What kind of work can a forensic accountant do in divorce cases? Tracy Coenen talks about the work of a CPA, including calculating income, evaluating financial disclosures, valuing assets, and completing a lifestyle analysis.
Once a forensic accountant completes a lifestyle analysis for a divorce case, how does the family lawyer use it? Attorney Miles Mason explains how he uses the lifestyle analysis to evaluate the lifestyle and the reasonable needs of a spouse.
Tracy Coenen talks about her book, “Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets.” The book was published by the American Bar Association
shares her insight on uncovering financial details to ensure that divorce settlements are fair and equitable. A forensic accountant and fraud investigator, Coenen wrote the book to arm lawyers with a powerful tool when valuing and dividing property in complex divorce cases.
When a divorce is pending, it is not uncommon for one of the parties to manipulate the finances. Tracy discusses some common items that can be manipulated such as salary, selling assets to related parties, and more.
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.
Family Law Attorney Miles Mason discusses the kinds of documents that may be used to verify income in divorce and child support cases. These may include tax returns and related forms, but can also include things like financial statements, loan applications, or evidence of spending.
Forensic accountants and Certified Divorce Financial Analysts often use Quicken personal financial software to complete the lifestyle analysis in divorce cases. Unfortunately, Quicken is not the best option for accurately and thoroughly analyzing a couple’s finances before and during divorce.
Why is it used so often? For years, Quicken was one of the better options available for compiling and analyzing personal finances. Also, since a fair number of consumers use Quicken to manage their finances, divorcing spouses sometimes provide a Quicken file to the attorney, which may be used as a starting point for the lifestyle analysis. The drawback to this is that clients don’t always keep accurate records, and the Quicken file is often incomplete or just plain wrong.
Quicken software should not be confused with QuickBooks software, which is a software package used for small business accounting. QuickBooks can be used effectively in divorce financial analysis, while Quicken is much more limited and does not produce as good a result in terms of accuracy or usability. Note, however, that even QuickBooks may not be the best option for litigation purposes.
Bank statements can be a very valuable tool in child support and divorce cases, particularly when one party has not been forthcoming about income and expenses. We can look at deposits to draw conclusions about income, and the level of expenditures may also give us clues about the level of income. Tracy talks about some of the ways she analyzes the bank statement data.
How is a lifestyle analysis used in a divorce case? Attorney Miles Mason discusses how he uses the report, more specifically the numbers that he is most concerned about.
While consumers generally hate income tax returns because of their complexity, they can be invaluable sources of information in divorce proceedings. Not only do they provide insight into prior years’ earnings, they can also point to assets and sources of income. They may be used to unearth financial information that a spouse omitted from the financial disclosures, and can hold subtle clues to otherwise unknown financial details.
For example, assets are sometimes sold by the spouses to generate cash. Many times this may be a taxable transaction reported by the purchaser to the taxing authorities. Therefore, such a transaction will be required to be reported on the income tax return, and this may help unearth a hidden asset or provide clues to concealed cash.
Information on income and assets can be found within the personal income tax returns in the following areas: