By JoAnne C. Holt
Certified divorce financial analyst
What is a “lifestyle analysis” and why would you need one? This analysis is normally helpful in preparing your financial affidavit as well as providing very important information to your attorney.
Additionally, if one spouse has had a greater earning capacity and financial contribution during the marriage and you have a “long-term” marriage you often need to establish what the “marital lifestyle” was.
The financial expert in your case will ask for at least the last 12 months of:
- Bank statements for all checking and savings accounts, and copies of the canceled checks;
- Credit card statements for all credit cards used individually or jointly;
- Brokerage statements for all investment accounts;
- Credit line(s) history of use and repayments;
- Gambling reports;
- Personal and business tax returns
With this information, we create a detail report of the joint inflows and outflows and for each party. We can tell you what was spent on the children, entertainment, groceries, clothing, every category you spend money on is determined. We can also determine if one or both parties were spending in excess of the available income. How many times is the breaking point in a marriage about someone’s careless and destructive spending?
During the analysis we might find things you didn’t even know existed. I once had a case where I found a check for a nominal amount around $40 payable to a utility company in Tennessee and the parties lived in Florida and my client had no knowledge of any other homes. With this one check we discovered another home and bank account we didn’t know existed.
Another benefit is having the information to show the court what the real marital lifestyle was or present evidence of marital waste. Ask your attorney about the concept of marital waste!
Once this analysis is complete, we can work with you, or both of you to establish practical budgets for the future. We first drill down on the needs of your children. For example, we prepare a budget, depending on their age ranges, for their extra-curricular activities, car, private tuition, clothing, day care, and the like for the present and the future. Once we establish an agreement of what is in the best interests of the children, we look at the resources of both parties and the costs to maintain two households. Clearly having two households immediately creates an increase in the monthly costs compared to an intact household.
With the information obtained through the analysis we are also able to show, in real clear terms, what the earning needs have to be to achieve balanced budgets in BOTH households. This is a very helpful tool when one party is reluctant to “go back to work.” I find that showing a picture of the financial situation is more powerful than simply telling someone they need to go get a job. Basically, we are assisting in providing a tool for behavior modification where needed and a reasonable basis for your position.
If you are worried about the cost of this, think again. If you spend the time and money during the divorce to create a realistic plan from the outset, both parties are not navigating their future in the dark which can create financial distress. They are both educated about the financial aspects they face and are more likely to be responsible for their actions.
JoAnne C. Holt is a Florida-based CPA, certified family mediator, and certified divorce financial analyst. She also founded www.standbyhousing.com, an organization that presents alternative housing solutions to fathers going through a divorce. Her columns on finances and divorce will run monthly on DadsDivorce.com.