When dealing with a complex divorce case with a large community estate, hiring a forensic accountant might be necessary to ensure that you collect your rightful share of the community property. And while modern search engines have made the quest for complicated services such as forensic accounting easier, researching the right professional for the job is more difficult than hitting a few buttons on a computer keyboard.
This article was written to discuss some of the things a person should consider when searching for a forensic accountant. As always, it is recommended that you consider such services with help from experienced family law attorney who knows exactly what your case will need.
What Does a Forensic Accountant Do?
In a divorce situation, a forensic accountant could be used to examine financial disclosures required at the beginning of a divorce proceeding. They may examine income and expense declarations. These disclosures are an inventory of what finances, property and debt exists as part of the community estate. A forensic accountant could be invaluable in appraising the value of a community estate.
Obviously, hiring a forensic attorney wouldn’t be a necessary step in a marriage only lasting a couple months and involving little income and no property.
However, if during the marriage, one or both of the spouses invested in a business venture, and owned multiple stocks, mutual funds and bank accounts, a forensic accountant might be necessary to help sort out the division of community property.
Forensic accountants are professionals that provide services for a wide range of applications. In some cases, forensic accountants might investigate criminal matters such as tax evasion, or securities fraud. Perhaps its their ability to untangle the webs weaved by corrupt government officials, and mob bosses, that makes them a good fit for investigating messy divorces.
A forensic account provides such services as:
- Tracing the sources of community of separate property
- Valuation of businesses
- Income analysis for the purposes of determining child support and spousal support
Forensic Accountants in the News
In 2007, the Los Angeles Times wrote an article on a California man who married in 1999, and made his wife an owner of a consulting he business he established. When the marriage soured, he found himself in the unenviable position of having to buy his wife out. The divorce process dragged on for more than a year (we just wrote an article on how to speed up the divorce process).
Though the Times article focused more on the importance of prenuptial agreements, it discussed the role of court-appointed and private forensic accountants, as well as the work they do in California. In the case of the man with the consulting business, a court-appointed accountant was used to determine the value of the business.
The article also mentioned a San Diego forensic accountant named Ginita Wall who explained the importance of not hiding assets in divorce cases, adding that forensic accountants will find them. Wall described a case in which she investigated a businessman who took his company’s surplus cash and purchased artwork to decorate his office. Although a court-appointed evaluator didn’t recognize the value of the artwork, Wall was able to discover it by carefully examining invoices and cancelled checks.
Should You Hire a Private Forensic Accountant, Or Use a Court Appointed One?
In some cases, the court will appoint a forensic accountant to investigate the sources of the community estate. However, under these circumstances, the accountant doesn’t work for one party or the other. Rather, such an investigator works for the court. At the end of the accountant’s investigation, he or she will provide a report to the court as well as both parties’ attorneys.
There are some advantages to the spouse who hires his or her own private forensic accountant. These include the following:
- Both parties won’t have to be present for conversations with the accountant as they would in the case of a court-appointed accountant. If you hire a forensic accountant, that person will answer primarily to you.
- As a person in your employ, the forensic accountant will focus on the areas of the estate you’re most concerned with. However, it’s important to carefully consider the accountant’s suggestions about what should be focused on during the case.
- You won’t be required to immediately disclose to your spouse that you have hired an accountant. It’s possible for the forensic accountant to do his or her work in secret until you decide its time to reveal the findings.
Hiring your own personal forensic accountant, while having its advantages isn’t for everyone. For starters, it’s expensive. A good forensic accountant will cost anywhere from $250 to $400 an hour.
In cases where the court appoints the accountant, both spouses cover the cost. However, if you and your spouse share a large community estate, or you believe your spouse is attempting to conceal assets in order to pay you less alimony or child support, it could be worth the expense you pay up front to find out what you are rightfully entitled to under California law.
What to Consider When Researching Forensic Accountants
Some forensic accountants work for large firms. There is nothing in and of itself wrong with this. However, if you contact a firm and spend an inordinate amount of time discussing your issue with an intake agent or secretary, rather than directly with the accountant, you might want to research someone else.
Additionally, it might be wise to research forensic accountants who work specifically in your area and are familiar with the local family court system. It also goes without saying that you should discuss the matter with your attorney. Remember, forensic accountants, while familiar with the law, are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice.
A good attorney can make recommendations on what type of forensic accountant is necessary, whether a CPA, CVA, or CFE. Additionally, many family attorneys are personally familiar with forensic accountants as their two professions often cross paths in courtrooms and legal offices.
Hopefully, you have a qualified attorney who is leading the effort in your divorce case. If not, consider scheduling a consultation with our office to see what guidance we can offer.