I receive many requests for help in family cases, often several times a week, typically from the wife who considers that her husband is not making full and correct disclosure of his financial affairs. What am I able to do to help them? This is a personal note setting out my understanding of the position, and I provide it here so as to avoid the need to give the same explanation repeatedly.
Typically, a lady does a Google search where my name comes well up on page one. She looks at my website, views the videos, reads the war stories, and concludes that I am a helpful character with a wealth of experience (I am, I am!) who can help them to find the husband’s hidden assets or the lies in his disclosure.
In the old days, that was certainly the case, and I have had some stunning successes, as may be seen in my case studies. But these days it’s different. Except in the multi-million pound cases seen in the national press, or where a party is so blatantly dishonest that the court recognises the need for an investigation – and this is very rare – the court will only approve the appointment of a forensic accountant to act as a Single Joint Expert (SJE), who acts for both spouses, but with an overriding duty to the court.
This works well where the main function of that expert is to value the business which one party will be taking out of the marriage on a clean break (see Case 3 in my matrimonial case studies) – I have done hundreds of such valuations – or where an expert is required to opine on the ability of one self-employed spouse to pay maintenance to the other. But where there is serious doubt about a spouse’s disclosure, but not bad enough for the court to recognise the need for an investigation by a forensic accountant, two main difficulties arise.
The first is that if the wife or her lawyer thinks that I would be a suitable SJE and puts my name to the other side, I would be typecast as the wife’s man, and the husband would want his own man. Result: deadlock, which can be resolved only by one side or the other giving in, or by both sides putting their man’s CV before the court for the judge to decide who shall be the SJE. And that leads to delay and expense.
The point is that an expert can produce a report and give evidence at a hearing only with the court’s permission.
There is an alternative: the forensic accountant can act as expert adviser. He is not on the court record, but works in the background, providing assistance to the lady’s lawyers. He cannot appear at court (except in the background, perhaps passing notes to the barrister), and there is no prospect of the husband being ordered to pay any part of that accountant’s fees. And the investigating accountant can use only the evidence produced, which may be limited.
So to conclude, if a business valuation is required for a clean break, I can act as SJE as I have done many, many times before. And within limitations, I can act as expert adviser. But for me to act on the record as expert for one party, the other spouse’s shortcomings in disclosure would have to be egregious (outstandingly bad or shocking) and if that situation is suspected, I would recommend that the party concerned should speak to their lawyers, not to me, about whether the court might appoint a party expert acting just for that side.
I remind readers that I offer an initial review of any case without obligation (see “How long’s a piece of string” on my fees page), but that review should be done only when the lawyer considers there is a chance of the court agreeing to have a party expert.
Of course, if a straightforward business valuation is needed, I’m your man!