Using a Lifestyle Analysis During High-Asset Divorce Cases: How to Secure Your Future
When a couple decides to divorce, the division of assets can become a heated and contentious issue. If one spouse is wealthy and the other is not, it can be especially difficult to come to an agreement. In some cases, a lifestyle analysis may be necessary in order to fairly divide the assets. In this article, we will explore what a lifestyle analysis is and how it can be used during high-asset divorce cases.
What is a Lifestyle Analysis?
A lifestyle analysis is a forensic accounting tool that is used to determine the standard of living of an individual or household. It can be used to calculate child support payments, alimony, and the division of assets, particularly in high net worth divorce cases.
In order to conduct a lifestyle analysis, a forensic accountant will look at various financial documents and records of the parties involved in a divorce. This may include tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, investment information, employee benefits information, and other financial documentation. They may also review household inventories, real estate appraisals, and photos or valuations of other assets owned by the parties. The goal of the analysis is to get an accurate picture of the individual’s or household’s spending habits and income.
Once the necessary information has been gathered, the forensic accountant hired to conduct this analysis will create a report that details the findings and gives opinions about the level of income necessary to maintain a similar lifestyle once divorced. This report will be used by the parties’ attorneys and the family court to make decisions about how to divide the assets in a divorce.
How is a Lifestyle Analysis Used in High-Asset Divorce Cases?
In high-asset divorce cases, a lifestyle analysis can be extremely helpful in determining how to divide the assets fairly, especially when one party might have significantly more wealth than the other party. It can be difficult for couples who have different levels of wealth to come to an agreement on their own, and a lifestyle analysis can provide objective information that can be used to make decisions based on facts rather than emotion.
In some cases, one spouse may be trying to hide assets or income from the other spouse. A lifestyle analysis can uncover hidden assets or at a minimum, help show the court that a certain lifestyle would not be possible based on the numbers presented by the party attempting to hide assets. Tools like this can help ensure that all the assets are divided fairly between the parties.
Will a Lifestyle Analysis Also Uncover Hidden Debts or Liabilities?
Yes. A lifestyle analysis can also be used to uncover hidden debts or liabilities that a party may be trying to keep secret. In some cases, one spouse may have racked up significant credit card debt or other liabilities without the knowledge of the other spouse. This can be especially common in cases where one spouse has control of the finances and the other spouse is not aware of what is going on. If this is discovered during a lifestyle analysis, it would likely be factored into the final divorce settlement.
How is Unearned Income Handled in a Lifestyle Analysis?
Unearned income, such as retained business earnings, investment income, trust fund distributions, or inheritances, can also be considered during a lifestyle analysis. This type of income is often not reported on tax returns and may not be known to both parties, so it can be difficult to track. A forensic accountant will likely be able to locate this type of income and factor it into the final divorce settlement if your state allows for those sources of income to be included.
How Do I Know If My Case Needs a Lifestyle Analysis?
There are several red flags, so to speak, that attorneys look for when deciding whether this process will be useful in your case. Some of those red flags are:
- One spouse has significantly more wealth than the other
- One spouse is self-employed or owns a business
- One or both spouses have interests in several businesses and/or multiple streams of income
- One spouse has always controlled all the financial information for the marriage
- The couple has been married for many years and has accumulated a large amount of high-value assets
- One spouse has never worked but has always enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle
- There are concerns or evidence that one spouse is hiding assets or income
If you have any of these factors in your divorce case, it’s likely that your attorney will recommend conducting a lifestyle analysis. While this report can be helpful in high asset or high net worth divorce cases, it’s important to remember that it is just one tool that can be used to help make decisions about how to divide the assets.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this report does not consider any non-financial considerations, such as child custody. A lifestyle analysis can give you a good starting point for negotiating a divorce settlement, but it’s important to discuss all the factors with your attorney before making any final decisions.
Who Pays for the Lifestyle Analysis in a Divorce?
In many cases, the court will order that both parties pay for the lifestyle analysis equally. However, in some cases, the court may order that one party pays for the entire cost of the analysis. This is typically done when there is a large disparity in income or assets between the two parties. In some hotly contested cases, the parties may not agree on one expert to do the analysis, and therefore, each party will hire their own expert to do separate reports. If the reports render vastly different opinions, it may mean a “battle of the experts” at trial before the Court is able to render a final ruling.
A lifestyle analysis can be a very useful tool in divorce cases, particularly those involving high-asset and high-net-worth individuals. If you are going through a divorce, be sure to discuss with your attorney whether this report would be helpful in your case. If your attorney recommends this for your case, be sure to hire a well-qualified forensic accountant with experience in this process for divorce litigation in your state. Even the most well-crafted and thoroughly documented work product will become useless if the professional drafting it has little or no credibility in the family court system.
If you and your spouse have significant wealth and you get a divorce, your assets will be divided according to your state’s laws and will be based on the assets presented to the family court during your case. This may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future, especially if what’s presented to the Court isn’t illustrative of your true lifestyle during the marriage.
If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like Ben Stevens today to discuss your divorce and potential asset division. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as prenuptial agreements, divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. Our firm is well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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