Family Law Practice Tip – Equitable Distribution and Alimony Spreadsheets

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By on December 8, 2013 9:28 pm 1 Comment

Note to the reader: If you are a colleague who would like the Excel Workbook described below, just write me at hunterjb@hunterlawfirm.net . This is a recent “Dear Colleague” newsletter that I sent out.

Dear Colleague:

 

If you are not a family law lawyer or paralegal, please feel free to delete promptly or forward this to a colleague who is.). Lyne Ranson; Please also consider forwarding to our State Bar Family Law Committee and the attendees at our May seminar. This is a better product than the one I distributed that day.

 

Friday, a young lawyer asked if I have software for evaluating equitable distribution, as he is considering taking on some family law clients. I sent him this, and, of course, the PDF of my book. I hope they help.

 

In 1999, the week of my Mother’s final illness, sitting quietly in her room, with NO smart phone technology available, I had the time to plagiarize, but also to rebuild and understand, a spreadsheet workbook created by one of the smartest guys I know, Ross Dionne, now of “Economic Valuation Associates” in Charleston. Note that name in case you need a forensic economist as an expert. rdionne@economicvaluationassociates.com

 

Hundreds of clients later, it remains my primary tool for identifying, listing, sorting, and dividing, the marital, mixed, and separate assets, and debts, of divorcing couples.

 
It is this tool that helps a fellow who is a “people person” compete with “detail people” to whom order and vertical thinking come naturally.
 

I take my laptop to mediations and trials, and my ability to make changes and calculations on the fly provides to me an advantage I need. Every experienced lawyer has her/his own methods regarding “the stuff”. This is mine.

 

I use Microsoft Office Excel. This workbook is in Version 7, but it is easily convertible. I learned spreadsheets on a 40 k program called VisaCalc 30 years ago. I am surprised how many lawyers do not use spreadsheets. I think they are fundamental. (Practice pointer: My bright son, John Hunter, insists it is time for me to move to a Mac Air which will now run Windows Office. I need THAT for my iPad.)

 

Hope you are enjoying our snowy Sunday.

 

Regards,

 

Burt

 

J. Burton Hunter III

This e-mail is confidential; if you received it by mistake,
please delete and let me know. Thanks, Burt

From: Burton Hunter
Sent: Saturday, December 07, 2013 6:14 PM
To: Young Lawyer Interested in Family Law
Cc: Burton Hunter
Subject: Your Request for my Equitable Distribution and Budget Excel Workbook

Hi (Young Lawyer Interested in Family Law);

Thanks for giving me the chance to clean up and share my Equitable Distribution Excel Workbook.

Note that this one assumes you are representing the wife as petitioner. I need to have four forms. Two each for wife and husband, as Petitioner and as Respondent. But, it takes only 5-10 minutes to change the headings..

WARNING, always give the workbook a new name at the beginning and save it first. Don’t save your client’s workbook over the template.

I like: “Smith.BerthaEquitDistrib.12.07.2013.xls.”

Thanks to your request, I will also share this workbook with my “Dear Colleague” mailing list.

1. I give credit for this format to Forensic CPA Ross Dionne, and all blame for its shortfalls to myself.

2. There are commercial programs. One I think was marketed by Clarksburg lawyer/mediator Peter Conley. It is easy and helpful but doesn’t give me the view I am used to and feel I need.
3. I like this set of worksheets for several reasons:
    a. Even though I had Ross’s hard copy of his form, I had to create all the formulas and make sure I knew what was necessary to make everything balance. That made me a better divorce lawyer.
    b. It allows you to work in considerable detail. Even though we are fixed at around 30 personal property items, a dozen real properties, etc., I have never had problems adjusting. I list the major items (cars, boats, farm equipment), but for groups of items, I hit “=” and enter a series of assets ___ + ___ + ___ and hit enter to have the total appear. Thus, we can have 400 items clearly visible.
    c. I complete this form with the client, asking her to circle each item as she gives it to me, and check it off once I enter it correctly.
    d. I like to have a separate screen for the client to view. She can catch my typos. When we are done, I give the client a copy, and they share a sense of mastery and order, even if they came in with confusion and uncertainty.
    e. If client has not done a Kelly Blue Book asset valuation, we can get on the Internet and do that too. Client gives me the make, model, year, condition, and we print out the “private party valuation”.
    f. The strength of this format is the four columns on the right side of the equitable distribution form.
        1. It has two columns for each spouse, assets and debts.
        2. On the left side of the form, it has a total for all marital assets and all marital debts and a field showing the “Net Valuation Total”, “marital net worth.”
        3. After the data is entered, even with some rough valuations, the client get to divide the assets and debts however she wants. If an asset is to be sold, or divided 50/50, just enter “=/2” and half of the value goes to that party’s field.
        4. Where a number of items are going to the same party, just “grab the handle” on the lower right corner of the field, pull it down, and it autofils.
        5. The net to wife and net to husband are automatically calculated, as are the deviation from a perfect 50% and the difference between the two is listed near the bottom of the right side of the form.
        6. It is easy to play “what if”. You can change a value, move an asset or debt to the other party’s column, etc. Errors become apparent when the husband’s and wife’s sides are not mirror images.  
    g. I often list 25%-30% of the gross value of an IRA or 401K to its right as a debt (or liability). L
    h. Likewise, I will put the value of a marital residence as, “$Value – ($ Value * .06”,  to reflect the fact the party is going to have to pay the realtors’ commission.
    i. Where an asset is mixed or separate, I insert the total value as part of the descriptive label; e.g. “House – $150,000”, and insert only the marital value (e.g. $50,000) in the numerical column.
    j. I insert “Notes” liberally below the Equitable Distribution Spreadsheet.

4. There are five sheets to the workbook:

    a.An intake Sheet that mimics my hard copy client divorce intake form. Many of the field do not need to be filled in, but they can be, especially if the spreadsheet is completed concurrent with the first meeting. I usually do not complete it then, allowing the client to fill in the WV Supreme Court’s form first. They usually have to get account numbers, exact payoff balances, tax tickets, deeds of trust, notes, etc. to bring to our second meeting. It lasts @ two hours.
    b. The equitable distribution spreadsheet, which is identical on its left side to the intake sheet. On the right is the client’s proposal relative to distribution of debts and assets.
    c. A THREE COLUMN budget. (BE SURE to stress that the numbers must be average monthly, NOT semi-monthly, biennial, or weekly!)
 I stress the need for three columns. I am amazed most lawyers have not adopted this format. Often there is just one budget, which is essential evidence during the alimony phase of the trial.
        1. My first column is the intact family’s budget (prior to separation). Often, parties have been keeping their own pay, and paying bills separately, but I insist on a total. If the client’s budget has a large sum left over each month, I ask “Where are all your savings?” And, if it falls short, I make sure it is consistent with the debt. $30,000 of credit card debt usually means they have been living beyond their means for a long time. When I explain, “You have been spending $500/mo. than you make for 5 years!” often they are surprised.
        2. The second column is the client’s “transitional budget”, the one we use for temporary spousal support issues. Often they are staying with relatives, or the new boyfriend, so the budget is artificially low. The long term needs may be MUCH different.
        3. The final column is the budget the person proposes as a divorced person, their projected need. It is key to the claims for permanent alimony.
    All three columns are important.

    d. Sheet 4 is The “Consolidated Financial Affidavit” sheet is the one I file to supplement the Supreme Court Financial Affidavit that we filed with the Petition or Answer. It does NOT have the proposed equitable distribution. Usually it is more detailed and accurate than the one we put together at the beginning.  

    e. Sheet five is a “Recapitulation Spreadsheet“. This takes a little fine tuning each time, although today I have tried to make it workable for the average case. Our Judge, Hon. Robert Reed Sowa enjoys telling me my equitable distribution spreadsheet is “too complicated”, almost as much as I like to point out that it is really quite simple. But, he is the judge and likes the one page summary, so I file it with the Equitable. Distribution spreadsheet as part of my pretrial memorandum.

If you are comfortable with Excel, this may work for you, but remember:

1.    Make valuation and label changes in the input form, the Intake sheet (#1). Enter values and formula in the four columns of the right side of the Equitable Distribution Spreadsheet (#2).
2.    The Budget Form (#4) requires the entry of monthly budget numbers.
 
3.    The Consolidated sheet(#3) should fill automatically as you do the input sheet (#1).
    4. The Recap.(#4) will need to be checked carefully. Don’t just print it w/o comparing numbers to the Equitable Distribution. Form (#2).
If family law turns out to be your thing, I hope this will at least give you some idea of the challenges in properly listing and valuing property and debt. And, bring your laptop to mediation and trial. It will allow you to control the conversation, and provide the court a complete revised sheet if necessary. And bring your thumb drive!
Regards,
Burt
This e-mail and any attachments is confidential and may contain privileged and confidential information. If you received this in error, please delete immediately. Copy or forward only with my express permission. Thanks.
J. Burton Hunter III, Esq.
One West Main St.
Buckhannon, WV 26201
e-mail;
hunterjb@hunterlawfirm.net
http://burtonhunteresq.blogspot.com/
website:
www.hunterlawfirm.net
Fax 304 472-0641
Ph. 304 472-7477
Home 304 472-5644

This post was written by Burton Hunter

1 Comment

  • sophia says:

    A good attorney knows not only how to help you to get what you want, but also what you deserve. Did you know, for example, that most states have very different laws concerning what each spouse is entitled to in terms of property after divorce? Did you know that custody arrangements might require mediation in some states, while others might need a specific type of agreement to be held up in court? A good divorce lawyer has spent his or her career learning these facts, and can help you to make sure that your divorce is settled in a manner that is fair according to the law.
    Northern Beaches Family Lawyers

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