Many of the people who come to our office seeking a divorce are doing so for the first time. Some of them have a good sense of the shape of their marital estate--they understand their assets and debts, and only need their lawyers to help them reach a just and fair division of their assets and debts.
But some clients have more complex estates. They might own multiple properties, or one or both might own small businesses, or there might be trusts involved. There are certainly cases where a divorcing couple would best be served by a forensic accountant, who is brought in to help determine the value and character of assets and debts, confirm what's liquid and illiquid, and how then to fairly distribute the marital estate.
While there's no real checklist for when you need to bring in a forensic accountant, there are some guidelines you can use to help you make that determination. When a couple has just one house, it's usually easy to determine the value and character of that house. The original sale price of the house and the tax appraisal value are good starting points, and an appraisal by a licensed appraiser or real estate professional can help shed further light on it.
If multiple properties are involved, and there are questions about the amount and timing of money provided by the parties, involving a forensic accountant might be helpful.
Some retirement accounts, like pensions, Roth IRAs, and 401Ks, are typically within the grasp of seasoned family lawyers like those of us at the Law Office of Lisa Vance. We also have experience helping military families navigate through the myriad benefits and pensions available to servicemembers and their family members.
But if it's more complicated--for example, if a trust is involved, or if the parties require tracing the money into and out of various assets--then it could help to involve a forensic accountant.
More and more of the divorces we're seeing involve at least one party owning and operating a small business. That doesn't necessarily call for a forensic attorney; if the small business involves a sole proprietor or a closely-held corporation selling goods or providing services, that's typically simple enough to assess without bringing in outside help.
However, if the business involves other partners, organizational documents, sizeable assets, and/or other employees, it can be a good idea to involve a forensic accountant involved to determine the value of the business and the extent of each owner's involvement. (Also, that can help protect a divorcing party's partners from being affected.)
If you're considering divorce and you're concerned about your finances, we can help you determine how complex your situation really is, if you need a forensic accountant, and how best to serve your needs.