Can I lie a little bit on my divorce financial statement?
Yes, you can fudge your financials, but there’s a significant risk that you’ll be caught and lose your credibility … and possibly the shirt off your back.
Going through a divorce can feel like your financial world’s caving in. How will my assets be divided? Will I have to pay alimony or child support, and how much? How can I afford to live?
It can be tempting to try to gain a little advantage. After all, how bad is a little white lie or omission?
The short answer is: it can seriously impair your financial future and if children are involved, your relationship with them.
But you may be thinking, “If I don’t get caught … cha ching!”
What are the pros and cons of tinkering with the numbers on your financial statement?
Your financial statement is arguably the most important document in your divorce. It’s the statement on which you must disclose all of your income, assets, and liabilities. You must sign it under the pains and penalties of perjury. It’s usually the first document the judge reaches for when analyzing numbers on a case.
The obvious benefit to fibbing is that IF you don’t get caught, and that’s a big if, you may gain a financial edge in your case.
But the points that follow explain why this is NOT a risk worth taking.
First, finances aside, integrity is actually pretty cool. Before even getting into the technicalities and objective calculation of risks on this issue, you should first ask yourself what kind of person you are. The quality of your character is measured by what you’re doing when no one’s looking. Lying can weigh heavily on your conscience … and rob you of sleep. Is the money you’re going to save (if you’re really lucky and don’g get caught) worth the anxiety? And no, the fact that your soon to be ex has no integrity does not justify going the same route.
Enough moralizing though, what are the risks to your case?
Unfortunately for those who aren’t fans of transparency, there’s a process in divorce called “discovery.” This broadly refers to the concept that the parties can request from each other almost anything relevant to the case: documents, information, answers under oath to questions. And the inquiries can go as far back in time and span as wide as the judge allows. So if you’re lying about something, there’s a significant risk that the other side will come across some information that will expose you.
Also, if you’re fudging your financial, you’re likely lying to the person you’re paying to represent your interest, your lawyer. Putting your lawyer in a position to be blindsided is a recipe for disaster. You’re breaching the trust of the person on whom you’re relying to guide you through this difficult time. And when your attorney’s embarrassed, your case suffers.
And finally, the consequences of getting caught by the other side and/or the court usually far outweigh any benefit that would be derived from successfully pulling off the fib. Judges have a significant amount of discretion on issues in divorce, including property division, support, and parenting time if children are involved.
Fudging your financial statement is perjury, and if you’re caught, your credibility is shot. If you have no credibility, the judge may justifiably give your spouse the benefit of the doubt on any or all of the key issues: support, property division, and parenting time. And your problems don’t end with the finalization of the divorce: judges generally track cases, so for issues that are modifiable going forward, you may in the future have to face the same judge who doesn’t believe a word you say. Good luck with that!
The bottom line is that lying on your financial statement is not worth it. It’s a huge risk that can result in serious repercussions that are usually disproportionate to anything you would gain by getting away with it. Fill out your financial statement truthfully. You’ll sleep better, and likely get a better result on your case.