Our Charleston divorce lawyers often get asked how to fill out a financial declaration form for a South Carolina Family Court. It can be a time-consuming, and sometimes confusing, task. Other than the footnotes on the last page, there are no real instructions given anywhere to help with filling out this form. We’ve helped hundreds of clients complete their financial declarations over the years. If you need to fill out a financial declaration for your court case and need some direction, the article below will answer some of your questions as well as give some tips to filling out the document.
What is a Financial Declaration in South Carolina?
A family court financial declaration is basically a statement of your income, expenses, and assets. According to Rule 20 of the South Carolina Rules of Family Court, it is required to be filled out by every party in any case where “the financial condition of a party is relevant or is an issue to be considered by the court.” It can be found alphabetically in the list on the State Judicial Website by clicking here, and then searching for “Family Court forms.” The numbers used for this form are often used to help a court determine alimony and/or child support.
It is important to fill this form out truthfully and accurately because it must be notarized, which means it’s “under oath.” Incorrect information on a financial declaration could subject you to perjury, or hurt your credibility in front of the judge. There can be problems if you understate or overstate your income. Put some thought into it, and be as honest as you can.
When Do I Have to Have the Financial Declaration Ready?
According to the Family Court Rules, it 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.” “Filing” means clocking it in at the Clerk of Court’s window at the courthouse. “Serving” means delivering it to the other party. Service can often be made by hand-delivering it to the other side’s lawyer’s office or mailing it to the office, but you have to be careful that you follow Rule 5 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules are not the same as the South Carolina Family Court Rules, but they sometimes apply in divorce and custody cases. It does not have to be filed and served if you are the plaintiff and the other party does not file and serve their Answer to your Complaint by their due date. If you don’t follow the rules on the financial declaration, then you could be sanctioned by the court, such as being required to pay your spouse’s attorney’s fees.
Can I Use the Financial Declaration Short Form in South Carolina?
The Short Form found on the South Carolina Judicial Website is only used (1) for child support enforcement cases and (2) in petitions for orders for protection. In divorce, custody, and other types of cases, you must use the full form.
How Do I Fill Out the Financial Declaration in South Carolina?
Here’s the tricky part. The financial declaration needs a lot of information, and some parts are much harder to figure out than others. In this section, our lawyers will give you some pointers on filling out your financial declaration, including descriptions of different sections:
Caption (Top of Page 1)
If you have a lawyer, he or she will handle this part for you. If not, you need to enter the following in the correct places: county, plaintiff’s name, defendant’s name, circuit, and case number. If you were served with a Complaint by the other side, you might be able to copy most of this information off of the top of the first page of that document. Regarding the circuit, we can tell you that Charleston and Berkeley counties are in the 9th Circuit. Dorchester is in the 1st Circuit. Colleton is in the 14th Circuit. If you are in a different county, this map should help you figure it out. Also, directly under the word “Financial Declaration” near the top right, you should fill in your own name.
Party Information (Page 1)
The next section is pretty self-explanatory. Fill out the address, age, occupation, employer name, and employer address for both you and your spouse.
Gross Income (Page 1)
Here you need to list your monthly income. For someone who gets the same paycheck every other week and who receives a W-2 at the end of the year, this can be easy. But remember that if you are on a 2-week pay period, you can just multiply your paycheck numbers by two. This would only give you 28 days of pay and would be understating your income. It is better to multiply your paycheck by 26 (to get the full year of 52 weeks) and then divide by 12 (to bring the year back down to an average month.
The second line asks for overtime, tips, commission, and bonuses. This section can be very difficult because these forms of pay are often inconsistent and increase, decrease, or go away altogether in the future. In some cases, you may need to average these numbers over the last year, but you may need to use a longer or shorter time frame depending on your situation. If you’ve seen a recent bump in pay that you expect to continue, you might want to average over a shorter time period. If your job is somewhat seasonal so that some months are routinely better than others, then averaging over 12 months might be best to get an accurate indicator of your average over the year. Use your common sense, make your best estimate, and select a number that you could explain with confidence in front of a judge if you ever had to.
Regarding the remaining lines in this section, it is important to use numbers that are accurate at the time you fill out and file the form. For example, you might be receiving disability benefits but expect them to go away in a few months. You should use those numbers you are receiving NOW. If they affect a child support award, as one example, that can be modified later when the numbers change.
Some people may anticipate a change in the very near future, such as someone who will start receiving social security benefits (SSA) very soon. Our lawyers make determinations like this on a case-by-case basis, but we have at times put an asterisk (*) next to the number and then attached a separate piece of paper to the form to explain the asterisk. In the SSA example, we might put $0.00* for SSA, and then on the extra page, we explain that the client will be receiving a certain amount of money beginning on a certain date. The form is NOT perfect, and a judge might appreciate your explanation if it is important in making a decision or if important to make sure you are not misleading on this form. This “asterisk/extra page” trick can be used for other numbers throughout the form as well.
Self-employment, commissioned employees, and other types of income can make it very hard to estimate your income. You might want to consult with an attorney, or at least an accountant when trying to estimate a variable income.
Finally, sometimes, you don’t know the numbers for your spouse or the other parent. We have entered numbers before with an “(est.)” next to it so we are showing the court that we don’t know the exact number and are “estimating,” but we use this trick very sparingly. It is often better to just put a “?” in a spot you don’t know than to guess and be off. Again, it all depends on your particular situation.
Payroll Deductions from Monthly Income (Page 1)
Like Gross Income, for people who are paid the same every paycheck, they can usually multiply up to a year and then divide by 12 as we described above. We recommend using your most recent pay-stub that had full hours on it and pull the numbers from there.
While this section asks for payroll deductions, this form doesn’t seem to account for people who do not have their taxes withheld from their pay. For example, many self-employed people and 1099 contractors take at least some of their income in the form of a draw and have to put the taxes to the side. We told you the form isn’t perfect. We have yet to have a judge get upset with us for estimating the taxes in this scenario, but we indicate we are doing so. Otherwise, your “net income” total at the bottom can be misleading. Be very careful with your estimates though. Consider talking to an accountant, tax preparer, lawyer, or another appropriate professional. That way, at least if you are wrong, it may help to show you weren’t purposefully under or overstating your income.
Monthly Expenses (Page 2)
Like income, this part of the financial declaration is a monthly snapshot of your finances. Many of these items are easy. For example, “Residential Rent Payment” is the same every month for most people. Use the actual number. Many people’s mortgage payments, cell phone bills, child support payments from a previous relationship, auto payments, and certain other expenses fall in this “same every month” category.
Other categories are variable, or at least difficult to figure out. “Food and Household Supplies” is a great example here. We can’t tell you exactly what we spend on food every month, and you probably can’t either. This is a section where you might not have a choice but to give it your best guess. But, there are tricks so that you can make an educated guess. Pull out your bank and credit card statements. Look at what you’ve spent over, say, the past three months, total it out, and then divide by three. At least then it looks like you put some thought into your answer and were attempting to be honest. If you usually use cash instead of swiping a debit or credit card, this trick may not be as effective. Use your common sense and give an answer you can give a reasonable explanation for to a family court judge if you ever have to.
The “Auto Insurance, taxes, gasoline, and maintenance” line can be a difficult one. First, it is broken into different components that have different types of estimates or calculations. For Auto Insurance, just take the actual number you pay each month. For taxes, you might take your last year’s tax bill and then divide it by 12 months. For gasoline, try our educated guess trick and look at bank and credit card statements for the past 3, or 6, or 12 months, whichever gives the most accurate estimate of that expense moving forward, and then divide to get a monthly average. Maintenance is probably the hardest because it’s not something we plan for, so do your best to estimate your average “per month” for maintenance. Then add these four components together. We strongly recommend taking notes on separate paper when you fill out your financial declaration, and the Auto line is a great example of why. This way, if you have to explain yourself on the witness stand later, you can look back later to see how you came up with the numbers that you did. Otherwise, a judge may think you just made them up.
“Real Property Tax” is another category we often don’t put a number in because for most people, the taxes are escrowed into the mortgage payment. We will often write “escrowed” on this line here if that’s the case, and the judge will know what we’re talking about.
The “All Installment payments” line can be derived from the next section, which we will explain very shortly.
Also, check the FOOTNOTES on the last page of the financial declaration, and check them for EVERY line item that has a footnote next to it. These footnotes can be very helpful in figuring out where to include various items. The “Adult Incidental Expenses” is a good example of where reading the footnotes is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have a clue what this item means.
When you think you are finished, we recommend you go back and look at your last few bank and credit card statements, as well as reflect on what you spend, and then determine if there are any expenses you haven’t yet accounted for. Often, you will find a line item where these expenses belong. If not, consider putting them in the “Other” line item. If there are multiple ones, you might even put a total here using the “asterisk trick” with an attached sheet of paper as we described above.
If you are the custodial parent, monthly expenses should represent those for the child/children as well as for yourself. Please indicate this at the very top of the page with the names of the child/children whose expenses are included.
And we’re going to remind you one last time, this is a MONTHLY average of your expenses.
Installment Loan Payments Section (Page 2)
This section is for your debts that are paid in “monthly installments.” This does NOT include your secured debts such as your mortgage or auto loan. These payments are listed in the expenses above. For most people, this will include only credit cards and student loans, but it can include other things, so think about whether you have other debts that are paid in monthly installments.
For each debt, fill out all five of the columns. The Creditor is the name of who loaned you the money, such as your credit card company. The For column is what the debt is for, such as clothes, student loans, or vacations, but in some cases, you may want to give a more general description such as “household expenses” or “miscellaneous.” Use extra sheets if necessary, but if you do this, write “See Attached” in the last line of this section to indicate you have continued the list on another page.
For the “Monthly Payment,” it is not clear whether you should list the minimum required payment from a credit card statement, or whether you should use a higher number if that is what you usually pay. If you are uncertain, it might be safer to just list the minimum required payment because then it won’t look like you were overstating your expenses. It really depends on your situation.
After you’ve completed this section, add them up and enter the total into the “All Installment payments” line in the Monthly Expenses section above.
Other Debts and Obligations not payable in monthly installments (Page 3)
We don’t see this section used as much because most debts require payments. However, look at who you owe money to and see if anything should go here. Probably the most common debt we see here is where someone to list their parents, family member, or friend who loaned them money to pay their attorney.
Bankruptcy and Arrears Checkboxes (Page 3)
This section is easy. If you’re not in bankruptcy, check the “no” box for bankruptcy. If all of your debts are up to date and not behind, check the “no” box for arrears. If you are a month behind on your car payment, however, check “yes” and then list this “obligation” on the next line down.
All Marital Property Known to Parties (Page 3)
The categories here of “Husband/Father,” “Wife/Mother,” and “Joint” ask for whose name the property is titled in. Don’t think just because you list a bank account titled in your spouse’s name under your spouse’s column that you are giving this property to your spouse outright. If it is marital property, the family court can still divide it between you. Click here for a general description of how marital property is divided in South Carolina.
For some categories, you should be able to put an exact number from pulling an account statement. These categories include “Cash and Money in Checking Account(s),” “Money in Savings Account(s), Credit Union, Money Market, or Cert. of Dep.,” and “Value of Voluntary Retirement Account(s).”
For others, you may have to estimate. For example, for real estate or a business, if you had a recent appraisal or valuation, you can probably use those numbers. If not, make an educated guess, which could require research. If you have a close friend or family member who is a realtor, that person can possibly give you a better estimate of the value of your home. Also, remember that the “Real Estate” section says “Net of Mortgage Balances,” so if your home is worth $250,000 but you still owe $230,000, then the “net” number is only $20,000.
We often see people leave “Value of All Other Property” blank. Do not do this. Even the smallest marital estates still have furniture, clothes, and other items of value. Do your best to value them in this category, but use the current values, not what you paid for them. For example, a TV you paid $500 for a few years ago might only be worth $100 or less now. You would list the value of any vehicles here too, but like a mortgage, list the “net” number. So, if you have a car worth $5,000 but you still owe $5,000, then the net number could be zero. Don’t forget valuable art, gun collections, jewelry, expensive equipment or electronics, or tool and landscape items when estimating the total value. Some of these items have a real value all by themselves. Consider doing a walk-through of your house, or at least a mental walk-through if you aren’t residing in the marital home right now.
Any Non-Marital Property Known to Parties (Page 3)
Sometimes, it isn’t clear whether an asset is marital or non-marital. We explain the differences here. Still, it is often best to consult with an attorney if you are unsure. Most of the columns in this section are self-explanatory. Don’t skip any of them, because they all have an important place in the analysis of the non-marital property. If you received something by gift or inheritance, you can probably just write “gift” or “inheritance” in the “Source of Funds to Acquirer” column.
The $300,000 Threshold (Page 3)
If the TOTAL assets, both marital and non-marital are less than $300,000, you don’t have to fill out any more of the form. If they are over $300,000, then for purposes of this article we will assume you have retained an attorney to represent you in the process and assist you in filling out your financial declaration.
Signature (Page 4)
After you have completed a final version of the financial declaration, make sure it is clean without a bunch of cross-outs or corrections. If you need to, print another one and copy all of your numbers over. You don’t want to look sloppy in front of a family court judge.
Then, find a notary public. Sign the document in front of the notary public on the line labeled “Signature.” Then have the notary fill out the “Sworn to” section below that to the left. A notary will know how to complete this section if you don’t.
Don’t Forget the Totals
On the first and last page, there are several lines requesting the “totals” of the preceding section. Make sure you add the line items up and enter in the total, and triple-check your math. You don’t want a mistake to be interpreted as dishonesty.
Do I Have to Fill Out Both Sides/Columns of the Financial Declaration?
There is actually no clear answer to this question. In our experience, most parties and attorneys do not fill out both sides, only their own side. We have not seen a judge get upset about this yet. However, sometimes we still enter at least some of the numbers if the case calls for it. For example, if we anticipate that the other party may misrepresent a number on their financial declaration, we may enter what we believe is the correct number to counter it.
What Happens if I Make a Mistake on My Financial Declaration?
It depends on the judge. Some are more forgiving than others. At least one fairly local judge might consider even a small mistake to be perjury. It is best to fill out the financial declaration as completely and accurately as possible.
Family Court and all of its rules and procedures can be a complicated process. If you anticipate going through a divorce or custody case, or you are in one right now, contact the divorce attorneys at Futeral & Nelson and schedule a consultation.