Many times I’ve heard the following: “OK, I’ve filled out the Income and Expense Declaration Form (FL-150) and given it back to my attorney, but what does it mean? How is it used by the Court? And most important, how does it influence what I receive as child and/or spousal support, or what I might have to pay in child/spousal support?”
The Income and Expense Declaration is one of the most misunderstood forms required by the Court when setting child and/or spousal support. Why? In my experience, it is due to Page 3, the one where expenses are set forth.
At the beginning of Page 3, the form requests the names of any persons living with you, their age, and whether they contribute to your living expenses. Next are three rather puzzling questions, i.e., should the expenses that you write down be your ESTIMATED EXPENSES, your ACTUAL EXPENSES, or your PROPOSED NEEDS?
Next are items regarding your rent/mortgage, including property taxes, maintenance fees, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance costs.
Next item regards health-care costs not paid by insurance, then food costs, then utilities, etc. Last on the list is your installment payments, basically credit card bills, car payments, and loan repayments.
Finally you reach Line “r,” TOTAL EXPENSES. What does this all mean?
First, regarding other persons living in your home, the Court wants to know if you are supporting minor children of the marriage in your home. It also wants to know if a significant other resides in your home and, if so, whether they contribute to your living expenses (if there is a significant other and they do contribute, there is a “presumption” that you have a “reduced” need for spousal support).
As to the rest of your expenses, they, too, go to the issue of child and spousal support, but not as you might believe. First, in regard to children, since child support is set by a computer program (this is called “Guideline” support), there is little or nothing in the way of expenses that will alter the Guideline number (except for a mortgage expense, health insurance premiums, school and child care expenses).
However, regarding spousal support, Page 3 plays a big part in the ultimate award. I’ve already noted the affect of a significant other living in your home and contributing to your expenses. But now the three boxes titled ESTIMATED/ACTUAL/PROPOSED NEEDS come in to play.
The reason is that one of the primary considerations when awarding spousal support is the “needs” of the supported spouse. It is unlikely that a Court will award spousal support in an amount exceeding the “needs” of the supported spouse.
Therefore, the Court must be informed and it is Page 3 of the Income and Expense Declaration that gives the information. If the expenses set forth as “actual” expenses are those incurred during marriage, there is little likelihood the Court will question their reasonableness. However, if the amounts set forth are “proposed” or “estimated expenses,” the Court may question their plausibility given the lifestyle of the marriage.
Also, keep in mind there are different “stages” when awarding spousal support. The first stage, known as “pendente lite” spousal support, occurs immediately after separation. At that time it is presumed the supported party has greater need because of the expense required to maintain the status quo.
However, by the time of trial, after the parties have had time to adjust their needs in the aftermath of separation (obtain employment, dispose of assets, pay off debts, etc.), it is possible the supported spouse may have reduced need. This is considered the second stage, i.e., the permanent support stage, when spousal support is generally awarded in an amount lower than at the pendente lite stage.
It is important to keep these things in mind when filling out Page 3 of your Income and Expense Declaration.