In divorce cases, forensic accountants can use the “net worth method of proof” to calculate income. This is used to search for hidden or unreported income. Rather than simply taking a spouse’s word for it that his or her income is X, we can do an analysis like this to try to verify the claimed income.
This method of proof is one part of a lifestyle analysis, in which we are analyzing the party’s lifestyle and determining if that lifestyle matches the income that is being reported. This video explains the process of completing the net worth analysis.
In many divorces, women are at a significant disadvantage, especially when it comes to money. In many marriages, the husband has been the main breadwinner. He often controls the purse strings, and often knows much more about where money has been spent and what assets are owned.
In contrast, the wife has often had lower earnings, and has had little to no control over the money. She may have been free to spend money as she saw fit, but she did not see the bills, pay the bills, or maintain control over bank and brokerage accounts. At divorce time, she has no idea where the money is, where is may have (improperly) gone, and may have no access to it.
Everyone knows about the typical sources of financial information in divorces. Income tax returns, bank statements and related documents, brokerage statements, credit card statements, and business financial statements are some of the most common.
There are alternative sources of financial information that can be incredibly helpful in divorce cases, however. They are helpful because they can refute or support claims being made by one party about income and assets. They are particularly helpful because often, the other side isn’t prepared for these documents to become part of the divorce case.
An application for a home mortgage, auto loan or lease, personal loan, or commercial loan will require detailed financial information from the applicant. Assets, liabilities, and income sources must be disclosed, and sometimes supporting documentation is required.
When someone is applying for a loan, there is sometimes a desire to make the financial picture as rosy as possible. In this case, the applicant will likely fully disclose all income sources and all assets. This may differ from the disclosures during divorce, when parties are sometimes motivated to hide income and assets. In addition, assets may have been used to secure the loan, and the loan documents should be examined to determine whether the assets belong in the marital estate.
In an ordinary lifestyle analysis, the divorce financial analyst extracts all of the transactions from bank, brokerage and credit card statements, categorizes them and calculates totals for each category for the period under analysis. This is an important exercise to assess what the parties to a divorce have historically spent and determining an appropriate level of support. It can also be used to determine whether a spouse was wasting or dissipating marital assets.
More importantly, the lifestyle analysis can also be used to uncover hidden income and assets, or help prove that one spouse is living a lifestyle that exceeds the reported sources of income. The typical lifestyle analysis may only scratch the surface of the financial facts of the case, leaving behind important clues about the finances of the parties. Diving deeper can uncover hidden finances that may have otherwise been overlooked.
Uncovering Hidden Assets
A thorough lifestyle analysis can help discover assets that may have been undisclosed in the divorce. Each and every transaction from the bank, brokerage and credit card accounts must be traced to determine where the funds went. It is important to ensure that all statements have been received and analyzed, as one missing statement could hold the key to a hidden asset.
There are four widely recognized methods of calculating income in divorce 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.
Spousal support (alimony) and child support can be calculated using a number of different factors. The relative importance of the factors may be laid out in local rules, but often the factors are simply listed and defined with little other guidance. Considerations may include:
- The actual earnings of each person, including wages, investment income, and other sources of income
- The earning capacities of each party, both independently and relatively
- Future earning capacities of the parties
- The value of the assets divided, and the ability of those assets to produce income
- The cash flow of each party
When a closely-held business is part of a divorce, the income of the business must be examined. It is not unusual for a business like this to suddenly see a decline in revenue, and increase in expenses, or both shortly after divorce is filed. It is often not a coincidence that the financial health of the business appears to suffer when a divorce is pending.
It is particularly difficult to examine the income of a business that transacts with its customers primarily in cash. However, there are ways to verify whether the income being reported is reasonable. Some of the techniques to examine and verify the income of cash businesses include:
If you think your spouse may be attempting to hide income or assets during your divorce proceeding, your first step should be to tell your divorce attorney. Your attorney should know how to handle situations such as this, and the sooner he or she can act, the more likely you are to see results.
You should also quickly gather and secure any documentation that might prove your allegations. Financial documents that you can legally access should be copied and turned over to your attorney. This might include tax returns, pay stubs, credit card statements, bank statements, brokerage statements, contracts, or any other documents which might prove the existence of assets or streams of income.
A financial expert with experience in the divorce arena can be invaluable in searching for hidden income and assets. The expert can help you identify the financial documents that will be needed for analysis, and can assist your attorney in determining which documents to subpoena.