Tracy Coenen, author of “Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets,” 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.
Where does a forensic accountant begin when trying to calculate the income available for support in a divorce or child support case? Tracy Coenen talks about some of the issues encountered in trying to evaluate income.
When a spouse involved in a divorce owns a business, the finances of that business must be analyzed. A Business Lifestyle Analysis can be done to determine the true income of the company and find out where the money is really going. In this video, Tracy Coenen talks about how she analyzes the detailed accounting records of a business.
My 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.
When a divorcing spouse owns a business, it is imperative to dig into the financial records of the business in order to value it and to determine where the money is going. Tracy Coenen and Miles Mason talk about the documents that a forensic accountant needs in order to evaluate the business.
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.
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.
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.
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
Family Advocate – ABA Section of Family Law Magazine
By Tracy L. Coenen
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.
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.)