The Forensic Accountant as Consultant

Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

Family Advocate – ABA Section of Family Law Magazine
Winter 2014

Download a pdf of this article here.

Forensic accountants are usually retained in family law cases as expert witnesses, with the intention that they will provide expert opinions and testimony on behalf of the client. Although retention as a consultant is less common, it is an important option to consider. Sometimes, the work of the consultant can be even more important than the work of the testifying expert. The consultant may be able to dig deeper into sensitive issues because there is no fear of testimony or of disclosing the consultant’s work.

Fooling the Auditors in Seven Easy Steps

mncpa-footnoteWritten by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

Minnesota Society of CPAs Footnote Magazine
February/March 2014

Even with all of the publicity surrounding the issue of financial fraud in the last decade, most auditors, investors and other professionals still do not “get it” when it comes to detecting fraud. Traditional financial statement audits were never designed to detect fraud. The audit is simply a process by which auditors check the company’s math and application of accounting rules.

Fraud is rarely detected by financial statement audits because they are not designed to do so. Occasionally, fraud is detected by auditors, but they could increase their chances of finding fraud if they changed their audit procedures.

Red Flags of Fraud in Divorce

ABA Family Law

Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
January 2014

The vast majority of family law cases are settled without trials. However, a client should not enter into a voluntary settlement if there are significant concerns about the truth of the financial disclosures and indications that assets or income may be hidden. The first step in determining whether a forensic accountant is needed to evaluate the finances of the parties is the identification of “red flags” of fraud. A red flag is simply a warning sign or an unusual item or circumstance.

Analyzing Historical Earnings for Support Calculations

ABA Family Law

Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
December 2013

Spousal support and child support are most heavily influenced by the earnings of the parties. Historical earnings will play a big part in these calculations, so it is important to properly analyze them.

Income can easily be determined in cases in which the party or parties only receive traditional wages. The rate of pay is constant, and it is easy to confirm historical earnings. The forensic accountant must be careful to account for things like raises, overtime earnings, or periods during which a party does not work. However, as a general rule, past earnings can be easily analyzed and future earnings are fairly predictable.

Using the Net Worth Method of Proof to Determine Income in a Divorce Case

ABA Family Law

Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
November 2013

How can income be calculated in a divorce case when a spouse refuses to produce documentation or is suspected of concealing sources of income? One way is through the Net Worth Method of Proof, which is used to analyze income and assets when detailed documentation is not available, either because the opposing spouse is obstructing efforts to get data and documents, or because data and documents are legitimately not available.

This method of determining income is used by the federal government in criminal income tax cases. Because it is accepted in federal criminal cases, family courts often will accept this as a reliable method for calculating income.

Calculating Income in Family Law Cases

ABA Family Law

Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
October 2013

There are four widely recognized methods of calculating income in family law cases. These four methods have been developed for use by the Internal Revenue Service in calculating unreported income in tax cases, and are the primary ways a lifestyle analysis can be completed.

Determining Support in Family Law Cases

ABA Family Law

Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
September 2013

Spousal support and child support can be calculated using a number of different factors. The relative importance of the factors may be laid out in local rules, but often the factors are simply listed and defined with little other guidance.  Considerations may include:

  • The actual earnings of each person, including wages, investment income, and other sources of income
  • The earning capacities of each party, both independently and relatively
  • Future earning capacities of the parties
  • The value of the assets divided, and the ability of those assets to produce income
  • The cash flow of each party
  • The length of the marriage or relationship
  • The ages of the individuals

Digging Deeper Into Lifestyle Analysis

family-lawyer-magazineWritten by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

Family Lawyer Magazine
2013 Print Edition

A thorough lifestyle analysis can help discover undisclosed income and assets.

digging-deeper-lifestyle-analysisIn an ordinary lifestyle analysis, the divorce financial analyst extracts all of the transactions from bank, brokerage and credit card statements, categorizes them and calculates totals for each category for the period under analysis. This is an important exercise to assess what the parties to a divorce have historically spent and determining an appropriate level of support. It can also be used to determine whether a spouse was wasting or dissipating marital assets.

More importantly, the lifestyle analysis can also be used to uncover hidden income and assets, or help prove that one spouse is living a lifestyle that exceeds the reported sources of income. The typical lifestyle analysis may only scratch the surface of the financial facts of the case, leaving behind important clues about the finances of the parties. Diving deeper can uncover hidden finances that may have otherwise been overlooked.

Protecting a Spouse’s Financial Interest in Divorce

ABA Family LawWritten by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
June 2013

When a spouse knows that divorce is in his or her future, there are obvious steps to be taken. Securing a competent divorce attorney is one, and thinking about the division of assets and income is another. Yet when it comes to the financial details, clients often do not know what to do.

An uncertain financial future may scare the client, but the fear of the unknown makes it more important than ever to focus on protecting the client’s financial interests. The divorce attorney can provide this list of simple (but sometimes overlooked) tips to the client to help aggressively fight the financial case in divorce court:

Income Available For Support

ABA Family LawWritten by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter
May 2013

The issue of “income available for support” in divorces can be huge, particularly if only one spouse works. The issue gets complex if the earnings of one or both spouses are non-traditional. Regular wages are usually easy to evaluate in a divorce case, while income from businesses, real estate, and other investments become more complicated.

As a general rule, there is latitude in state courts when it comes to income and what is included or excluded for support calculation. There are general rules about the most common forms of income, but they don’t cover every issue and they all have a bit of “gray area” within them.

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