Analyzing Historical Earnings for Child Support and Spousal Support

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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. Continue reading

Why Use a Forensic Accountant in a Divorce Case?

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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

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Calculating Income in Divorce Cases

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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. Continue reading

Using Tax Return Information in Divorce Cases

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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. Continue reading

Using Expenditures to Calculate Income in Divorce

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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. Continue reading

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans and Child Support (COVID-19)

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A family lawyer asked if a loan received under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will be considered income for purposes of the child support obligations of the business owner.

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. Continue reading