Investigating the spouse

Examining the Form E received from your spouse

challengeWe help clients understand their spouse’s Form E and challenge its content. We investigate what the disclosures mean, what might be undervalued and what assets might be concealed.

Some spouses are less than open and transparent in their disclosures. It is essential that you do your utmost to track down and properly value all the assets; otherwise you could lose out significantly in the financial settlement.  Business interests, shares, options, property and pensions may be undervalued.   Other assets may be misrepresented or hidden altogether.

We analyse and unpick the client spouse’s Form E, reporting on what the disclosures mean, the soft areas and what might be being concealed. In short, we do what we can to audit the Form E presented by the other party – substituting in our workings more realistic numbers where appropriate.

Identifying deficiencies and shortcomings in his/her Form E statement and disclosures

Errors and shortcomings in the Spouse’s Form E are commonplace. Sometimes they are obvious to spot, on other occasions the deficiencies can be more subtle. Without complete and accurate financial data from the other side you start with a disadvantage. For example, you may be missing bank statements or an up to date pension value.

Using advanced technology we are able to conduct a full analysis of the photocopied bank statements and credit cards to assemble a complete report on income and expenditure.

Gross deficiencies need to be clearly reported upon, and a Court will take a dim view of careless and sloppy disclosures. Hence a first stage is to review the Form E data and to identify and request missing / erroneous information.

Challenging the financial disclosures by Questionnaire

In order to elicit additional financial information about the other party’s assets and income each party’s solicitor has a short window of opportunity after the exchange of Forms E to ask questions of the other.

The purpose is to put the spotlight on those financial areas and transactions which are highly relevant or so far undisclosed and which the spouse may be intent on concealing. The answers may allow you to prove that things are not as they appear.

Determining what areas to probe and drafting the precise questions to ask is absolutely critical and is one of the most valuable skills of a Divorce Accountant. We will prepare probing and investigative questions designed to penetrate complex, vague or incomplete financial disclosures.

Contesting specific points

no_fault_uncontested_divorceAs the arguments progress clear strategies might emerge from the other side. For example they may claim that certain assets should be ring-fenced and should not be included as matrimonial assets, or that their income needs are such that the prospect of spousal maintenance is limited.  Some directors use “one-man” companies through which to route their earnings, which can depress their net income for the maintenance calculation.

Whatever the point, there will often be two aspects. The legal aspect and the financial aspect, usually relating to evidence – or lack of it – to support the assertion.    By focusing on the detailed financial evidence we may be able to weaken the argument or dismiss it altogether.     If that means trawling and analysing a year’s bank statements we have the means to do it.

Contesting the Needs budget

The spouse’s Needs budget presents his or her estimate of future outgoings and the budget is used in discussions over maintenance. After deducting the outgoings from income, the balance is potentially available to pay maintenance.   Conversely the balance might also suggest what maintenance is required to meet a shortfall. Of course, in reality, it is not as straightforward as that.

Spouses are frequently surprised, and angry, at the seemingly unrealistic estimates that are being presented by the other side. Understandably so, as the spouse may be familiar with an individual’s customary spending levels and will appreciate the negative impact that an erroneous Needs budget might have on a maintenance claim.

We scrutinise such budgets and, with careful examination of the spouse’s bank, credit card and other data can map their actual expenditure into revised budgets to present a truer picture.

Armed with a new budget, which reflects reality, it is easier to argue the maintenance issues from a position of authority.

Searching for hidden assets

cash_boxTracking assets is both an art and a science and we help identify and trace those family assets which should be in the matrimonial “pot”.   Only when the true size of the pot is known can a fair split between the parties be negotiated.

For spouses concerned that their spouse may be in the process of moving assets it is vital that they do not delay in taking advice. Timing is imperative as there is a requirement for each side to produce twelve months’ bank statements.   As the date of separation slips further into the past, financial data and bank entries will slip out of the twelve month window, therefore reducing the opportunity for scrutiny by the other side.

A common area of misrepresentation is in relation to private companies, where the separation of personal assets and company assets may be difficult to establish. Deliberate attempts may have been made to conceal part of the spouse’s wealth and income by using private or even offshore company/ies.

Guided by your personal knowledge of the individual and our experience of what others have done before, we work to unravel where assets or wealth might be located and whether and how it might be misrepresented.  We can also access a wide range of public and non-public data sources.

Assessing the true earnings and / or assets

Based on our various forms of financial investigatory work explained above, we help identify and re-state the actual income and net worth of the spouse.

Income can be disguised, deferred to a later period, channelled through other people or otherwise mis-represented. We are familiar with the various techniques employed to portray a lower, artificial level of income and we can do much to ascertain the truth.

Regarding assets, we can set out financial chronologies and wealth reconciliations. We can illustrate what assets one might expect today by reference to an earlier value of assets (whilst still married) and adjusting for subsequent income and outgoings.

We can produce clear, concise and expert reports on what we have found and our conclusions.   These reports then get used by your solicitor and Counsel to persuade the other side, and the Court, and to assist the parties achieve a satisfactory settlement.