This guide provides a practical "how to" of filling out a Massachusetts Short Form Financial Statement for an unrepresented (pro se) party. The Financial Statement can found online at http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/documents/cjd301shortform.pdf
The Importance of the Financial Statement
Of all of the documents that need to be filed with the Court in a Divorce or Child Support case the Financial Statement is the most important document however many times parties fill this out while waiting for their case to be called which only serves to create an inaccurate statement that can have long lasting effects. This document is what the court will use to determine child support and if applicable to your case, alimony. This document is signed under the pains and penalties of perjury which means lying on this form would be a criminal act and if proven by the other party would be severely detrimental to your Family Court case. Considering the importance of this statement, it is important to fill it out before you go to court and not as you wait. Not having it done will only serve to anger the Probation Officers and possibly the Judge if you are not prepared. So like a good Boy Scout, BE PREPARED and have this document ready before you go to court.
Section 1: Personal Information
This section is straight forward asking for basic information. The only thing one may find themselves hesitate to answer is their Social Security Number due to concerns of identity theft. Whereas it is important to guard against identity theft, these documents, unlike most other court documents, are not available to the general public and the only ones who can access this are Court staff, lawyers with an appearance in the case, and the opposing party. If you find out the opposing party has been sharing this financial statement, seek immediate relief in the Court, as unlike other documents, this one is not public information. If you are unemployed, note as such where it asks for employment information. If you are self employed, list the name of the business and your business phone number. Under the insurance section you need only list the name of the provider, such as MassHealth, Blue Cross, or Health New England. You need not list the policy number.
Section 2: Gross Weekly Income/Receipts from All Sources: The Basics
First do not leave blank spots, instead enter a 0 where there is no income. The basics part of this include weekly pay, overtime, part time job, and Social Security. For the weekly pay, check if you are salaried or waged (paid by the hour). From there include your weekly income, not monthly. If you are paid bi-weekly, then divide your paycheck by two and insert that figure. If you are paid monthly, divide by 4.3 to get to the weekly amount, not by 4. For overtime, if this is a regular occurrence include an average of what it has been over the previous month. If it is seasonal overtime, make sure you point this out to the judge so and if preparing a Child Support Guideline, calculate two based on what it is during the off season and what it is during the busy season. As for Social Security, check which box is applicable to you and remember to divide the monthly check by 4.3.
Section 2: Gross Weekly Income/Receipts from All Sources: The Advanced
This section covers parts E, F, G, H, I, M, N, O, P. For tips, this would apply mostly to waiters and delivery drivers. Combine your tips from the past month and divide by 4.3. For F-G, check the appropriate box and calculate what it would be. If you receive a year bonus, divide by 52. If you receive a monthly bonus, divide by 4.3. For Public Assistance, divide your monthly payment by 4.3. Do not include Food Stamps here. If you receive them, include them under Other income, but do not calculate them into your final weekly amount. For Rental Income, find an attorney who offers Limited Assistance Representation and have them help you figure this out. This section is confusing for many attorneys and should not be attempted Pro Se. For Royalties, this is an income you would know if you receive. Yearly/52, Monthly/4.3 Contributions from Family Members: This your partners income. If borrowing money, include under liabilities
Sections 3 through 7
Section 3: This information is readily available on your paycheck. Examine your last 4 weeks of pay and average out the numbers to give an accurate portrayal. Section 5: This is for typical deductions from your pay. If you have these items taken out, mark them appropriately and provide the amounts. If the amount fluctuates, average it out over your last 4 pay periods. Section 7: This will be the number found on your income taxes. The state requests you provide copies of your W-2 or 1099's. Whereas you should include these if you have them, I have never seen the court ask for them when not included.
Section 8: Weekly Expenses
I often find this section to be the most depressing part for clients as you realize how much you actually have going out. For monthly expenses, divide by 4.3 and answer accordingly. Now some FAQ's from this I get from clients. The clothing expense, I generally try to figure out my yearly expense and divide by 52. For Motor Vehicle Expenses, calculate your monthly insurance and fuel expenses and divide by 4.3. From there, calculate your yearly Excise Taxes and oil changes and divide by 52. Add that to your monthly expenses and you have the number. If you have something like AA, add this as well. Uninsured medicals are what you pay out of pocket for co-pays or uninsured costs. If you by over the counter medicine monthly, include it in this figure. For those with Phone, Internet, and Television on one bill, include that under Phone. For Maintenance and Repair, estimate your yearly costs and divide by 52.
Section 10: Assets
A) Real Estate: Here I typically use Zillow.com to get a rough idea of the value of real estate. If it is contested a formal appraisal will be done. From there call your mortgage company to get a payoff amount. From there calculate the difference to get to your property value. If you are upside down in the property, make sure you let the court know. B) Motor Vehicles: I use KBB.com and use the private party sale number for the car based on its condition. If you have a loan call the lender and get the payoff amount to determine the value. If you are upside down on the vehicle, make sure you let the court know. C) IRAs: Call your financial institution for an updated amount. D) Tax Deferred Annuities: Call you an updated amount. E) Life Insurance Cash Value: Call for an updated amount. F) Bank Accounts: Check your online account for a recent amount. Whereas it asks for an account number my experience is that this is not necessary.
Section 11: Liabilities
This would include credit cards, charge cards, student loans, personal loans, and outstanding medical bills. Call each of these institutions for an updated amount. If you pay monthly divide by 4.3 to get the weekly amount. If you are unable to pay, indicate this to the court under Weekly Payment Amount. If you have more than 4 liabilities, include another sheet and keep the format of the Financial Statement. Make sure you include every debt so that you can give the Court an accurate snapshot of your financial status.