The Role Of Forensic Accountants In Divorce: Your Financial Guide In South Africa


If you’re going through a divorce in South Africa and the financial aspects seem daunting, you’re not alone. Divorce, at its centre, is the ending of a contract between two parties. One of the most focal issues arising during the divorce procedure is dividing assets and determining financial responsibilities. In such situations, a forensic accountant can be your guiding light.

Forensic accountants analyse financial records, serve as expert witnesses in court, and ensure fair asset distribution in complex high-net-worth divorces, especially when asset concealment is suspected. They aid both contentious and amicable negotiations.

Before deciding whether or not your divorce might require a forensic accountant, it would be best for you to learn a bit about the role they play in divorce cases in South Africa and how their knowledge base and expertise might help spouses and their attorneys navigate this challenging terrain of financial distribution to reach a just settlement agreement.


What Is A Forensic Accountant?

Before we delve into the specifics, let’s start with the basics. A forensic accountant is a financial expert who specializes in investigating, analysing, and interpreting financial information.

They are trained to uncover financial discrepancies, fraud, and hidden assets. In the context of divorce, forensic accountants play a crucial role in ensuring that all involved receive a fair and equitable settlement.


What Types Of Divorces Might Require The Help Of A Forensic Accountant?

Not all divorces necessitate the involvement of a forensic accountant. However, there are certain situations where their expertise becomes invaluable:

  • High-Asset Divorces: When substantial assets, investments, or businesses are involved, it’s essential to have a forensic accountant to value and distribute these assets accurately.
  • Complex Financial Portfolios: If you or your soon-to-be ex-spouse have intricate financial portfolios, including offshore accounts or investments, a forensic accountant can help trace, evaluate, and divide these assets fairly.
  • Suspected Financial Misconduct: If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, understating income, or engaging in financial misconduct, a forensic accountant can uncover these discrepancies.
  • Business Ownership: In cases where one or both parties own a business, a forensic accountant can assess the company’s actual value and ensure a fair distribution of its assets or profits.
  • Contentious Divorces: A forensic accountant offers impartial analysis to defuse tensions and facilitate amicable resolutions amid heated financial disputes.
  • Financial Security After Divorce: For those with limited financial experience, a forensic accountant assesses settlement options’ long-term impact, offering peace of mind and financial planning assistance.


How Can Forensic Accountants Help During A Divorce In South Africa?

Let’s dive deeper into how forensic accountants can be of significant assistance during a divorce in South Africa:


Asset Valuation And Equitable Distribution

Dividing assets is often one of the most contentious aspects of a divorce. Forensic accountants play a crucial role in this process by conducting thorough valuations of all marital assets. They ensure that each asset, whether real estate, investments, retirement funds, or business interests, is accurately assessed.

In South Africa, the principle of equitable distribution applies to divorce settlements, which means that assets are divided fairly but not necessarily equally. A forensic accountant helps ensure that this principle is upheld, considering factors like the financial contributions of each spouse, the duration of the marriage, and their respective needs and means.


Income Determination

In many divorces, determining each party’s income is crucial for setting fair spousal support and child maintenance payments. Forensic accountants have the tools and skills to dig deep into financial records, tax returns, and bank statements to ascertain the actual income of both spouses.

This determination prevents one spouse from understating their income to reduce their financial responsibilities, ensuring that financial support arrangements are just and sustainable for both parties.


Uncovering Hidden Assets

Unfortunately, some spouses may attempt to conceal assets during divorce proceedings. This concealment could involve transferring assets to a third party, creating offshore accounts, or undervaluing assets intentionally.

Forensic accountants are experts at tracking down hidden assets. They employ investigative techniques and financial audits to uncover any attempts at asset concealment. In South Africa, failing to disclose all assets during divorce proceedings can lead to serious legal consequences, making the role of a forensic accountant in uncovering hidden assets critical.


Financial Reports And Court Documentation

Forensic accountants are skilled at preparing comprehensive financial reports that are admissible in court. These reports serve as evidence of the economic situation of both spouses, making it easier for the court to make informed decisions regarding asset division, spousal support, and child maintenance. Most consider these reports as unbiased and objective, adding credibility to your case.


Expert Witness Testimony

In South African divorce cases, forensic accountants can be called upon as expert witnesses in court. Their testimony carries significant weight, helping to strengthen your case.

They can explain complex financial matters in a way that judges and legal professionals can understand, making it clear why their findings support your claims. This expert testimony can be crucial to securing a favourable outcome in divorce proceedings.


Negotiation And Settlement Support

Even if your divorce doesn’t go to trial, the presence of a forensic accountant can be invaluable during negotiations. They can provide informed advice on the financial aspects of your settlement, ensuring that you make informed decisions that protect your economic interests. Their expertise can help you avoid making concessions that you may later regret.


Who Pays For The Forensic Accountant?

The price of hiring a forensic accountant can differ depending on the complexity of your financial situation and the extent of their involvement. In most cases, the spouse that hires the forensic accountant will pay for their services, although in some cases, the spouses might choose to jointly hire a forensic accountant, in which case they would share the costs.

When facing a divorce in South Africa, especially in complex financial situations, a forensic accountant can be your ally in securing a fair outcome. Their expertise in asset valuation, income determination, and uncovering hidden assets can be invaluable during this challenging time.

If you are considering a divorce and need assistance with the financial aspects, don’t hesitate to reach out to Burnett Attorneys & Notaries. Our experienced team can help you navigate the complexities of divorce, including aiding you in acquiring the services of a reputable and experienced forensic accountant to ensure your financial well-being during this transition. Contact us today to get the support you need during this challenging time.