Disclosures in Divorce .... The Financial Affidavit

A divorce is not just the splitting apart of two individuals but it is the legal separation of everything that they jointly own as well. Thus, like in many states, when you file for divorce in Florida the parties must file an affidavit with the court documenting their income and expenses. For the common folk in Florida this is Family Law Form 12.902(b). For persons who make more than $50,000, like Shaquille O’Neal, Family Law Form 12.902(c) must be submitted. The intent of this form is to ensure an equal split of marital assets as well as setting a just spousal support order if one party requests it. However, because all court filings are public a party may subject to embarrassment because of their now public spending habits.

In Shaquille O’Neal's divorce, he was required to submit the Financial Affidavit just like everyone else. O’Neal claimed $1.8 million in monthly income but also $875,000 in monthly expenses. Not only does the form require the total amount of expenses but it also requires an itemized list. This means the public gets to see exactly what people who are going through a divorce spend their money on each month. In this case the public got to see what costs $875,000 a month. For instance, O'Neal's itemized expenses included $468,345 on three mortgages and $23,950 on clothes, dry cleaning and laundry.

Most litigation is contentious, if the parties liked each other the matter would probably have been settled long before a lawsuit was filed. Divorces are even more contentious than the normal lawsuit because some divorces are filed because one or both of the litigants have been deeply hurt by each other, which is the reason for the divorce. They are also fighting over possessions that up until now they have both shared. This emotional element sometimes causes each side to act out of spite. They fight over possessions not because they want it, but because they don’t want the other side to have it. Thus a piece of evidence like the financial affidavit may look like a juicy piece of evidence to use as leverage.

Can a divorce lawyer use the financial affidavit as a negotiating tool? Can the attorney for O’Neal’s wife tell O’Neal he can hide his lavish expenses from the public in return for something, such as a higher alimony payment? Unfortunately for O’Neal the answer is No. Like every other court form the filing of the affidavit is mandatory and must be done truthfully.

Both parties are required to file the form and once it is filed it also becomes an official court record. The purpose of the form is not just to inform the opposing parties but it is to inform the court about each party’s income and expenses as well. Thus, filing a false document with the court is treated the same as giving false testimony, it is illegal. Therefore, the parties cannot use it as a negotiating tool, and if the parties act to hide information the court will not treat it solely as if they lied to the other party, but that they lied to the court.

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