How Are Forensic Accountants Used in California Divorce Proceedings?

How Are Forensic Accountants Used in California Divorce Proceedings?

What is a forensic accountant, and when should one be used in divorce or legal separation proceedings? A forensic accountant is a hybrid of an investigator and an accountant. The typical forensic accountant holds a traditional accounting degree, which provides core knowledge in the area of accounting, as well as investigations training, which enables the performance of effective, enhanced investigations. Forensic accounting can be critical in locating, classifying, and valuing assets and debts.

Divorce and separation proceedings provide for the winding up, so to speak, of a couple’s marriage. In these proceedings, all assets and debts are identified and divided, and provisions are often made for spousal or partner support, as well as child support. For the winding up to be fair and equitable, all assets and debts must be identified. This can be difficult in any case, as our economy becomes more diversified and global. A forensic accountant may be used in complex matters, such as helping to identify and value retirement plans, stock options, trusts, deferred compensation plans, and business interests.

Additional challenges will be present if one spouse is intentionally untruthful in an attempt to understate income or overstate debt, such as in the following examples:

  • Attempting to show less income or fewer assets;
  • Hiding income or cash streams;
  • Transferring or hiding assets;
  • Padding business payroll; and
  • Creating fictitious debts or overstating debts.

In cases such as these, the use of a forensic accountant is essential to ensure that you receive proper treatment with regard to support awards and property division. These specialized accountants are experts in tracing funds, and they exercise great discretion in determining where to look for hidden assets and overstated debt. After all, if a court doesn’t know about an asset, it can’t divide it. What’s more, a forensic accountant will present his findings in court, with the assistance of your experienced attorney.

Judy L. Burger’s experience as an aggressive family lawyer is paired with an extensive business background, an invaluable combination in contested divorce and separation proceedings. If you need the assistance of a lawyer who is not afraid to fight in court and who understands complicated financial issues, call her today at (415) 293-8314 or visit her online.

How Is a Business Interest Valued in a California Divorce?

How Is a Business Interest Valued in a California Divorce?

For those going through a divorce or contemplating one, a common concern is how a business interest will be treated by the court. Sometimes, both spouses own a business together. Other times, however, only one spouse has an ownership interest in a business.

By law, California courts must make a substantially equal division of community-owned property. Therefore, the first step in deciding how to deal with a business ownership interest is to determine whether it is separate or community property. It may even be a little of both. If you are not familiar with basic property law in California divorces, please see our separate blog here.

If the couple started the business together and operated it together, the court will likely decide it is a community-owned asset. However, often, business ownership is not so clear. For example, sometimes, a business was started before the couple married. Other times, although one spouse may be the owner “on paper”, the other may have worked in the business and contributed substantial value to it. In more complicated cases such as these, the court will need to decide issues such as the value of the business at the time of marriage and the present, the value of spousal contributions to the business, and other difficult factual questions.

It is usually necessary, in these cases, to retain a forensic accountant. Forensic accountants are trained in both accounting and investigative techniques. For this reason, they can be invaluable partners in determining the value of a business and in presenting their valuations to a court.

Forensic accountants are experts at detecting irregularities in company records. Their findings can help demonstrate, for instance, if one spouse has altered company records to make it look like a business is more or less profitable than it really is. Ultimately, the accountant will give an expert opinion about the value of the business. One of three methods is typically used:

    • the income approach, which attempts to value future economic benefits;
    • the market approach, which compares the business to others that have recently been sold; and
    • the asset approach, which compares the relative assets of the business to its liabilities.
If the parties do not agree about how to divide a business ownership interest, the court will divide it for them, keeping in mind that their community property must be divided substantially equally. How this takes place is within the court’s discretion. Options available to it include awarding the business to the spouse who plays the greatest role in its operation, awarding it to the other spouse, dividing the stock ownership among the parties, and ordering the sale of the business.

Business ownership interests are among the more difficult issues that arise in family law, and how they are handled can affect the parties for the rest of their lives. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in all matters relating to property division, including dealing with business interests and forensic accounting. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can protect your financial future: (415) 293-8314.
How Is Available Income Determined for Child Support Orders if a Party Is Self-Employed?

How Is Available Income Determined for Child Support Orders if a Party Is Self-Employed

California law mandates that one of the predominant factors in setting the amount of child support is the actual income of the parents. As you might imagine, this can be very difficult if one or both of the parents are self-employed.

Because parents have a mutual duty to support their children, the parties to a divorce proceeding must disclose all aspects of their finances. All assets, liabilities, obligations, earnings, accumulations, and expenses must be disclosed. Assets must be disclosed even if they are owned as separate property. By law, self-employment benefits may be considered by a court in determining a parent’s gross annual income.

Full disclosure is critical to allow the family court to make a proper order of support for the children’s needs. A statutory process is in place to ensure that proper disclosures are made through the submission of certain forms. These forms include a Schedule of Assets and Debts, as well as an Income and Expense Declaration.

When a party is self-employed, however, he or she has control over documents that would be used to establish his or her actual income. These documents might include profit and loss statements, loan applications, credit card statements, and reports showing monthly expenses. The danger of nondisclosure is enhanced in these situations because the business owner has power over the creation and retention of these documents.

Forensic accountants may be used when self-employment is an issue in a family law matter. These specialized accountants are trained in both sound accounting practices and investigative skills. They specialize in reviewing financial documents with an eye toward tracing funds and locating missing funds or documents. They also testify in court about their findings, to ensure the proper amount of income is attributed to a self-employed parent.

When the actual income of a self-employed parent is an issue, it is critical to hire an aggressive family lawyer who has significant experience in business matters. Judy Burger comes from a business background and has worked extensively in highly contested divorce cases involving forensic accountants. Call her today at (415) 259-6636 to learn more about how she can help you.