Divorce can be a complex process if children are involved, or there are substantial assets to allocate. If the parties are unable to agree regarding child custody, visitation issues, alimony, or the division of assets – the keeping of accurate records can be vital for the court to issue orders that are fair and reasonable.
Distribution of the Marital Assets & Debts
It is always essential to keep accurate and comprehensive records of your finances, assets, and debts. If you are going through a divorce, you will need to draft, or at least attempt to draft, a settlement agreement to divide your assets and obligations. Otherwise, the court may have to do it for you. Property and debt that is brought into the marriage, or which was acquired before you married, is typically, separate non-marital property and debt. By having title to real property (receipts or other records evidencing when certain valuable personal property was purchased), you can establish that these assets are not marital.
Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the court can distribute property unequally if fairness dictates it. Generally though, the court will seek to divide marital assets and debts equally. In cases where the parties bring considerable property into the relationship, a premarital agreement might have limited a person’s claim to the other’s assets (unless you can produce records or reliable testimony showing that one party misrepresented, or failed to disclose certain property, or unfairly induced the other to enter into the agreement).
If you wish to claim that certain separate property was converted into marital property, then you’ll need to provide records of commingling of funds, or proof of certain efforts that you contributed to the increased value or improvement of that property (such as past and present appraisals, receipts for improvements and similar documents).
Florida’s family law courts will award alimony if the requesting spouse can demonstrate a legitimate need. Obviously, the more records you can provide your attorney and the Court regarding your monthly expenses, will considerably help and substantiate your claim. Alimony payments may be of short or very long duration depending on a variety of factors (including the length of the marriage). If your marriage was between 7 and 14 years, you have to prove need by clear and convincing evidence if you want permanent alimony. For marriages that lasted less than 7 years, you have to show exceptional circumstances. For shorter term alimony (such as bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative and durational), you will have to produce documentation of your need to acquire marketable skills, that you enjoyed a certain standard of living, or that you contributed to the marriage by your childcare or homemaking duties. The court will also want to examine you and your spouse’s tax returns to see what the tax consequences will be for each if alimony is awarded.
Child Custody Issues
Florida courts prefer substantial parenting time for both parents, but you may want the child the vast majority of the time, or to restrict the rights of your spouse. If this is the case, you’ll have to provide evidence that your spouse’s conduct directly and adversely impacts the best interests of your child.
In other cases, records evidencing your substantial participation in the child’s welfare (i.e., proof of payments to health care providers, educational organizations, extracurricular organizations, etc…) may sway the court to grant you majority time sharing.
Lastly, if the opposing party makes a claim for a retroactive child support award, you will need to provide the court documented evidence of certain expenses you have paid relative to the child (i.e., payments to the other party, payments to daycare providers, expenses paid on behalf of the child, etc.). The Courts can utilize this information to reduce any retroactive child support one may owe.
The Effect of Keeping Inaccurate Records
While keeping detailed and accurate records in a divorce can help augment your claims, maintaining faulty or inaccurate ones can surely derail any such claims very quickly. A judge who discovers or is presented with evidence that you misled the court regarding your financial situation can result in the court setting aside the divorce decree. These actions are uncommon, however, and the complaining party would have to show that your concealment or omission was deliberate, and constituting actual fraud.
If you own a business and the court requires that you demonstrate how much income it is generating, an appraiser will use valuation techniques based on your tax returns. If your records are shoddy or incomplete, the appraiser may have to use your family expenses, which could result in an erroneous evaluation. This would be to your considerable disadvantage.
Also, if you are claiming certain expenses to show that you lack the ability to make alimony payments, your production of incomplete and vague records evidencing these expenses will certainly fail to convince a court, and may result in you paying even more in alimony.