Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets

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.

Creating an Investigative Policy

An investigative policy is an important tool to help manage the process of initiating a corporate fraud investigation. Doing so will help bring uniformity to the evaluation of fraud allegations, and it will help guide management through the decision making relative to the claims.

The first step in creating an investigative policy is drafting a list of red flags that might cause management to investigate. For example, a credible tip from an employee or vendor would be an important red flag which needs follow up.

The policy should help management determine what “credible” means in these situations. Does the tip come from someone who is usually reliable and honest? Does the tip make sense in light of known facts about the employees and the company? Are there sufficient details about the allegations so as to lend credibility to them? Was any credible evidence submitted with the tip?

Got Fraud? Don’t Try a Do-It-Yourself Investigation

When a business owner or executive encounters proof of a fraud-in-progress, a natural reaction is often to immediately begin investigating. After all, someone has to get to the bottom of the situation. Yet that’s not usually the best way to go.

Just like on television, we need to give owners and executives a warning that they should not try this at home. It’s tempting to dig right into a potential fraud and start to unravel what’s happened. While the immediate gathering of information is helpful to a fraud investigator, when an inexperienced person tries to go further and actually investigate, bad things can happen.

The biggest reason why company personnel should not try to investigate a fraud on their own is that a good investigation takes an experienced investigator. There are special skills that fraud investigators have, and it’s almost always best to bring in the real experts. Company personnel sometimes inadvertently destroy or damage evidence during their investigation, so that’s another reason to stop amateurs from investigating.

Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets

LifestyleAnalysisInDivorceCasesSmallMy 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.

How Attorneys Can Use Private Investigators

When client budgets are tight, there is a reluctance to spend money on professionals such as forensic accountants and private investigators. But I have learned that the do-it-yourself method (either the client doing it or the attorney doing it) often misses the mark. There is a reason why professionals are trained in specialty fields. Simply put, the professionals have training and techniques that go beyond what an attorney can typically do.

Brian Willingham at Diligentia Group (private investigators) wrote an excellent article on attorneys using private investigators. Among the things a professional private investigator can do for a client are locating assets and doing historical reconstructions (such as piecing together family history to locate heirs).

Please read Brian’s full article here.

How a Lifestyle Analysis Can Be Used in a Divorce 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.

Red Flags of Fraud in Divorce

This article was originally printed in the ABA Section of Family Law eNewsletter, January 2014.

The vast majority of family law cases are settled without trials. However, a client should not enter into a voluntary settlement if there are significant concerns about the truth of the financial disclosures and indications that assets or income may be hidden. The first step in determining whether a forensic accountant is needed to evaluate the finances of the parties is the identification of “red flags” of fraud. A red flag is simply a warning sign or an unusual item or circumstance.

Attorneys often use their instinct to determine when a forensic accountant is needed in a family law case. If something does not feel right, it probably should be investigated.  A client is often suspicious of the spouse even before they are separated. The spouse may even be known to manipulate the money.

Expert Fraud Investigation
Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases
CPA's Handbook of Fraud and Commercial Crime Prevention
Essentials of Corporate Fraud
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