What do you do when a spouse will not accurately disclose income during a divorce? One option is to analyze the bank statements. Tracy explains how this is done.
While it is common for one spouse to have control over the money in a marriage—be the major breadwinner, manage spending, and maintain control of financial documentation—family lawyers and their clients can increase the chances of finding hidden assets during a divorce by being aware of some of the schemes used to hide money.
Understanding the common schemes that may be used to hide assets and income can help the spouse in the lesser financial position protect himself or herself in the divorce; and, by knowing about these schemes, you can look for signs and hopefully limit the success your client’s soon-to-be-ex-spouse will have with them. Some of the more common schemes used to hide money in divorces include:
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.
The second edition of Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets, published by the American Bar Association, is available now for pre-order.
The first edition of the book (published in 2015) was such a hit that the ABA asked me to do a second edition. I have updated the material from the original book, and have added about 25% new material. The new material includes more case examples, information on the new tax law that took effect for 2018, and further development of topics.
Some of my favorite new material includes:
When a divorce is pending, it is not uncommon for one of the parties to manipulate the finances. Tracy discusses some common items that can be manipulated such as salary, selling assets to related parties, and more.
In this video, Tracy Coenen explains the purpose and process behind doing a lifestyle analysis in a divorce case. There are three main reasons why a lifestyle analysis may be done:
- To determine the amount of money needed to continue living a lifestyle consistent with the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage (This relates to child support and alimony.)
- To find hidden sources of income
- To find hidden assets
Forensic accountants and Certified Divorce Financial Analysts often use Quicken personal financial software to complete the lifestyle analysis in divorce cases. Unfortunately, Quicken is not the best option for accurately and thoroughly analyzing a couple’s finances before and during divorce.
Why is it used so often? For years, Quicken was one of the better options available for compiling and analyzing personal finances. Also, since a fair number of consumers use Quicken to manage their finances, divorcing spouses sometimes provide a Quicken file to the attorney, which may be used as a starting point for the lifestyle analysis. The drawback to this is that clients don’t always keep accurate records, and the Quicken file is often incomplete or just plain wrong.
Quicken software should not be confused with QuickBooks software, which is a software package used for small business accounting. QuickBooks can be used effectively in divorce financial analysis, while Quicken is much more limited and does not produce as good a result in terms of accuracy or usability. Note, however, that even QuickBooks may not be the best option for litigation purposes.
Experienced family lawyers are familiar with the common ways spouses attempt to commit financial fraud in divorce: hiding or undervaluing assets, overstating debts, concealing income, and inflating or fabricating expenses. All of these are done in an attempt to get more than the spouse’s fair share in the property division, and to influence the amount of support that will be paid or received.
Successfully advocating for your client involves more than just knowing that these things occur during the divorce process. You must also be able to identify the red flags that indicate the financial issue(s) must be investigated further. Some are easier to spot than others, but once you have identified two or three red flags, it is time to get a forensic accountant involved. The financial analyst’s experience with fraud and deception will be invaluable in evaluating the red flags and determining if there is something of substance to investigate further.
The most straightforward red flag is the discovery of undisclosed accounts. This could be direct evidence of a spouse attempting to conceal assets. However, the nature of the undisclosed account should be examined. Is it an old account that hasn’t been used in a long time? Is there little to no activity in the account? Is the balance in the account insignificant? In these situations, little weight should be given to the non-disclosure, since it is more likely an oversight.
Child support, spousal support, and property division are often evaluated in light of the income of the each of the parties to a divorce.The parties fill out financial disclosure forms and purport to tell the court and the spouse the truth about their income. If one spouse is not truthful about his or her income, this can provide a great opportunity for the other side.
The spouse immediately appears to not be credible, and this can affect the entire case. If he or she is lying about income, he or she may be lying about other important things in the divorce.
The first step in evaluating claimed income is comparing it to documents that can confirm or refute the claims. This may include:
When the Internal Revenue Services suspects that a taxpayer has unreported income, the agents can use one of several methods to uncover that income. These methods can also be used to help calculate hidden income in a divorce or child support case. One such method used to determine unreported income is the bank deposits method, in which the forensic accountant analyzes bank deposits. In the video below, Tracy explains how this is done.