This article was originally printed in the ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter, April 2014.
Closely held businesses present special challenges in the family law setting. Typically, only one spouse is actively involved in the business. Therefore, not only does the spouse control the family’s finances, he or she also controls all of the records of the business. When a spouse is attempting to quantify the income from the business or the value of the business, the spouse who works actively in the business can purposely (and often very effectively) obstruct attempts to get accurate and complete data.
Certain types of businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, can be prone to manipulation because they have so many cash transactions. Construction companies, real estate ventures, and auto dealerships are notorious for “creative” bookkeeping. Professional service providers, such as doctors, dentists, and attorneys are at risk for financial maneuvering because it is so difficult to verify the amount of professional services actually provided to patients or clients.
Any business that is closely held and has finances that are easily manipulated by the owner is at risk. If this happens, the “out” spouse is left looking for alternatives to get to the bottom of the finances. Techniques used in a personal lifestyle analysis can also be applied to businesses to ferret out the truth about the money.