Since your spouse owns a business and has property, it is critical to employ a forensic accountant (CPA) who has extensive family law experience for the business, as well as a certified real estate appraiser since there is real property involved. Your attorney should be able to recommend qualified experts. If you and your spouse each hire your own experts, there will be great expense and time used up.
Even if your attorney has dealt with business valuations before, and you are concerned about spending money, you need to have an expert in the field to analyze your marital portion of the business including good will. He/she must determine a cash flow analysis to help you find out your spouse’s true monthly income in case child and/or spousal support are at issue. When a person owns his/her own business, there are many perks (car payments, country club membership, meals, etc.) which needed to be added to the actual salary taken.
In order to minimize the costs and stress of using experts in a divorce, you would save marital assets and decrease the conflict if you and your spouse used neutral experts in mediation, or if your attorneys can help both spouses to agree to use one neutral expert for each valuation (one certified appraiser or forensic accountant). You will need to make it clear to the agreed-upon evaluator that he/she is not representing either side, but is to meet with both of you at once, hear your issues and concerns, and make a fair analysis based on objective standards which are approved by the court in your jurisdiction. Both of you should feel comfortable with your expert. If one or the other party pays for the expert’s services, it should be clear in writing to all experts that the report is to give a non-biased evaluation.
You are always advised to get independent advice with the accountant of your choice to review any report. You and your spouse should agree ahead of time that any report will serve as an advisory opinon. This gives you a little leeway to negotiate, and if you fail to agree, it provides a strong leverage for the court to make a determination. Using a neutral professional could save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of stress and court time.
Mari Frank is a divorce attorney-mediator in Laguna Niguel (Orange County), CA. She has been featured on numerous national television shows including 48 Hours, Dateline, NBC Nightly News, and The O’Reilly Factor and in newspapers across the nation including the L.A. Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.