From experience, I have learned that many people pay their bills without performing any serious record-keeping. This can become problematic if there is ever a divorce, especially when compounded with the emotional trauma that comes with divorce.
In Connecticut, divorcing parties must provide the court with a Financial Affidavit. In New York, a corresponding form is used, called a Statement of Net Worth. Both are court documents, which must be filled out accurately under the penalty of perjury. Helping people with the required documentation they need to show for their divorce has been a core part of my business for over 15 years and, let me tell you, guess-timating doesn’t cut it! The forms ask exactly what a person’s weekly expenses are on a very detailed level for each family member, including but definitely not limited to:
- Mortgage payments
- Medical expenses
- Car expenses
- Maintenance of the house
It’s important to note that the End-of-Year reports some credit card companies send out, which break down the charges into spending categories, are not very accurate and will not be sufficient for a divorce affidavit. The categories the credit card companies use are typically very vague and often they do not even get that right.
I once had a client whose haphazard record-keeping almost resulted in an epic accounting disaster for her. She was referred to me by her divorce attorney to help with her financial affidavit. She didn’t have any understanding of the cash flow for the house and she had never written any checks to pay any of the household bills. When her divorce was finalized, she was awarded alimony, but as the years went on her husband’s earning potential changed. As a result, she had to keep going back to court for reevaluations of the alimony plan, which meant she had to keep filling out financial affidavit after financial affidavit. Luckily for her, I had her back each time.
I think a lot of people are just like my client, not really knowing in any kind of detail how they spend their money. Most people are happy to remember to pay their bills on time. That’s great, but that’s not the same as keeping good books; that’s just paying your bills on time. Getting it all organized in a program such as Quicken or Quickbooks and getting all the little details correct is important, not just for financial affidavits, but for tax reporting purposes as well.
While the benefits of keeping good records may not be immediately apparent, the odds are that with time, it will pay off. Of course no one ever starts out with a plan to divorce or to get audited by the IRS, but life happens. You never know what the future might bring.
Judy Heft, Principal, Judy Heft & Associates is a personal financial concierge with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 203-978-1858.