You know, as a family-law attorney, that the AFI is the official Affidavit of Financial Information. “AFI” might as well stand for “Astonishingly Fateful Instrument,” because it’s so huge, so important, and yet so… taken for granted.
You know the drill. As soon as that new woman client signs your agreement and pays the retainer, it’s the first thing you hand to her. The AFI. With the instruction to “fill it out and then return it to me.”
The problems—for the woman, and also for you—begin at this exact moment. Let’s take them in turn.
For the woman, “simply” filling out this document is anything but simple:
- It asks her to list household living expenses. But there’s a good chance she doesn’t even know what they are.
- It asks her to list forward-looking As if she has a financial crystal ball.
- It’s asking her to do all of this incredibly hard and detailed work at the exact time she is emotionally devastated and unable to focus.
That amounts to a trifecta of problems for her. I know—and I’ll bet you know—many women who simply freeze up and stick their head in the sand, at this time.
Which gets to the second part of this discussion: How your client’s problems become your problems.
The restaurant analogy
If you don’t get that AFI in-hand, you can’t proceed with the case. Worse, you need to continually follow up to try and get it; that’s an unpaid burden. You’re like a server in a restaurant with one table (or several) being hogged up when you’re trying to turn them. This saps your time, energy, and head-space; it certainly impacts your billable hours and cash flow.
Too many attorneys purposely leave the burden of completing the AFI on the client. It’s easy to see why: it ostensibly saves time and reduces the liability of dispensing what could be construed as financial advice.
But there’s an easy solution to this. Me! To use a sophisticated financial term: Duh!
All you have to do is tell your deer-in-the-headlights client: “Call Julie. She’ll help you with this.”
And will I ever. For every woman who even tells me she’s got a “budget,” I’ll find all of the non-monthly and one-off items that are needed to fill the AFI and build a good negotiating case for you. We’re talking scrutinizing months of credit card statements. We’re talking about kids’ clothes, vacations, summer camp, gifts, therapist sessions, you name it.
I also help with all of that “forward-looking” info. Where will she live, post-divorce? What will that cost? I can help with detailed guidance, research, and projections.
I can also help her—and you—to scrutinize the husband’s AFI (which almost always goes un-scrutinized otherwise). I can’t tell you how many business owners under-state their income (“salary” vs. “distributions” for an S Corp, anyone?), and I ferret this stuff out, real quick. Ditto for calculations of annualized income, which are almost invariably mis-calculated. I’m a CPA! I live for this stuff.
Which gets back to you. Once you tell your client, “Call Julie,” you can get on with your life. You can move your case load productively forward. And you can get better results for your clients, since you’ll be armed with better information and negotiating leverage which, admit it, you love.