Tracy talks with Miles Mason, JD, CPA about some of the common financial lies told by spouses during divorce.
When a divorce involves a business, we often ask for a copy of the general ledger, which is part of the company’s accounting records. The general ledger includes the details of transactions for a specified period of time. What can we find in the general ledger? Tracy Coenen explains in this video:
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.
One 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
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.
Specific Items Method
One of the most straightforward ways to complete a lifestyle analysis is through an analysis of specific items of income. This method is possible when there are substantial documents detailing cash inflows, and is considered a “direct method” of verifying income.
Income-related information is gathered from bank and brokerage statements, tax-related documents, and business records. Inflows are identified and summed, theoretically verifying the income disclosed in the family law case. This method is easy to understand and present, which makes it an attractive option for evaluating claimed income. The court will easily be able to understand how income was calculated.
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.
It is sometimes difficult to determine the income of individuals who will be paying child support or spousal support. This can often be the case when dealing with self-employed individuals.
If the reports of income made by the spouse or parent don’t seem to make sense, it may be necessary to look at his or her lifestyle to determine income. In this situation, we look at the expenditures made by the person and calculate the level of income necessary to fund those expenditures.
Tracy Coenen explains the process in this video.
Bank statements can be incredibly useful when searching for hidden income during a divorce financial analysis. Both deposits and expenditures should be evaluated, and the process is explained in this video.
The simple answer:
Loans are not income. The business is not receiving money as a result of selling any products or services. It’s simply a pile of cash from which the business can operate, and under normal circumstances, the business has to pay back the money.
The complicated answer:
A business owner often has two sources of income that are factored into child support calculations: a paycheck and the net profits of the business. Let’s start with the paycheck. The purpose of the PPP money is to continue paying employees. That includes the business owner. For many business owners, there will likely be no change here. He or she got a paycheck before, took out the loan, and continues to get the same paycheck.
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.