Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets

LifestyleAnalysisInDivorceCasesSmallMy new book, Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets, is being published by the American Bar Association this summer. It will be the only book available on the topic of lifestyle analysis in divorce cases. While there are plenty of excellent books on financial issues in divorce, none of them focuses on the lifestyle analysis, how it is done, and how the results may be used in court.

This book focuses solely on the lifestyle analysis in the family law case, although other services from a financial professional may also be needed in a case. The lifestyle analysis is the process of tabulating and analyzing the income and expenses of the parties. The lifestyle analysis is then used to determine the standard of living of the parties, which will influence support calculations, and possibly property division.

Cash Flow Versus Income in Family Law Cases

business-income-tax-divorceThis article was originally printed in the ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter, March 2014.

There are many different definitions of income that can be used in family law cases. Local law will play a big part in defining income, but in more complicated cases, other definitions may come into play. The financial expert can help the attorneys and the court to understand the various types of income and why they should be included or excluded from income calculations in a family law case.

The Internal Revenue Code is often a starting point for defining and quantifying income in family law cases. Experienced family lawyers know this is only the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t cover many of the unusual situations that could arise in cases with complicated financial scenarios.

In simpler cases, wage income and business income will be straightforward and will form the basis for calculating child support and spousal support. Undistributed income from a business venture may be an area of contention, but local laws often provide at least basic guidance on including such income in support calculations.

Income Tax Information Used in Family Law Cases

This article was originally printed in the ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter, February 2014.

Income tax returns and supporting information such as W-2s and pay stubs are the most common and basic documents which evidence income in family law cases. This article discusses the sources of income that are disclosed on a personal income tax return (Form 1040), and some ways the items can be evaluated to search for hidden income and hidden assets.

  • Wages – The figures reported on the income tax return should be matched to the W-2. The W-2 and the pay stubs will provide additional information on the employers, pay rates, total pay, certain benefits, and taxes withheld. Additional analysis may include tracing bank deposits to ensure that all wages were used for the benefit of the family.
  • Taxable Interest and Tax Exempt Interest – These items of income must be considered when calculating income available for support. They are also important because they can point to bank, investment, and brokerage accounts that may not have been specifically disclosed in the family law case.

How a Lifestyle Analysis Can Be Used in a Divorce Case

A lifestyle analysis is the process of tabulating and analyzing the income and expenses of the parties. The lifestyle analysis is then used to determine the standard of living of the parties, which will influence support calculations, and possibly property division.

Calculating the lifestyle of the spouses prior to separation can provide insight into the lifestyle the married couple enjoyed and the cost of that lifestyle, as well as the income that was or is required to fund the lifestyle of the married couple. The results may be used to prove a spouse’s financial needs following divorce. In other words, a detailed analysis of the spending during the marriage can be the basis to calculate the funding the spouse needs to maintain a similar lifestyle after divorce.

Why Retain a Forensic Accountant in Your Divorce Case?

divorce financial analysisOne of the hot new things in the area of divorce, especially for high net worth clients, is using a law firm that has forensic accountants on staff. Sometimes the divorce attorneys themselves have credentials in the area of forensic accounting, such as a CPA license, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) credential, or CFF (Certified in Financial Forensics) credential.

These law firms tout a number of advantages of retaining them:

  • Expertise in financial matters, including business valuations, tax law, and forensic accounting
  • Ability to investigate the value of financial assets
  • Skills necessary to perform a lifestyle analysis

The Forensic Accountant as Consultant

Family Advocate – ABA Section of Family Law Magazine
Winter 2014

By Tracy L. Coenen

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.

Maintaining privilege
One of the biggest benefits to retaining a consultant is the fact that the consultant’s communications and work product enjoy privilege. Because the consultant is essentially an extension of the law firm, the identity of the consultant, the scope of work, the evidence examined, and the results of the work need not be disclosed to opposing counsel. (Note that documents examined by the consultant may very well need to be disclosed as part of the discovery process, but the consultant’s work or impressions of the documents should not be disclosed.)

Red Flags of Fraud in Divorce

This article was originally printed in the 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.

Attorneys often use their instinct to determine when a forensic accountant is needed in a family law case. If something does not feel right, it probably should be investigated.  A client is often suspicious of the spouse even before they are separated. The spouse may even be known to manipulate the money.

Analyzing Historical Earnings for Support Calculations

This article was originally printed in the 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.

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Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases
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