, and monthly expenses, along with installment loan payments, personal property, and real estate assets. Keeping the financial declaration up to date not only gives the court and the parties the “lay of the land” of one another's finances, but it also keeps you in compliance with the Rules of Family Court. Remember, the financial declaration must be kept current at all times during the case. That means that even if you fill out a financial declaration before your first hearing, you will need to update it again before the final hearing.
Full “disclosure”: we know that providing and discussing finances is uncomfortable, especially when you are going through a separation or divorce. But, as with most aspects of your case, full disclosure and discussion are necessary to obtain the best results possible in the most efficient manner we can. The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.