The Top 3 Things to Know When Filling Out Your “AFI”
Written by: Stefano Ceroni
If your Arizona divorce or child custody case involves the issue(s) of either child support, spousal maintenance or attorney’s fees, then chances are you’ve become intimately familiar with the term “AFI”. “AFI” is short for “Affidavit of Financial Information.” Anytime a family law case involves any financial issues, the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure require you to file an AFI.
What does this mean for you? It means if you’re not already familiar with what an AFI is, you better get familiar with it.
From a practice standpoint, the initial completion of an AFI is normally done by the client, not the attorney.
Well, it’s quite simple actually; clients know their own financial obligations and expenses much better than us attorneys do.
So, as it goes, clients are generally given free reign to fill out the affidavit as they choose. The problem, of course, is that AFIs can be much more significant than people actually think. And, in general, most clients misunderstand the true purpose of the AFI. As a result, they do unnecessary damage to their case in filling them out.
With that said, I’d like to share my own personal top 3 things to consider before you fill out your AFI. These 3 tidbits of advice are things I always tell my own clients prior to completing their own affidavits. They can help you, as well.
#1. UNDERSTAND YOUR INCOME BEFORE FILLING OUT THE AFI:
This one may sound stupid, but trust me, the issue of each party’s income is almost never free from controversy. The problem is this: most people do not get paid a simple bi-weekly salary over the course of a year. Instead, people often receive the following in addition to their standard base salaries:
2. shift differential-pay;
6. car allowance;
7. senior pay;
8. bilingual pay;
9. holiday pay; and even
10. cash tips
Now, I’m not suggesting that all of these things will be considered as part of a person’s gross monthly income. In truth, some of them will be and some of them may not. However, you do need to know what the court will be considering before you assume what your actual monthly gross earnings are.
The reason for this is twofold.
For one thing, if you conveniently leave out from your gross monthly earnings the $1,000 sales bonus that you have made every month for the past 2 years, the opposing attorney is going to nail you on cross-examination about why you didn’t include it in your AFI. This, in turn, will have the likely consequence of discrediting your testimony with the court. Second, if you do not know what issues the court will be looking for when you are asked about your gross monthly earnings, you may inadvertently testify against your own interest.
#2. BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR EXPENSES ON THE AFI:
One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make (even when represented by a lawyer), is that they artificially inflate their monthly expenses in order to help persuade the judge that they are in financial dire straits. NEWS FLASH: you’re not the only clever person that has thought of this idea. For some reason, people think that if they show a large amount of monthly expenditures, they will somehow come into more spousal maintenance or even more child support. The truth is, not only do your monthly expenses play ZERO role in your child support award (and only a small role in maintenance), but judges can usually see through a person’s exaggerations quite easily. And, any opposing counsel worth his or her money will surely bring to light any expense that does not truly “add-up.’
For example, if you list $5,000 in monthly expenses, but only earn $3,200 a month, a judge is immediately going to become skeptical as to how the heck you’ve been surviving on your negative cash flow. Worse yet, if you try to defend the discrepancy by stating that your new significant other helps out with your bills, you then run the risk of the Court imputing you “in-kind” income. This, of course, can not only affect your child support worksheet but can also affect how much spousal maintenance or attorney’s fees you could owe or receive.
And, another thing, by artificially inflating your monthly expenses on your AFI, you actually run the risk of hurting your own case by having your own facts used against you. For example, if you say that you spend $600 a month on child care (when in reality your mother watches the kids for free), and you are asking for more than equal parenting time, your monthly child care expense could very well be used against you. If the opposing party states that s/he is fully capable of caring for the children during the times in which you are having to hire the world’s most expensive babysitter, the court might be inclined to award the other party more parenting time to both relieve your financial burden and keep the children out of the care of a stranger.
Last, but not least, your inflated expenses will simply not look very good when they are scrutinized during a tough cross-examination. For example, if you’re begging the court to award you spousal maintenance because your weekly mani-pedi costs you $400 a month, you’re not going to come off as very sympathetic to the judge.
Second NEWS FLASH: it is not the goal of the judge to provide either party with the financial resources that they had prior to the divorce. Judges know that both parties in a divorce will likely come out poorer than they did coming in. This is just an unfortunate reality of all divorces. So, don’t expect that your overblown AFI will get you any closer to your goal of financial security, because it won’t. All it will do is hurt your credibility with the court and cause the judge to look at you with suspicion.
#3. TAKE YOUR AFI SERIOUSLY:
This tip is really more of a combination of the first two tips than its own individual piece of advice. However, it is worth repeating that you should take the task of filling out your AFI very seriously, because you can bet your butt that the opposing attorney will be looking at it with a magnifying glass.
What this means is this: be accurate and be precise with the numbers you use. If your cable bill is $165 a month, put $165, don’t put $200. If your children’s school supplies cost $500 a year, don’t list $500 as the monthly expense. If you don’t know how much money you spend a month on groceries, start keeping track of your receipts.
Trust me, being truthful, honest and accurate with your AFI is the best thing that you can do. When you have an indisputably solid AFI, you give the opposing side ZERO ammunition when it comes to attacking your requests. If your reasonable expenses exceed your monthly earnings and you are truly in need of financial relief or assistance, chances are the law will be on your side. If, however, you are living beyond your means or overestimating your actual expenditures, you can be sure that you will have some explaining to do at your next evidentiary hearing.