When you are bringing a matter before the family court, you are usually required to fill out an intrusive, large pile of paperwork called a Case Information Statement (CIS). This is the thing that stalls most of our clients the most in the process of obtaining a divorce, modifying child support, or bringing other financially related matters before the court. New Jersey Court Rule 5:5-2(a) requires the filing of a CIS in “all contested family actions, except summary actions” where there exists any issue as to custody, support, alimony or equitable distribution.
The CIS has four basic parts:
(1) Background. Who you are, who the other side is, what children (if any) are involved, what job you have and other such information.
(2) Information about your income. How much you make, how much you paid in taxes and other distributions.
(3) Information about your expenses. How much you spend on a mortgage or rent, lawn care, food…all the things you spend.
(4) Assets and liabilities. What do you own and who do you owe?
It sounds simple enough, but gathering the information to really take a clear look at our financial picture can be difficult and seem overwhelming. The importance of completing the document to the best of your ability and as speedily as possible cannot be underestimated, however. This is the document that gives the judge the opportunity to see what relief she ought to grant you. This is also testimony before the court, and you have to sign it. There may be legal consequences for lying, though an occasional mistake in preparing the document can be corrected with the court. Also, if you don’t get this paper in to the court…they can dismiss your matter or can impute you income you don’t have if you are defending yourself in an action.
At our office, there are a number of assists available in preparing the CIS. First, we can connect you with an accountant who can assist you with completing the document, but like any expert you will pay her fees in addition to ours. Secondly, we can have a lawyer or member of our staff sit down with you and go through the document and help you pull together your responses based on the paperwork we will ask you to bring to your appointment. Finally, you can complete the document alone to save money, but your lawyer will always review it and ask questions if anything seems amiss.
There is no reason to panic, but every reason to give careful consideration to this important document.
A few pieces of advice:
– Review your bank statements for the last few months to help you put together both income sources and expenses.
– If you are missing tax returns, you can contact the IRS to get them though this takes some time. If you used an accountant, check to see if they have a copy.
– Be careful not to under-report your expenses, but if your expenses are exceeding your income significantly, be prepared to explain how that is possible.
– Don’t worry if you don’t know information about the other side or about joint expenses. Some parts of the form may either not apply to you, or simply not knowing is a good enough answer. If you are unsure, call your attorney.
– Above all, complete the document as soon as possible and as completely as possible. It could be the key to your future.