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Leonardo Angiulo: The Importance of Filling out Financial Statements in Probate Court

Monday, April 01, 2013

 

First comes love, then comes marriage and then comes a complaint for divorce in the Probate and Family Court of Massachusetts. Sure, that’s not how the kids used to say it on the playground, but it's just how it goes sometimes. And if you are going to go through the divorce process it's important to fill out the right paperwork in order to eliminate unneeded stress. In order for judges to decide issues like alimony, child support or the division of assets and debts you have to walk in to court with a financial statement filled out every time you appear.

Now I think we can all agree that Courthouses and paperwork go together like peanut butter and jelly. And if forms were tasty kinds of jam, the menu of flavors would be found at the Massachusetts Probate Court's website. As a general rule, if you are getting divorced the judge is going to have to make some tough calls about your and your soon-to-be ex's personal finances. In order to do that, the court needs the right information.

The right information, it turns out, is pretty specific. Generally, however, the court needs to know about your income, your assets and your debts. Before you start, I should tell you that there is a short version of the form and a long version. If you make more than $75,000.00 a year you fill out the long form and if you make less you fill out the short form unless otherwise ordered by the court.

When it comes to your income there are two big questions: a) how much do you make and, b) where does it come from? Now, if you are employed somewhere this is easy to establish. You attach a copy of your W-2, you fill out the lines of the form and you're off to the races. If, however, you are self-employed or hold rental properties you will have a bit more work to do. In such cases, you have the responsibility to break down your weekly income and account for costs. While this sounds invasive it is an important part of the process because it ensures any decision by the court is fair and equitable. Most importantly, if fairness isn't a good enough reason for you, filling out a financial statement is required by the rules of court.

The good news is that the miracle of modern technology makes filling out the financial statement pretty easy. If you have an internet connection, you can get to the appropriate place and begin the process. An important point is that after completing the form, you will be required to sign under the pains and penalties of perjury. This means if you lie, and get caught, you may face prosecution for a felony. Given the amount of money you are likely to already be spending on your divorce attorney there's no need to add criminal defense costs on top of that.

Even if you don't get caught, however, the judges of probate court are exceptionally good at catching on to shady accounting on these forms. They have the uncanny ability to inquire as to the accuracy of numbers and the basis by which you came that conclusion. Since they are the ones who may also be deciding whether they can believe your version of the home finances and child rearing decisions, you don't want to start off on the wrong foot.

he moral of the story is that you need to take the time to fill out the right forms before you go to court. Of course, the most practical reason why is that it's better to do so in the comfort of your own home that on the benches at the courthouse. Because that’s what the judge will make you do. So it's your choice.

 

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