One of the great frustrations of practicing in the domestic relations field is trying to figure out income in a world where it can be a marital asset or an element of support. That issue is primarily one of timing. The law is clear that if your company pays you a bonus on January 31 and your spouse tells you “game over” on Ground Hog Day, your bonus is a marital asset. That part can be simple.
But over the years we have evolved from a time and place where compensation consisted of salary and a bonus to one where a paystub reads like the Dresden Codex (an anthology of Mayan astronomical tables).
I write this having just devoted more than half an hour to reading and interpreting two paystubs from folks who are each employed by Fortune 200 companies. Yes, we had salary, commission, vacation time, etc. But, one paystub incorporated more than $100,000 of payments under the titles: ECC Disc Incentive; Long Term Cash Vest; RS Unit Vesting; and RSS Vesting.
In each case I am forced to ask what these things mean; when they were granted; when they were paid and whether they are recurring. My client’s pay history was a little simpler but still had restricted stock. The happy news is that it appears that all compensation was reflected on a year to date basis. Last week I dealt with a company that paid commission by separate check but then incorporated the payment in year-to-date earnings. So the client handed me six months of pay advices each of which showed a $1500 gross but the year to date income total after nine months totaled more than $90,000.
I appreciate the need of American management to “incentivize” all of us. But these systems make the work of the courts expensive, time consuming and error prone. If you look at your own pay advice and can’t figure out what SDI/SUI Tax is being extracted or you don’t know what GTL imputed income is, take heart. You are not alone. But if you want to save yourself some attorneys fees get your stub. And call someone in the human resources department to get your “key” to what it all means before you send your lawyer your most recent paystub.
N.B. SDI/SUI is unemployment and disability income tax. GTL is life insurance you get through your company that exceeds the thresholds for free insurance the government says you don’t get taxed on.