Perhaps one of the most valuable documents in any divorce case is a Case Information Statement (CIS). A CIS sets forth each party’s income, assets, liabilities, the marital standard of living, and current monthly budget. A fully completed CIS gives the Court a clear picture of that party’s financial situation, which is imperative in calculating child support and alimony. While drafting a Case Information Statement is time consuming, it’s value should not be underestimated.
Pursuant to Rule 5:5-2 of the New Jersey Court Rules, a Case Information Statement must be filed by each party within twenty days after the filing of an Answer or an Appearance. In addition, a CIS must be filed in all family actions which in there is an issue as to custody, support, alimony, or equitable distribution. This includes pendente lite and post-judgment motions.
All too often, attorneys and litigants do not spend the time and effort necessary to prepare an accurate CIS. Some do not take the time to fill out the marital budget, which is a necessary to determine the marital lifestyle in alimony cases. In such a case, the Court may draw inaccurate conclusions and thereby make an unfavorable award. When it comes to Case Information Statements, it is prudent to include as much information as possible for the Court to utilize in making a determination.
Another common mistake with Case Information Statements occurs when the monthly budgets are grossly inflated. Especially in cases where alimony is an issue, because alimony is based on the parties’ incomes and their expenses. Thus, the party seeking alimony may be tempted to inflate their monthly budget with the expectation of receiving an increased alimony award. However, an unrealistic monthly budget will damage the party’s credibility with the Court, which may also lead to an unfavorable result.
In a recent Appellate Division Case, the Court emphasized just how important it is for the Court to have a clear picture of the parties’ financial circumstances. In Lombardo v. Lombardo, the Husband filed a post-judgment motion to reduce and/or eliminate his alimony and child support obligations, and the Trial Court held a plenary hearing to determine whether a substantial change in circumstances had occurred since the parties’ divorce. The Husband demonstrated that he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy following the divorce, and as a result if his disability, his income substantially declined from the income he was earning at the time of the divorce. However, during the plenary hearing, the Husband failed to testify regarding his expenses and assets, and did not enter his Case Information Statement into evidence. The Court did not have information regarding his expenses, debts, and assets.
Following the plenary hearing, the Trial Court denied the Husband’s application for a reduction in alimony, and the Appellate Division affirmed. Although the Husband successfully demonstrated a reduction in his own income, he failed to demonstrate a reduction in his ability to pay because of the missing financial information, which was contained in his Case Information Statement. Had the Husband presented testimony about his financial situation, or simply entered his completed CIS into evidence, the result of the plenary hearing may have been much different.