Family lawyers and financial experts must work together to prepare well-written reports and strong testimony for success in divorce or child support cases.
By Tracy Coenen, Forensic Accountant
A good working relationship between the family lawyer and the financial expert is key to a successful engagement. The attorney’s expectations for the expert must be immediately clear, including the scope of work, the topics on which opinions are sought, and the form that the final report will take.
The attorney and the expert must be candid with one another throughout the process. If the work load or deadlines are unmanageable, this must be communicated. If the opinions being developed by the expert are not in line with the attorney’s expectations, this must be discussed in case the attorney wants to amend the scope of work or abandon the project. The lines of communication must remain open in order to prepare and present a successful financial report and testimony.
A written report is a detailed roadmap of the complicated financial issues presented to the attorneys and judge who may have no accounting background.
The key to a good report is organization, understandability and readability. While there is no standard format, there are five recommended sections for the written report on financial analysis in a family law case:
Background – a short summary defining the financial issues in the case, explaining the agreed-upon engagement and introducing the expert’s analysis.
Documentation – a summary of the financial documents and other available information that has been analyzed.
Analysis – a lengthy and detailed explanation of the analyzed information, evaluation procedures, estimation reasons and methods, and any other substantial analysis.
Opinions – the most important section explaining the methodology used and the calculations made. Thorough explanation lends credibility to the expert’s work.
Attachments – any exhibits, evidence or spreadsheets with detailed calculations referred to should be included at the back of the report.
A competent expert witness must not only be a good writer but must also communicate orally and be prepared to explain details, add to the information presented in the written report, and defend his or her findings.
It is always advisable for the family lawyer and the financial expert to walk through the testimony prior to depositions and trials. During preparation, the attorney should share the litigation strategy so that the expert can keep it in mind while preparing for testimony.
Court testimony can be enhanced with visual aids. Some people do not learn well with only auditory information and need visual information in order to fully comprehend the financial issues. Graphs and charts relative to the numbers in a divorce case can ensure that the judge fully understands the evidence.
While preparing, consider counter-arguments or evidence that opposing counsel may try to use to their advantage. Opposing counsel may try to diminish the credibility of the expert, or may point out errors or weaknesses in the expert’s report. The financial expert should prepare for criticism and consider how to respond during testimony.
Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF is a forensic accountant and fraud investigator with Sequence Inc. She specializes in cases of embezzlement, financial statement fraud, white-collar crime, securities fraud, and family law. www.divorceinvestigation.com