By Ahsha Mootz
You have initiated the first steps of your mediated divorce with West Coast Family Mediation Center by signing the Agreement to Mediate. Once signed your mediator will send you a welcome email that encompasses our next steps. This email provides an overview of the Financial Disclosure process as well as the fillable disclosure packet and expenses spreadsheet you’ll be completing. The packet and spreadsheet are structured in a way that does not require our clients to do anything besides filling it out, saving it, and uploading it to the shared dropbox folder. This process can be daunting and intimidating, which is where I come in. I am here to answer any questions our clients have regarding the disclosure process.
Is the Disclosure Process Necessary?
I very often get asked the question, “What if we have already decided how everything is going to be divided, is the disclosure process necessary?” – The short answer is Yes; your Declarations of Disclosure are a mandatory part of the divorce process no matter how you do your divorce and they are signed under penalty and perjury. What does that mean?
A colleague of mine uses a wonderful analogy to answer this question: your spouse had purchased a mansion while you were married with community funds, then did not disclose that said mansion was purchased using community funds. We wrap up the disclosure process and then find out that half of that mansion is legally yours. What happens then? Unfortunately, there will be consequences to the party that failed to disclose said mansion intentionally, those consequences can vary from that party losing the non-disclosed asset completely or having to complete the disclosure process all over again. This is why we stress to our clients to disclose everything including separate property. The consequences are just not worth the time it would have taken to ensure that all assets have been disclosed between the parties. The disclosure process can be more easily navigated by utilizing the resources that are available within our office.
What Does the Disclosure Process Look Like?
Once you have signed as a client with us, the initial welcome email describes the steps in starting the disclosure process. With regard to how much time a client will have to get all of their documentation to me, we ask that clients upload all of their documents at least one week prior to their Joint Financial Mediation session. Why? This is because I need time to enter in all financial information into our software that is used by the mediator to facilitate the necessary financial discussion with clients. Additionally, the Mediator also needs time to review your financials so that they are able to ask any clarifying questions during the mediation session.
Where Can I Upload my Documents?
There are a few different options that we offer our clients to upload their financial documents with ease and peace of mind for security. If at any point a client does not want some specific personal information to be shared with the other party, then we can discuss ways to protect that information. Please note: All financial documents will have to be shared with the other party at some point when the preliminary declarations of disclosures are signed as this is a mandatory part of the disclosure process. We will make sure that any sensitive information will be redacted and locked from editing for our clients prior to the documents being shared. Your mediator will share an individual dropbox folder with you to upload the documents into the correct folders, however, you can always upload your information to the general link here and we will make sure it makes it in the right folder.
What is Next?
Once you’ve completed your financial documents and have at least had your first joint financial session with your mediator then I will send both parties a draft packet of their disclosure forms using the information that you’ve provided to us which includes FL-140, FL-142, and FL-150. Included with the draft are instructions on how to read the information within the forms. It is essential that when the drafts are sent to the parties, each party needs to separately review their own disclosure to make sure that they catch any edits needed. I will complete the updates for each party’s disclosure at the same time and then send another draft for final review. Depending on what Bundle you have chosen for your divorce, the number of drafts will range from 0-3 drafts total prior to a fee being imposed for additional drafts (check with your mediator if you have any questions on the number of drafts provided) *.
As soon as all edits have been made to the draft disclosures and a final draft is produced, it will be sent to both parties for electronic signature via DocuSign. Once both parties have signed the other party will receive a copy as well and we will file the Service of your preliminary declarations of disclosure with the court. Once this happens the preliminary disclosure process will be complete and there will be no further action needed by either party regarding disclosures until it is time to sign the waiver of your final disclosures or to complete your final disclosures, which your mediator will discuss with you. This is included in the final documents sent to court. We usually waive the final disclosures so that the parties do not have to keep amending and updating the forms. It is expected that if there is a significant change in any assets, that either party will inform their mediator and their spouse of the change so that division discussions are honest and capture the true nature of an asset. However, some clients do choose to complete and file their final declarations of disclosure and this can be discussed with your mediator.
*Document Preparation clients will not receive any drafts and are expected to have the forms completed on their own and reviewed for any missing information. Once submitted to us the disclosure forms are sent to the clients to sign electronically. Ready to begin the process, but need more guidance? Contact West Coast Family Mediation Center at (858) 736-2411. We can answer your questions regarding the disclosure process.