THE IMPORTANCE AND PURPOSE OF A FINANCIAL DECLARATION IN SOUTH CAROLINA FAMILY LAW CASES.

 

According to South Carolina Family Court Rule 20(a) :

In any domestic relations action in which the financial condition of a party is relevant or is an issue to be considered by the court, a current financial declaration in the form prescribed by the Supreme Court shall be served and filed by all parties.

In other words – it is required by the Court.  Last year, I represented a client at a final divorce and custody hearing where the parties had reached an agreement on all issues.  At the final hearing, I presented a financial declaration for my client, but the Defendant did not have one.  I notified the Court that we did not require the opposing party to present a financial declaration and we had an agreement based on the financial information we had already exchanged.  The Judge informed me that even though we thought the agreement was fair and equitable for all parties, the Judge could not order that it was so without first examining the financial information for the parties.  He was about to continue the hearing to another date and time, when the opposing party stated she would fill one out in the lobby and bring it back into the courtroom.  That time, the Court allowed it.  However, if the docket was full there is a good chance the hearing would have been continued.  There are times where the parties may have reached an agreement, but it is not a fair agreement to all parties involved.  Sometimes, a spouse may feel pressured into reaching such agreement.  Other times, the parties may think it is a fair agreement, but the minor children involved are not provided enough financial support.  The Court will typically review the agreement, financial declaration, and other items provided at the hearing to make a determination as to whether he or she believes the agreement is fair for all parties involved.

Judges and attorneys rely on the information listed on these forms for essentially every financial issue between the parties.  The income and expenses listed on the financial declaration play one of the largest roles when determining whether an award of alimony or spousal support is appropriate, and if so, how much.  Without accurate income information, along with the correct child insurance costs, day care costs and other expenses listed on the form, child support cannot be calculated correctly.  Additionally, to determine any equitable division of marital property, the parties must list all income, debts, and property on the Financial Declaration so that the parties and/or Court can determine how to properly divide the marital property.  Lastly, if a party is requesting the other side pay his or her attorney’s fees and court costs, a proper financial declaration is crucial in order for the Court to determine how much of an award, if any is proper.

Certainly there are cases where the parties agree that no support, alimony or other financial conditions are before the court, and therefore, a financial declaration is not required.  However, the truth is, in practically all family court cases, a financial declaration is needed.  Another function of the financial declaration is to provide the Court and attorneys with a baseline, or starting point.  In South Carolina family court cases regarding custody and support, in order to bring an action back to court for whatever reason at a later date, there must be a substantial and material change in circumstances.  Such changes in circumstances include but are not limited to:  one party’s use of drugs; criminal activity; other immoral conduct; failure to follow a previous court order; and child abuse or neglect.  Additional changes in circumstances could be: loss of income; increase in income; loss or acquisition of property; or a change in employment.  Without having these properly documented in a financial declaration when in front of a judge, that party does not have a reference point to prove to the Court that a substantial and material change has occurred.  Granted, the Court would not have likely allowed you to move forward without a financial declaration in the first place.  However, it has, and does happen occasionally.

For example, if you are about to go to court to finalize a child custody agreement where neither party is requiring child support from the other, take a properly filled out financial declaration.  Even if child support is not needed now, without having a filed financial declaration, you will have a hard time getting a Judge to grant child support later if something happens and you (or more importantly the child) suddenly need it.

Failure to properly fill out a financial declaration in a South Carolina family law case is not only a mistake, but also raises a red flag to the other side that something is not right and you are attempting to hide something.  Additionally, failure to provide an accurate financial declaration can cause you and your attorney to face sanctions imposed by the Court.  Bottom line – always provide a properly completed financial declaration!

The rule regarding financial declarations reads in full as follows:

 RULE 20
FINANCIAL DECLARATION

(a) When Required. In any domestic relations action in which the financial condition of a party is relevant or is an issue to be considered by the court, a current financial declaration in the form prescribed by the Supreme Court shall be served and filed by all parties.

(b) Filing and Service. Financial declarations shall 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.

(c) Effect of Default. If the defendant fails to timely answer or otherwise plead, the plaintiff shall not be required to serve a financial declaration on the defendant prior to the final hearing.

(d) Sanctions. Reasonable sanctions may be imposed upon an attorney or a party for willful noncompliance with this rule.

 

If you have any questions or concerns, or need assistance in filling out your financial declaration properly, please contact any one of our staff at Smith Ammons – Attorneys at Law.  Call 843-407-1583 or email info@smithammonslaw.com

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