Your Divorce Team
Unless a case is extraordinarily straightforward and simple, and there are no disputes concerning property division, child custody, child support, or spousal maintenance, you and your lawyer should consider hiring experts during a divorce. Even experienced family lawyers must know their limitations, and advise their clients when they should engage an expert in a particular field.
Depending on the issues of a case, experts can be invaluable for many reasons, and in a number of ways. There are two general categories of experts:
- Court-appointed, neutral experts; and
- Experts retained by a party.
Additionally, depending on the issues of a case, there may be a need for mental-health or substance-abuse professionals.
If you are a high-asset or high-net-worth individual, it is crucial to have a divorce team with access to qualified tax lawyers, forensic accountants, and other financial experts working on your case. Cases involving substantial income, investments, and financial assets may require one or more of the following experts: forensic accountants; economists; pension actuaries; vocational experts for issues concerning imputed income; real estate, jewelry, art and collectible appraisers; handwriting experts; or tax lawyers, especially when there are foreign bank accounts.
The result of a divorce is also the dissolution of a financial partnership. In some cases, the process is fairly simple: a couple owns a home, two cars, bank and credit-card accounts, and some personal property they owned before marriage, and they have both joint and personal debts and bills.
But for complex financial portfolios, the process is not as simple. Even in an uncontested divorce, distribution of more complex assets can be problematic. In addition to the basics set forth and described above, there may be closely-held business, professional practices, or complicated partnerships involved. There might also be trusts of various types, real property in other states, or even countries, as well as valuable, tangible items such as art, antiques, or rare collectibles, all of which need appraisals. There may also be tax considerations involved.
In a high-net-worth or complex-asset divorce, the valuation and distribution of these types of assets can have major financial implications down the road, and this is not something you should leave to chance. The valuation and long-term financial and tax consequences of various settlement options are not things that you can expect your attorney to project or calculate, even if you have retained a matrimonial attorney with decades of experience. Rather, you must engage, through your attorney, the services of an experienced forensic professional.
Forensic accountants are routinely employed in cases involving substantial assets which require tracing or valuation.
To uncover undisclosed or under-disclosed assets, a forensic accountant typically begins with tax returns, for entities and individuals, and proceeds all the way down and through the general ledger, or bank records, to follow the money.