8.05 FINANCIAL STATEMENTS: “THE GOLD STANDARD” OF PROOF
August 22, 2012 § 6 Comments
This just in: Rule 8.05 financial statements are the “gold standard” of financial proof in chancery court. That’s what Judge Fair said in the COA case of Collins v. Collins, decided August 21, 2012, beginning at ¶34:
This case highlights the role of the income and asset disclosures required by Rule 8.05 of the Uniform Chancery Court Rules. Rule 8.05 mandates prescribed forms for such disclosure and also requires:
(B) Copies of the preceding year’s Federal and State Income Tax returns, in full form as filed, or copies of W-2s if the return has not yet been filed.
(C) A general statement of the providing party describing employment history and earnings from the inception of the marriage or from the date of divorce, whichever is applicable.
¶35. Compliance with the rule is mandatory, for obvious reasons. If both parties put down identical values for marital property and properly disclose their income and expenses, supported by the required federal and state tax returns and earnings history, a court can adjudicate property and money issues expeditiously and in accord with the law. Noting the importance of Rule 8.05 disclosures, in Trim v. Trim, 33 So. 3d 471 (Miss. 2010), the supreme court has ruled that filing a substantially false Rule 8.05 financial disclosure statement constitutes fraud on the court.
¶36. Though there may be contrary misinterpretation of some decisions, which properly [fn 1] apply only when conflicts between forms conflict,1 Rule 8.05 disclosures should not be evidence of last resort. Rather, they should be the gold standard, requiring other evidence only when there are legitimate disputes as to valuation. [Emphasis added]
[fn 1] “Chancellors may rely on these statements to value property when the parties fail to offer any other evidence as to value.” Kimbrough v. Kimbrough, 76 So. 3d 715, 721 (¶28) (Miss. App. 2011) (quoting Studdard v. Studdard, 894 So. 2d 615, 618-19 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004)). “To the extent that further evidence would have aided the chancellor in [his] decision, the fault lies with the parties and not the chancellor.” Messer v. Messer, 850 So. 2d 161, 170 (¶43) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003).
Yes, 8.05’s are the gold standard of proof to a chancellor trying to root enough information out of the record to make a decision about equitable distribution and alimony. But some lawyers treat them like fool’s gold. Their 8.05’s do not include tax returns, figures are contradictory and incomplete, valuations are lacking, and there is no employment history.
In Collins, Mr. Collins included no tax returns, and he contradicted himself in his testimony, admitting that his 8.05 was incorrect and inaccurate. As a result, the chancellor relied on her own best judgment and calculated what she believed to be his income, resulting in an impressive $1,300 a month child support obligation.
The chancellor also accepted Ms. Collins’ valuations of real property in the absence of proof offered by Mr. Collins. Ouch.
Some parties offer tables of personal property with some pretty incredibe valuations. In one case I had the husband wanted the riding lawn mower, which he valued at $800. The wife — I am not kidding — valued it at $15,000. Husband testified that he had bought it several years before for $1,600 at Sears. I found his valuation more credible. What was the wife thinking when she tagged the item with that value? Did she think I’d bite on that? Where was her attorney when that table was prepared before trial.
Many lawyers and their clients adopt the extremely unhelpful tactic of valuing everything at near zero that they expect to get, and assigning astronomical values to everything the other party expects to get. For example, wife has the green couch, and she wants to keep it, so she values it at $50; husband opines that it is worth $2,750, and he does not want it. Give me a break.
Most people can not afford to hire a personal property appraiser to value their near-worthless pile of stuff. So lawyers toss it into the chancellor’s lap to flip a coin and make a call as to what the values might be. That’s a cop-out. Lawyers should be more professional than that.
If you try many financial-issue cases in chancery, I encourage you to read Collins. It’s the latest illustration of how parties shoot themselves painfully in the foot when they do a less-than-adequate job in prepping their 8.05’s, and it just might give you some ideas how an on-the-ball attorney can help his or her client avoid that kind of disaster.