This article explains the Florida Divorce Mandatory Disclosure process and the initial exchange of financial records in Florida divorce cases.
Lawyers and judges have developed a term to describe the process of making you provide your spouse with what can seem like an endless pile of paper and information. Instead of calling the process an “intrusion”, an “invasion” or an “information overload,” the profession settles on calling the process, “Discovery.”
In all seriousness, the Discovery process, which involves the exchange of Florida Divorce Mandatory Disclosure documents and other financial information can be one of the most important aspects of your divorce as it will allow you and your team to ensure you are getting a fair settlement and prepare your case for trial if your case does not settle.
The Best Divorce strategy I advocate (see this article on getting organized and figuring out what you want in the divorce), involves you gathering as much financial information as possible prior to hiring a lawyer so that you are more informed about your financial situation. In a perfect world, you would be able to get all of the financial information you needed to settle your divorce on fair terms through this process.
However, even if you follow my preparation protocols, there may be (and usually is) a need for you and your lawyer to spend some time gathering information from your spouse and their banks and businesses. Even if you do not need to gather anymore information the odds are that your spouse or their lawyer will not be as organized or informed as you and there will be a need to spend time exchanging financial records. The name for this process is the “Discovery Process” (doesn’t this sound fun!?).
Florida and many other jurisdictions have set some bare minimums on documents that spouses are supposed to exchange while negotiating a divorce settlement. The items included in what is required to be exchanged with your spouse under the Florida Divorce Mandatory Disclosure rules include:
A Financial Affidavit, which is a document that discloses all of your income, expenses, assets and liabilities and is signed under oath;
Three years of tax returns;
Three months of statements for checking accounts and credit cards;
One year of statements for savings accounts, brokerage accounts, and tax deferred retirement accounts;
Copies of any deeds, leases, and titles;
Proof of insurance coverage; and
Documentation showing whether any assets are non-marital.
It is possible for informed spouses to waive the exchange of Florida Divorce Mandatory Disclosure. However, in practice, the documents exchanged under the Florida Divorce Mandatory Disclosure rules are usually “only the beginning” of the financial information requested and exchanged between attorneys in a divorce case.
In practice, it is common for most lawyers to file a request for three years of all bank and credit card statements, including copies of canceled checks. Further, when there is a business involved, most competent lawyers are going to request three years of balance sheets and profit and loss statements, at least a year’s worth of records relating to the general ledger of the business, and copies of the corporate records, including bylaws, partnership agreements, and stock certificates.
In addition to seeking records from your spouse, it is also possible to seek information from other people, business and banks, through the subpoena power of your lawyer. Although there are some restrictions and costs involved, it’s usually possible to directly request these sources of potential information to “tell you what they know” and give you copies of any records in their possession.
This can be especially helpful when your spouse has a personal or business accountant, or an involved financial advisor or attorney. Instead of waiting around for your spouse to give you records, you can use a subpoena to obtain the information directly from these other people who are usually unlikely to risk their professional livelihood by tampering with documents.
In many instances, you will be able to develop a thorough understanding of your spouse’s income, and the assets and liabilities that will need to be split up, after an initial exchange of Florida Divorce Mandatory Disclosure documents, business information, and potentially the receipt of information subpoenaed through other people, banks, or businesses.