What do Blackbeard’s stolen treasure, Fabergé eggs, and the Titanic (1) have in common? Considerable time, effort, and money have been spent to recover these valuable items, all with varying degrees of success. These same elements apply to financial forensics in divorce where skilled professionals attempt to uncover unreported income and assets. Another common term you may hear in divorce is lifestyle analysis, which refers to the study of the personal spending habits of a spouse. Depending on the situation, a forensic investigation during a divorce may well be worth it.
Roles of a Forensic Professional
Suspicion naturally runs high in a divorce. Lack of trust is often the driving force behind the decision to pursue a forensic review. Even with the most amicable of divorces, it’s hard to imagine anyone in this situation not experiencing at least some degree of skepticism along the way. Moving beyond feelings and intuition, forensics uses hard evidence to objectively uncover assets and income. Other roles of a forensic professional are detailed in the table below.
*ADR refers to Alternative Dispute Resolution, or settling outside of litigation such as through mediation, collaborative divorce, etc.
Here’s a sample of financial forensic issues that I’ve been presented with during divorces:
My spouse owns multiple businesses and much of the income is collected in unreported cash, and I have no idea how much.
My spouse says she is not able to work due to a medical issue and thus cannot make support payments.
The wife of my spouse’s business partner tipped me off that there is a joint business account with a large balance. The flow of information stopped from this ally upon the commencement of her own divorce proceedings.
Anticipating a divorce, I believe that my spouse has been using cash-out refinancing on our house and commercial properties to funnel the money overseas.
I think that my spouse is using the business to over or under invoice clients, impacting the reported profits, and making it difficult to determine my fair share.
Is it worth it?
Before jumping in with both feet into a forensic engagement, we apply a common-sense approach to your unique situation. Our first step is to weigh the potential costs against potential benefits, helping clients to decide if it’s worth the time and money to pursue. One of the most important jobs of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® is to set realistic expectations, and this approach extends to forensics. Sometimes it may be worth pursuing. For example, how could a highly skilled medical professional operating in a niche industry in the prime of his career have “money problems”? If this doesn’t make sense to you, join the club. A subsequent conversation with a hospital executive revealed that the market rate of this occupation was more than double what was claimed.
Forensic professionals also assist by minimizing emotions. During divorce, it can be tempting to win the divorce and/or make the other side pay. A skilled professional can help to reframe the situation, providing a balanced stance that can help reduce costs and speed up the divorce. Beyond divorce financial planning, Confluence assists clients in divorce financial forensics having achieved the designation of Master Analyst of Financial Forensics®.
(1) “15 Hidden Treasures Rumored to Be Somewhere in the United States,” Lauren Cahn, Reader’s Digest (RD.com), 7/28/21. Accessed 11/2/21. https://www.rd.com/list/hidden-treasures-in-usa/
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