If there is a single most important document in connection with your divorce, it would be the statement of net worth. So what is it, and how do you fill it out?
A net worth statement is a document prepared at the beginning of a case and, as its name suggests, sets forth your net worth. The document forces you to disclose your assets, your liabilities, your income, and your expenses.
Why is the Net Worth Statement so important in a New York divorce?
First, you're swearing to its truth under penalty of perjury. That means if you make a misstatement, material omission of fact, or a misrepresentation, your spouse or his or her attorney will be able to use it to impeach your credibility at trial. Since most cases boil down to "he said, she said," it's vital that you maintain your credibility. If the judge hearing your case does not believe you, you will be fighting an uphill battle at trial, and you are likely not to win. And, quite frankly, it can be quite humiliating and embarrassing to be caught in a lie at your deposition or at trial.
Since the same rules apply to your spouse, you should carefully scrutinize your spouse's net worth statements. Look for any errors, omissions, distortions, inaccuracies, or anything that causes you concern, and report it to your attorney.
A net worth statement is a roadmap to the financial issues of divorce. Presumably, between you and your spouse, the combined net worth statements should provide a good snapshot of the economics of the marriage. All the income, expenses, assets and liabilities should have been disclosed. Using the net worth statements, we can carefully tailor other discovery requests to uncover any undisclosed assets. The net worth statement can also be used as a blueprint for any settlement negotiations.
The net worth statement is required to be filed prior to the preliminary conference, the first opportunity we have before the judge, and in connection with any application for spousal maintenance, child support, and counsel fees. The idea is that the net worth statement will provide the court with a snapshot of the marital finances and the parties' respective needs. Because of the importance of the net worth statement, you must pay careful attention to completing it.
What is the net worth statement?
As you can see in this video, the net worth statement is made as of a specific date, under penalty of perjury. The first section is the family data section. In this part of the document, you supply biographical information including dates of birth, date married, and the names and dates of the birth of your children.
The Expense section
In order to prepare the expense section of the net worth statement, you must examine and rely on your bills and records. Examine two, three, four months of bills, and average them together to derive at numbers that you use to complete this section. Do not makeup or guesstimate the expenses. It's easy to impeach someone on overstated or understated expenses.
The expense section of the net worth statement is exhaustive and comprehensive listing of expenses, including housing, utilities, food and groceries, automotive, religious, educational, recreational, and miscellaneous, including barber or beauty salon, toiletries, books, and magazines.
The income section of the net worth statement
The income section of the net worth statement should be a fairly easy section to complete if you're a W2 employee. You can rely on your W2 income to answer this line. But if you are a solo practitioner, an owner of a closely held corporation, in a partnership, or self-employed, you need to ask your attorney for advice on completing this section.
The income section, as you can see, is not limited to salary income. It includes investment income, retirement assets, and other types of income.
Assets and Liabilities sections of the net worth statement
The next section is the assets section. As you can see, information is sought regarding your various assets, including checking and savings accounts, investment accounts, real estate. You should not make up the value of these assets. You should, again, rely on your financial statements. When it comes to putting in values for things like your home, or other real estate, don't guess! You can put "to be determined"," unknown" or leave the line blank.
The next section asks you to detail all your liabilities, including your credit cards and other liabilities. The form seeks a description of the liability, the current balance, and in whose name is the debt.
In both the assets and your liabilities sections of the net worth statement, you should include assets or liabilities that are also in your spouse's name, which you believe are marital.
The next section requires you to identify any assets that have been transferred in any manner, either for the length of the marriage, or the last three years, whichever is shorter.
The last section is generally one that your attorney fills out. It requires you to detail the amount and extent of legal fees and expert fees paid. It also requires you to annex to the statement of net worth your attorney's retainer agreement.
Finally, the net worth statement is signed by you before a notary public and then certified by your attorney. When you file it, you are required to submit not only the net worth statement but your attorney's retainer agreement and your tax returns.
The net worth statement is a comprehensive and complex document. Because of its importance, you should not take its preparation lightly and should only complete this document with your attorney's advice.