Expert Advice: How to Help Your Forensic Accountant

Divorce is hard. Not only is it emotionally grueling, but it can also be such a financial pain. It’s never easy to watch what you’ve worked hard for come tumbling down. As you get help on the emotional side, you also need someone who can help you tackle the financial side.

A forensic accountant is an accountant who provides services where legal proceedings are involved. What sets them apart from a typical accountant is their familiarity with the court system. By definition, any information they uncover is suitable for use as evidence in court.

In a divorce case, a forensic accountant may be hired to — among other things — determine whether either party has hidden assets. They can then help you make sound financial decisions that will brighten your future and help you save on attorney fees and court costs.

Do you need a forensic accountant in your divorce?

Yes, you do.

In the divorce process, there are certain situations in which parties benefit from hiring a forensic accountant. If one spouse managed the couple’s finances, that spouse might have an unfair advantage when it comes to knowing exactly what each party has in the way of assets as well as debts.

With emotions running high, that spouse may use this knowledge to obtain an unfair settlement – for example, by manipulating support payments. This can even escalate to the level of fraud if the level of deceit is considered extreme enough. Sometimes, one or both spouses will attempt to hide assets during the divorce process. A forensic accountant will help bring this to light if this is the case.

You may need the services of a forensic accountant if you detect some suspicious financial activity on the part of your spouse. This might include discovering assets you didn’t know you had or financial transactions that just don’t make sense. In this case, the expert will conduct a forensic analysis in order to unearth and document any hidden assets and/or unreported income.

Some warning signs of suspicious financial activity:

Red flags include:

  • Uncovering previously unknown assets. This could include a cash account, an investment portfolio, or a piece of real estate that was unknown to the other spouse.
  • Discovering signs of unexplained transactions, including checks written to people who are unknown, or wire transfers to accounts that cannot be identified.
  • Noticing a sudden drop in purchasing power. When one spouse suddenly cannot spend as much as he or she used to, there is a question of where the assets have disappeared to.

Uncovering concealed financial property.

While the forensic analysis is often a complex process, experienced forensic accountants are adept at discovering concealed financial property. They are all too familiar with the illicit behaviors and techniques that individuals may use to move assets into the hands of third parties, as well as behind false documents.

Not only can a forensic accountant uncover hidden assets and unreported income, but he or she can also document the findings to make the case stronger and potentially more favorable for the client.

This thorough examination of financial records helps to uncover items that can negatively impact equitable distribution and support. These include hidden or transferred assets and income. Forensic accountants are best suited for this role since they are knowledgeable and experienced in accounting principles, financial document analysis, and auditing methods.

When it is suspected that one spouse could be concealing assets or income, forensic investigation should not be ignored. It can also be useful when a couple runs a closely held business or one of them is a highly compensated spouse. A cost-benefit analysis is always prudent to ensure the cost of the desired services is not higher than the expected benefit.

How a Forensic Accountant Can Help Your Divorce

A forensic accountant definitely belongs to your divorce team. Here’s what the accountant will do for you:

  • Search for hidden income or assets. This includes bank accounts and hidden property. Note that there are times when forensic accounting will uncover things that the other party either does not recall or did not properly keep a record of.
  • Calculate cash flow that can later be used to determine support payments.
  • Unravel inconsistencies in the information in specific important financial documentation.
  • Perform a valuation of your spouse’s business or the business you did together.
  • Determine personal expenses that may have been declared as business expenses by the other spouse. This impacts business valuation.
  • Testify at depositions and in court.

These are just a few of several services available to you. The bottom line is that this service can greatly impact your divorce proceedings.

How to choose a good forensic accountant.

As established above, this is a very important person who handles sensitive issues. Therefore, selection should be properly made to ensure you get someone who can meticulously handle your case. Look for someone who:

  • Has a CFF (Certified in Financial Forensics) designation
  • Knows the applicable law thoroughly
  • Can interpret financial documentations such as tax returns, financial statements, trust and banking documents, among others.
  • Clearly communicates orally and in writing. The oral communication skills will help in trial and deposition testimonies while the writing skills will help in report preparation.
  • Knows taxation
  • Is sensitive, attentive, and focused towards solving your problem.

Tips to working with a forensic accountant.

When working with a forensic accountant, here’s what you should do to make sure you have a great working relationship:

  • Always show up on time for meetings so that you can discuss the essential details exhaustively
  • Submit all the documents needed for their review
  • Be as truthful as possible when asked difficult questions. Some details may seem not to be important but they actually may make or break your case.
  • It’s good to have a notebook nearby where you write down helpful details whenever you remember them. Due to the sensitivity of such cases, every little detail counts and can lead to a breakthrough.

What does a forensic accountant need from you?

There a few key tips to follow if you want your forensic accountant to keep costs down, work quickly, and get results.

As soon as you hire one, a forensic accountant will ask for the following documents. The faster you can get them to him, the faster he can begin work. A quick turnaround gives your attorney enough time to make his argument. The party with the most time will have the best chances of winning.

We understand that larger businesses have better records. Small businesses often have incomplete or disorganized records. That is okay. However, this requires more planning and diligence to be successful.

So get these documents to your forensic ASAP.

Typical business documents needed include:

  • Historical financial statements
  • Income tax returns
  • Bank statements (savings and checking accounts)
  • Images of checks deposited (front and back)
  • Images of checks written (front and back)
  • Credit card statements
  • General ledger detail
  • Accounts receivable ledger
  • Unbilled work-in-process ledger
  • Fixed asset ledger
  • Accounts payable ledger

Typical personal documents needed include:

  • Income tax returns
  • W2 statements
  • 1099 forms
  • Bank statements (savings and checking accounts)
  • Credit card statements
  • Financing and mortgage account statements
  • Brokerage or investment account statements
  • Real and personal property documents
  • Annual (or most recent) credit report
  • Pension plan accounts
  • Stock in lieu of salary
  • Deferred compensation
  • Incentive stock options
  • Accrued (unused) vacation pay
  • Fringe benefits earned during marriage (even though unvested)
  • Real estate wherever situated
  • Personal property wherever situated (such as vehicles, furniture, boats, and collectibles)
  • Community living expenses
  • Separate living expenses
  • Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142)

Get organized

Trying to organize years of records is tougher than it sounds. The best method of doing so for the purposes of your forensic accountant is to do so digitally.  No one is perfect. The truth is that you will not create the perfect system because you don’t have time for that.

There will always be room for improvement, so the best idea is to get started and do your best. Use common sense and be consistent. Put your insurance documents in one file, bank records in another, credit card statements in yet another. Here’s a guide to organizing your data.

Consider using an app to make work easier. Online apps can analyze your documents using keywords and tags. They make it easier for you to automate many tedious, repetitive tasks.

You know your documents better than anyone else, just as you know the facts. Therefore, don’t just arrange them without taking note of important data. Mark statements that contain a big purchase, money transfer, discrepancies, date of separation, etc. This will save your attorney and forensic accountant time when they are looking for certain information later on.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If this is too much for you or you just can’t figure out a great way to get this done, ask for help. Your attorney can provide assistance in getting these documents together, organizing them, and getting them to the forensic ASAP.

Conclusion

Forensic accountants are important professionals who can really help you in your divorce case so that you end up getting a fair trial. You should not settle for less than what you deserve. You, therefore, need to choose the right expert using the above tips.

Once you get a good one, the ball will be in your court. It will be your duty to provide all the documents needed in time. You’ll need to note down anything important that can help you in your case. Always feel free to call the expert or your attorney any time you have questions or helpful ideas.

This may seem tedious and energy consuming; however, it will be such a joy when you get excellent results for your efforts.

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