What Happens When You Lie on Your Divorce Financial Affidavit?
By Kelly Mroz
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If you lie on a financial affidavit during your divorce, you could face repercussions from a verbal reprimand from the judge to financial penalties and even jail time. A financial affidavit is a formal document often required during divorce litigation in which you provide details of your financial situation. Afterward, you sign the document, verifying its truthfulness, then file it with the court. Therefore, any lies, omissions or misrepresentations you make have been sworn under oath to the court, just like when you testify.
Divorce proceedings are governed by state law, so the exact requirements vary by state. A financial affidavit often includes four pieces of information: income, expenses, assets and debts. The parties use the financial affidavit to prepare for the case and in attempts to settle. The court uses it to help decide the case at trial, if the case does not settle out of court. The document provides everyone with basic information about what property is available for distribution and its worth. It also provides insight into each party's financial needs and means.
The word 'affidavit' refers to a document that you sign under oath, verifying that the information provided is true. You then file it with the court. If you intentionally lie on an affidavit, the lie can be considered perjury, which is a serious crime. Since you are confirming the truth of everything recited in the document, even an unintentional mistake can affect you and your case. Specific rules, such as whether you have to sign and verify the affidavit or when to file it with the court, vary by state.
Inaccurate information is common in affidavits. Sometimes, the inaccuracy is due to a deliberate lie. For example, you believe your spouse is not aware of an asset you own, so you omit it from your affidavit. Or, you received a raise after you separated but reported your income without the raise on the affidavit. On the other hand, sometimes inaccuracies are the result of a simple mistake. It can be difficult to sort out all of your expenses, so you might resort to wild guesses rather than look at financial records to verify the estimates. Although you are more likely to run into serious problems with deliberately withheld information, even simple mistakes can make you look less than truthful when revealed.
A huge range of possible sanctions exists. The judge may just verbally flay you. Or, you can take a financial hit, for example, the judge may award your spouse more than he would've otherwise received had you not omitted information from the affidavit. Even when the divorce is final, the court can reopen the divorce order and redistribute assets if the court finds an error. At the far end of the spectrum, you could be criminally prosecuted for perjury for intentional lies, which might mean jail time. Which end of the range you fall into depends on your state, judge and factors specific to your case. The judge will consider whether this is the first time you've lied, how big the lie was, how much it impacts the case, and whether you corrected the lie or your spouse discovered it.
At nearly any stage of the proceedings, an opportunity exists to correct the error by advising the court, and other party, of the mistake or by filing an amended affidavit. Whether the error is an outright lie or honest mistake, correcting it can lessen the consequences. However, understand that fixing the error does not erase it and there may still be repercussions. Consult with an attorney or online legal document service if you have any questions.
Kelly Mroz has more than 12 years of experience as an attorney in family, business and estate matters. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where she served as an associate editor for the "Journal of Law and Commerce." Mroz's work has also been published in the "Pennsylvania Family Law Quarterly."