The High Cost of Leaving
At some point in the divorce you’re going to have to come to terms with your finances, and it usually isn’t very pleasant to actually look at where your money goes every month. Some people are shocked by the amount they spend on groceries. Others find it difficult to believe that electricity costs so much. Both of you may be dumbstruck by the amount you spend on cable.
No matter. You’ve got to get a firm grip on your income and expenses so you not only know what your need to survive each month, but you can show where the number came from.
It’s helpful to use Family Court’s General Financial Disclosure Form (FDF) to guide you on the kinds of information you need to either know or estimate reasonably. You can print out the form by clicking here.
You need to understand some basic terms to start. Gross year-to-date pay is everything you’ve earned so far before any amount has been removed, say for taxes. You can easily determine your Gross Monthly Income or GMI using the aids given on the forms, whether you get an hourly wage or an annual salary.
You must list other sources of income. Think hard. Did Aunt Mabel leave you income from a trust? Did you receive bonuses in the past years? Do you get commissions or tips? (I’m talking to you, Wally Waiter.) Own property that you get rent on? Are you receiving a pension? What about Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD). Were you married before and receive spousal or child support? Your goal is to figure out your total income.
The next step is to determine all your deductions. Some are readily apparent. Do you pay for health, life, or disability insurance? Deductions! Are you paying into a 401k, IRA, or pension? Ditto! Do you have Social Security payments taken from your check? Bam! And if you’re in business for yourself, you know you have more deductions there.
Of course, we all have personal expenses, and you can find many listed on the FDF. If you weren’t the person who paid these expenses, you need to estimate what you think they’ll be for you when you’re on your own. But be real! Entertainment costs for a single person shouldn’t exceed what you’re paying for food, electricity, sewers, and gas for your home. Clothing and shoes shouldn’t be the major item on your monthly expense list. No court expects you to live in poverty, but neither would any meekly accept wildly inflated expenses.
You’ll find further expenses detailed on the FDF for parents who will be sharing time with the kids. Be careful here! This is not the place to try to arrange that your children will have a far better childhood than you did. Be reasonable in your estimates.
Keep in mind that filling out this version of the FDF is for your purposes, not the court’s. If you are mediating, there is no need to file this with the court. But you do need to really have a handle on what realistic costs for your new chapter of life might be. That’s because you will need to persuade your ex that these numbers are pretty close to the mark.
The wonderful thing about mediation is that it does not require the participants to follow the rules developed by the courts after years of dealing with couples in conflict. Mediation is best thought of as assisted negotiation, and as such, the participants can pretty much agree to anything they want to as long as it’s not illegal.
So, while it’s true, for example, that you should be able to show your ex all your monthly income, there may be instances where that is not important. Perhaps you’re able to make an “offer you can’t refuse” to your ex, and not in the gangster sense. Perhaps in mediation, both of you have discovered what each other’s true needs are, and your offer fulfills a major need on his or her part. It could have to do with support payments or the parenting plan, or health insurance or something else. Whatever it is, you’ll know, because any further obstacles to getting divorced simply disappear. It’s the power of mediation!