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Your Forensic Accountant and You: David Harper Teaches the Numbers Behind Your Divorce

Bringing in a “forensic accountant” to your divorce team sounds serious, and it is. But it’s far from the dour experience the title implies. In fact, having an expert in understanding the numbers in your divorce can play an invaluable role in creating a clear, accurate, and fair split.

As you listen, if you’re not a numbers person (as Pete is certainly not), you might find the thought of the whole endeavor overwhelming. Is this an audit? How invasive is it? What will you have to provide? Yes, it’s a lot, but with David’s help, it’s much more approachable than you imagine.

In addition, David shares his role in collaborative divorce, an alternative to litigation, and how you can work with your attorney and team toward interest-based bargaining that may be a more peaceful approach for your divorce.

About David Harper

David Harper and his firm, Westbay CPAs, specialize in litigation support services in financial matters involving forensic accounting and business valuation. In addition to his role as expert witness in litigated cases, Mr. Harper also serves as financial neutral in many collaborative cases, and is also part of a training team who has trained over 400 professionals across the country and around the world in the collaborative process.

Episode Transcript

Pete Wright: Welcome to How to Split a Toaster divorce podcast about saving your relationships from true story FM. Today your toaster needs an audit.

Seth Nelson: Welcome to the show everyone, I’m Seth Nelson and I’m here as always with my good friend, Pete Wright. Today on the show, we’re not talking about dead Benjamins, but we are talking about what it means to be a forensic accountant. David Harper is a CPA specializing in litigation support services and financial matters. He’s going to help us understand the role of a forensic accountant in the divorce process. David, welcome to the toaster.

David Harper: Thanks very much Seth, Pete for having me, it’s an honor for you guys to have an accountant on your show, really does say a lot. I’m sure everyone is just absolutely tuning in and they’re going to be hanging on every word.

Pete Wright: As an accountant, you know how important your responsibility is to make numbers entertaining. And that’s why you’re here, because we’ve watched your videos, we’ve watched your work online and you are, I dare say it, you are delightful, David Harper.

Seth Nelson: For an accountant.

David Harper: It’s nice for you to say Pete, what accountants really are, are actuaries with a personality. So, in CPA, I don’t know if you know what it actually stands for, it stands for can’t present to audiences. So, the reason we got into this profession is to stay out of you having to actually talk to people and so-

Pete Wright: You do it great.

David Harper: But somehow we do find ourselves in a space, in an environment and obviously what I do for a living is exactly that, I’m taking a wealth of complex information, simplifying it so that it tells a story and then communicating that in a clear and understandable way.

Pete Wright: Well, let’s hope you can get me through my really rampant financial anxiety, the whole idea of a forensic accountant and going through finances, as if a divorce isn’t stressful enough, this whole concept of having to deal with the numbers gives me a great deal of stress. Can you start by telling us a little bit about what you do as a forensic accountant and why is it forensic? That’s a dark word.

David Harper: It is a dark word, we’re not involved with bloodstains or analyzing dead people, but what we are doing is we are helping to shed some light on what’s going on. And essentially what forensic means is following the flows of funds. That’s essentially what we’re doing, we’re just following the flows of funds and making sure that at the end, we have a comprehensive accounting of everything, and we know what the values are of the assets and the debt. So.

Seth Nelson: So on that though, there’s a lot there, that just sounds like, oh, I just follow flow of the money.

Pete Wright: Yeah, he’s really simplified it.

Seth Nelson: Yeah, right. Because he talks to lawyers all day, so, he doesn’t make it [inaudible 00:03:23] proof, he makes it lawyer proof, which is even a bigger standard, right? So when I hire a forensic accountant, in my cases, what I am asking them to do Pete, and what David does very well is gather all the information that he needs to do the analysis. Now check your local jurisdiction, but in Florida Family Law, people as we’ve discussed before on the toaster are required to produce a bunch of financial information, checking accounts, savings accounts, credit card statements, tax returns, pay stubs. And the reason I mentioned all of these different items is there isn’t one of those items by itself that can tell the story. People say, well, let me look at your income, just show me your tax return. The tax return might not show all of the income, especially if you own your own business and you’re running personal expenses through the business. That might be okay from a tax perspective, I’m not saying anyone’s doing anything wrong, but in Florida family law, those might not be deemed appropriate business expenses and they might be deemed personal expenses. And if you run a personal expense through your business, even though it’s okay in the federal tax code, it might not be okay in Florida family law and therefore your income might be higher. Okay? Your tax return is not going to show how many, wait for it Pete, vacation days you have saved up. That might be on your last pay stub of the year. And the value of those vacation days could be a marital asset that gets divided. So that’s why you need a forensic accountant. I know you’re waiting to jump on that one Pete.

Pete Wright: No, no, I don’t know what to do with the words that you just said, you are telling me that the value of my unspent time is somehow split?

Seth Nelson: Yes.

Pete Wright: In a divorce, what have you done?

Seth Nelson: If you’re working a job and you’re banking those hours, and you’ve got a month saved up in your company will pay you out on that month, say, don’t take it, we’ll pay you the cash. That’s a marital asset to be divided. David, Pete loves it when you say I’m wrong, I love it when you say I’m right. So take your pick there brother.

David Harper: Well said, there can very often be a big difference between taxable income on your taxes and available income within family law. So there can be very … There can be a lot of nuances, Seth talked about in kind benefits, personal expenses being run through, that’s very often a very large item that requires a lot of scrutiny, really just about any business, so we get involved in that kind of analysis quite a bit.

Pete Wright: From the perspective of somebody who hasn’t gotten divorced and let’s just say we’re listening to the show thinking, okay, divorce is in my future, can you walk through sort of your process when you come into the scene and the kinds of things you’re going to do as you start working with one of the spouses who’s getting divorced?

David Harper: Sure. So we frame this out in terms of two specific buckets, what are the assets and debts? So what do you own and what do you owe? And then the second bucket being income and expenses. And we talk about the future sharing of some of those things going forward. Now we do say there’s somewhat like Domino’s, so we’re normally handling the assets and debts prior to looking at income and expenses, so it’s normally in that order, but essentially we’re asking them to help prepare a marital balance sheet which includes every bank account, every investment account, retirement funds, all the sticks, stones and bones and then also work on gathering things along with that related to income and expenses and things of that nature. So there’s mandatory disclosure which is another fancy word as Seth was talking about, there are certain number of bank statements and credit card statements and tax returns that are required to be exchanged upfront, so we help with that process initially.

Pete Wright: Who brings you in? Is it usually the attorney who’s saying, okay, we’re going to need more significant help here, or is it the divorcing parties?

David Harper: Normally it’s the attorney. We’ve worked with over a hundred law firms in the Tampa Bay area. So normally we are brought in, the attorney is the first one involved. There are times obviously people find us through our website, but through our relationships with other CPA firms or financial advisors.

Seth Nelson: But Pete, the reason for that, I get a case in and I evaluate where I am, where the family is on this case. What kind of assets and debts do they have? And I always do evaluation, whether I think I need to get a forensic accountant involved very early in the case, because it’s a lot easier to get them involved early and get them going from the start than to bring them in later, where they have to get up to speed or review documents that we’ve already reviewed such as the bank accounts and credit card statements, everything we’ve talked about. Or this is David’s favorite, hey, I’ve got a trial in less than 60 days, are you available? They hate it when lawyers do that, right? But why would I need a forensic accountant? If there is a business that’s a closely held business, a family business. Because now I’m thinking there might be income being run through that business that I’m not going to be able to find as a lawyer, two, I’m going to need an expert to kind of dig through that. We might need to value the business, so David hasn’t mentioned this yet, but he can do a business valuation and say, this is what this business is worth at a what’s called an arm’s length transaction. So those would be some reasons. If there is a lot of flowing of income coming in and then expenses going out, and we have to determine whether one of the spouses needs alimony, you have to figure out which ones of those expenses are for the, let’s just say the wife who is asking for alimony, what are her expenses versus the children’s expenses? So you don’t go through the grocery line and say, okay, all of these groceries are for the wife and we’re going to ring those up first, and then these are for the kids and we’re going to ring those up, and this is for the husband we’re going to ring those up, you put them all together. So there’s some gray area, but the wife’s car, car insurance, that’s pretty standard. The mortgage, taxes, insurance, what is she spending on her credit card? That’s identifiable to her. So there’s all these things that is quicker, cheaper and ultimately gives me an expert that if I have to go to court, I can put on the stand to handle all of those. And when we get to this, if there’s a forensic accountant on the other side, sometimes they just talk directly and say, yeah, this is where I’m seeing this, where you’re seeing it, mmaybe we can limit the issues. So sometimes by hiring an expert people think, oh my God, I’m spending all this money, but ultimately they save money if they can resolve the issues and get the clients and the lawyers to sign off on this.

Pete Wright: So you know pretty quickly as an attorney whether or not you’re going to need the services of a forensic accountant?

Seth Nelson: Usually at my first initial consultation.

Pete Wright: Okay. All right. All right.

Seth Nelson: And once I dig in, if I’m in the case for 30, 60 days, I know, but I’ve been doing it a long time and I also have a group of forensic accountants in the Tampa Bay area that I am very fortunate to work with that. And sometimes David’s been an expert on cases that I have, sometimes he’s been the opposing expert on other cases. So you never just conflicted out, that’s just kind of how it works, but when you have people like David and other people that I work with who are just creaming the crop, it usually ends up getting settled and the forensics usually can narrow the issues and sometimes it’s just an interpretation of the law, because the forensic will say, I got this number from the lawyer. And sometimes they’ll say, well, how I got to this number? And the other one will say here, I got this number. And they use these things called general accounting standards and all this kind of crazy stuff, right? Just little things like that. And then we kind of narrow those issues and present them to the court.

Pete Wright: Okay. So, but again, I know you guys want to talk a little bit about collaborative cases and I’d like to know more about what that means, but again, from the perspective of somebody who has never done this before, what are the sort of risks and roadblocks that I’m going to need to be looking out for as soon as David you start opening up my books, what are the sort of top issues that I’m going to need to resolve to help you make your job easier? Is that a fair question or is it just stay out of the way and let me look at your underwear drawer.

David Harper: No, no. And in fact the more the clients can lean in and be part of the process, it always goes much more smoothly, so, if you’re a business owner, you want to be involved, we are going to have conversations where we’re looking at the books together, at adjustments to those books together. And really ultimately we’re coming up with, if there’s a need to value a closely held business, we’re obviously going to put a value on that. As one of the many assets to be divided on what’s called the equitable distribution schedule, which ultimately is what separates out the marital balance sheet.

Pete Wright: It sounds like an audit, just a straight audit, right? Is it the same process effectively?

David Harper: No, it’s not. In fact it’s different in every case and Seth mentioned a really important point, and that is the work that we can do with other forensic CPAs in the area, we are so incredibly fortunate, especially in this area and in the Tampa Bay area to really have a stellar group of us forensic CPAs, we’ve known each other for years and years and years, we work extremely well together. And a lot of times we can really streamline and shortcut things. So for example, one of us might do the business valuation, the other might do an expense analysis. And then we might review each other’s work when we’re done. And if we’re close enough, normally we can resolve some of those issues outside of court.

Seth Nelson: So here’s the deal though, Pete, because you ask a good question. You’re saying it feels like an audit, so I would tell you that hiring a forensic accountant is like having a physical where maybe you get a little blood drawn, maybe you get your temperature taken, but it’s not a colonoscopy, an audit is the colonoscopy, okay? So what David’s not doing, if you’re looking at a business, for example, he’s not going through and saying, I want to see the purchase order that came in for this sale that then matches the sale that then matches the payment. Okay? He’s just looking at, Hey, this month in sales we had a hundred thousand dollars. He’s not digging in to show whether that was real transactions or not, right? Now he might look at a bank statement to match that up, but he’s not digging in for an audit to look at every little purchase order, every little, he’s not going to go through the petty cash drawer and look for the receipts, right? That’s what a true audit when people think of an audit is, it’s digging into the underlying information, which brings me to the point is all forensic accountants. There are assumptions in everything they do, they’re assuming when they see a bank statement that it’s an accurate bank statement with the exact amount of money. They’re not actually going through and doing an audit of the bank-

Pete Wright: And the justification behind those numbers.

Seth Nelson: You got it.

Pete Wright: All right. Okay. Let’s transition just briefly into collaborative divorce. Can we do that? I know that’s important to both of you David, it’s something you literally jump off cliffs screaming. Can we talk about that?

Seth Nelson: With or without a parachute?

Pete Wright: Yeah.

David Harper: Yeah, yeah. So-

Pete Wright: It sounds like it’s very exciting and you might have a problem that needs to be addressed [inaudible 00:16:17].

David Harper: Well, just ask my wife, I have many, many problems that need to be addressed, that’s for sure. But I’m part of a training team along with Kristin DiMeo, forensic CPA and a few others that do handle these collaborative trainings, we’ve trained about 400 people from across the country, 400 professionals of lawyers, financial folks and mental health professionals. So as part of those trainings, we like to be a little kitschy, we like to show silly videos that keep things interesting. So, collaborative practice is essentially, it’s a way to resolve your disputes without going to court. So, it’s an alternative dispute resolution process that allows you to resolve your disputes based on the interests of the parties as opposed to the positions of the parties, so we can get a lot more into that, but that’s the overview.

Seth Nelson: Yeah, So let me just give you an example of that Pete.

David Harper: Yeah, yeah.

Seth Nelson: So, position is, the husband says, I want the house, right? That is different than saying the husband says, I have an interest, I would really prefer to keep the house, because here comes the interest. It’s been in my family’s land for forever, I built the house with my father, it has sentimental value. It’s three blocks from the kids’ school, it’s right around the corner, I think it’s best for the kids to stay in this house till they at least graduate high school, right? Those are all the interests, the why he wants to keep the house, okay. As opposed to just saying, I want the house. Because then you can address those interests, right? And if you’re addressing interests, it’s a whole lot easier because the wife in my hypothetical could say, I really liked the fact that this house is three blocks from school. What I’m struggling with, if you keep the house, it’s marital even though it’s been in your family’s land, you put my name on it, we paid off the old mortgage, there’s all this money tied up in the house, I have an interest in getting half the value of the house, how can I do that? I’m not opposed to you keeping it, but I have another interest as well, I need to get a place for the kids to live as well. And then he says, well, there’s a cash account that has the exact half amount of, the exact amount of the value of the house and you can have all that and I get to keep the house, well, now we’ve satisfied everyone’s interest, because she can say, okay, I’ll take that cash account, I’m going to go buy something. And I actually have a little more space to which I can look, because maybe I don’t have to be three blocks from the school, I can be 10 minutes from the school by car, but we’re still pretty close. So that’s just a small example of interest first position, right? And what David does when you’re working with that is really get into the underlying aspects of it when someone says, well, I want the house and here’s my interest. David might say, well, there’s an account over here that we can look at that as an offset, or how about retirement, or there might be a way to make that work.

Pete Wright: So yeah, I want David to weigh in. So talk about how you are sort of, it sounds like you’re trying to see around corners here on behalf of the people you’re working with.

David Harper: Getting to the why. Getting to the why. And so the more we can be living in the question, that’s a very common phrase that we’re using, not just in collaborative cases, but really in most of our cases litigated as well. Live in the question, if I find myself starting every sentence with, well, I think, or I suggest, that’s not helpful, what’s helpful is allowing the client to take ownership of the situation. Now, often clients come in and say … They might might say something like, look it … I mean, they’re not going to say this, but the implication is it took 20 years for us to create this mess, now you’ve got next week to figure it out. Well, that’s not going to work. So, asking the why questions allows them to take ownership, to think for themselves. Hey Seth, do you think it would be helpful to? What options have you thought of? How do you think your spouse would respond if you presented them with this position? So, asking good questions and allowing the clients to take ownership.

Seth Nelson: The other part of that, and I think this is something we, well, I know we haven’t talked about it yet today, but we really should. Typically, not always, but typically there is one spouse that’s handled the finances and the other spouse has had other marital duties that have been divided, whether it’s taking care of children or some people are like I just make the money and she handles all the books, I have no idea, right? Sometimes it’s, oh, he’s handled everything, I’ve been raising the kids, I swipe the credit card, I don’t know where the money goes. And I am not trying to pigeonhole men handle the money and women raise the kids, I’ve seen all of it, it doesn’t matter the gender, but the person who doesn’t really know their biggest, I say emotion is fear, because it’s fear of the unknown, right? So when David is asking the why questions or getting all the information, the more information you have, the less fear there is, because now you know how much is in a savings account or brokerage account, there are people that wake up and they’re like, oh my God, we’re millionaires? I didn’t know that. And then they get annoyed, why wasn’t I allowed to spend more money? Right. Sometimes there’s that other fear, they get annoyed for something that happened. And some people wake up and be like, what do you mean we’ve got a million dollars worth of debt? And David is like, I’m just showing you the numbers, let’s try to figure out a solution now, so talk about that fear.

Pete Wright: Well, that gets to the next big question of, because we’ve had Megan Hunter was on from the High Conflict Institute, right? We talk about what happens when you run into conflict between the parties and I have to imagine that as soon as you start turning the pages on the storybook of why your finances ended up in the places they are, you’re uncovering great opportunities for conflict. How do you in the collaborative process sort of mitigate, navigate those?

David Harper: Two things come to mind, first of all, we explain to them that there is a process and it’s sequential, we explain what the process is. The other value really is that we’re having offline conversations within the professional team, we’re making sure that before we go into these meetings with the clients that we are prepared for hey, this may be an issue we want to handle delicately. But from the very beginning, what we’re explaining to the clients is, look, this is a process and my role is really three things, to help gather the information so that the parties can be fully informed. Two, to educate, so the parties can be on equal footing from a knowledge based standpoint, capable of making informed decisions. And three, facilitate conversations around creative approaches to problem solving. So, them realizing at the forefront that, Hey, this is a process and this collaborative team has done this plenty of times before, I’m in good hands.

Seth Nelson: And to pivot on that, Pete, the forensic accountant basically does the exact same thing, if they’re in a litigation mode working with the lawyer, they’re just doing it on their side of the transaction, because I’m going to ask David, gather the information, let’s say, make sure we have it where the lawyer understands it and the client understands it. And now let’s kind of come up with some creative solutions to resolve the matter if we can settle it. And if not, then it turns into the lawyer working with David or any forensic accountant on how they present the information. Because David presents schedules, there is no requirement on how those schedules look for the court, that’s up to the expert and the lawyer. So when you have a really good forensic and a really good lawyer, you can take vast amounts of information and boil it down into a slide or two or three that becomes a persuasive document for the court to make its decision. Now, I’m not saying you’re doing anything sketchy in these things, the other side has all the backup information, you have all the backup information, but just how a graph, do you do it by a pie chart? Do you do it by a line graph? How do those look differently? Do you do it by the thousand or the 10,000 or the million? How does that impact the presentation to the ultimate decision-maker who you’re trying to persuade the judge in our case. But up until that point, it’s the same I would say it’s just kind of packaged a little differently.

David Harper: That’s exactly right, it’s the same type of process really, regardless of if this were a collaborative case or if this is litigated, the other thing that we can get into in a few minutes is the role of the joint expert. That there doesn’t have to be a forensic CPA on each side, there can be one that’s-

Pete Wright: So you have somebody who’s working both sides at the same time?

David Harper: Exactly, exactly.

Pete Wright: That seems dangerous, emotionally dangerous.

Seth Nelson: For the forensic? Is that what you’re worried about?

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: You’re worried about David [crosstalk 00:26:28]-

Pete Wright: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:26:28] worried about the forensic.

David Harper: Well, that’s right, these cases have their own unique set of challenges, especially for the joint that … For the expert that’s really trying to toe that line, but I’ll tell you really where a lot of this comes from? I’m going to use the D word, discovery, which means document gathering. So, in all of our trainings, we always say, keep your hands raised if discovery, just the exchange of information can consume 40% of the total time … Keep your hands raised if it’s over 50%, okay. Over 60%. And still a lot of these people, a lot of these professionals still have their hands raised 60% of the time spent is just on exchanging information. And you know what, Seth, thanks for providing three years worth of your AMEX statements, but guess what? There were two missing months from 2018 that we still don’t have. And what are you trying to hide by not providing me those? So.

Seth Nelson: Cash withdrawals for strippers and blow.

Pete Wright: Well, that was exactly getting in my next question, which is you talk about how you’re sort of taking the data and massaging it into a format that makes a persuasive argument, how often do you run into these cases where people bring to you incomplete information or somehow manipulated financial data that somehow they think they’re trying to serve their case? What are you doing in those cases?

David Harper: Well, two distinct things, one is incomplete information, the other is you really are trying to scare somebody, but what I say a lot is really, we’re trying to be streamlined but complete. So the entire time it’s being efficient as possible, but as exhaustive as we need to be. So, we are asking those questions to the degree we need to, now, there have been some cases where the husband has said, Hey, look, I’ve got this paramore, I bought her a house, I bought her a car … Whatever the situation may be. And the total of that is X, sometimes we can have an agreement that okay, there was this much waste that an affidavit is signed to that effect, basically putting that value back on the marital balance sheet on his side or her side. Where we don’t have to go digging through years worth of bank statements to come to the … To arrive at a similar conclusion.

Seth Nelson: And on that point, Pete, every client is entitled to go through this exchange of information called discovery and look under every rock. The question comes in every case, is what is the potential return on investment for looking under every rock? And when it’s going to cost attorney’s fees and accountant fees to keep digging and digging and digging, is it potentially worth that time? A lot of time the answer to that is no.

Pete Wright: So you end up just sort of cutting bait, right?

Seth Nelson: You cut bait. But what happens is you might say to David, "David, you’ve been doing this a long time, you’re an expert at this. I know you don’t have all the information. What’s your gut feel on this?" "Seth, I think I’m pretty good. There’s some holes here that I think should be filled, but I’ve been doing this a long time and I think that maybe we’re missing 15% or maybe this account, it just doesn’t make sense that there’s a lot of money running through here the way the other transactions were happening." You can kind of make very well thought out reasonable assumptions and inferences to then say, we’ve got enough information, let’s move forward. Now, sometimes if the other side is not giving the information, I can pull this very, very complicated, legal strategy and file what’s called a motion for negative inference. Which basically says to the judge, "Judge, we had account with a hundred thousand dollars in it and we’ve asked him for follow-up statements, we’ve asked him for all the documents, we’ve subpoenaed the bank, they said the money got moved to another one and it was withdrawn. We’ve asked for him to follow up where the cash withdrawal went? He hasn’t given us anything. Therefore we’re asking the court to take a negative inference and say that he wasted the hundred grand, because he’s just not telling you where it is and he’s not giving us the information." And the judge can say, "Sir, if you’re not giving the info, I’ve got nothing left to do. I’m going to tag you with that hundred grand of marital waste, you owe her 50Gs. So either give her 50Gs or give her the information so she can do the analysis and you can argue, but judge, I spend it on the mortgage I spend on the kid’s high school education, I spent it on child support, but without giving the information sir, I’m sorry, we have rules here." So that’s another tactic that you can use in court.

Pete Wright: Can I pivot, do I have your permission to pivot? We have a listener question that I think is appropriate for this esteemed panel.

Seth Nelson: Esteemed panel [crosstalk 00:31:41] easy question.

Pete Wright: Right, what do you think about that? And I think you’ve already started talking about it and normally we might take this in another direction, but I think this is important, this is from listener Sarah Peters, who says the following, "My husband informed me that he wants a divorce, we agree it’s time, but there are sensitive points. I’ve brought up a housing agreement a dozen times, but it just leads to fighting. He wants to keep it I guess, but doesn’t want to pay me out, meeting an attorney next week and would love advice on questions I should be asking. So I don’t miss anything and can make a good case for him and stop fighting. I feel like we’re in a storm right now and not clearly seeing the facts. Thanks." Now, I bring that up because I think it deals with a lot of issues that you’ve talked about in your experience and also the emotional sort of storm that just happens when you’re in this process, right? How would you give guidance to Sarah for helping to navigate these waters? David.

David Harper: Sure, sure. And I’ll just mention very quickly that the two can of course are somewhat interrelated, I mean, you’ve got spouses that are just suddenly blindsided by this news. So part of the objective from the financial standpoint is to help them make a shift from their right brain scattered, sensitive and emotional thoughts and help them organize through some left brain exercises to some degree. So, because we really can’t analyze the house in a vacuum, we need to know, are there other substantial accounts? Are there investment accounts? Are there cash accounts? Are there other assets out there that might go back to what Seth was saying earlier to offset the value of the house if the husband did want to stay, would there be enough value elsewhere where the wife would be walking away with something similar? So from a financial standpoint, it’s hard to make a decision on the house until we have information regarding other assets.

Pete Wright: Okay. This really gets to the stop the fighting part.

Seth Nelson: Yeah, it’s the emotional part as well, but I think the question itself raises some questions. So she says he wants to keep the house, I guess. So there’s not a clear answer on that. And he doesn’t want to pay me out, so if he is not answering after the direct question, sitting here today, do you want to keep the house? The answer might be, I don’t know, because I don’t know how everything else is going to flush out. I.E. do I want to be house bore? Right. Do I want to have all my assets in this house that I have to pay this mortgage on and I only have a lot of disposable income afterwards? Well, that kind of depends on how all the other dominoes falls as David says, he doesn’t want to pay me out. Okay, well, that’s going to be a problem if you’re entitled to half the value, but here’s the thing, would love the advice on questions I should be asking so I don’t miss anything. You should ask your lawyer, what information do you need from me? So you can help me solve this problem? This is all about problem-solving. And if I can’t get the information or don’t know where it is, what is the process? Okay. The thing that I would give a cautionary tale to the remaining aspects of this is, so I can make a good case for him and stop fighting. You can’t make someone stop fighting, right? So I think though you’re trying to reach a settlement and you’re trying to get a quote, good case for him. Most spouses will stop listening to you when you say the following words. "Well, my lawyer says," Okay?

Pete Wright: All right.

Seth Nelson: So she’s kind of asking, Hey, what can I get from my lawyer, so I can tell my husband, this is what my lawyer is saying so stop fighting. So that’s probably an unrealistic solution. However, there’s a realistic solution. You get the information, you ask all those questions to your lawyer? What do I need to get to you? What happens if I can’t get it to you? After I get you the information, what’s the next step? And the lawyer might say, well, then we double-check the values, we determine who’s going to get what asset. And we’re going to put it in a format that we give him the house, because that’s what we think he wants and then we’re going to divide up all the other assets and if it’s okay with you, we’re going to send it over to him as an offer. And then hopefully we get a response either from him or his lawyer that says, well, no, I don’t want the house, let’s just sell it. Okay. Or maybe, maybe not or then it will raise other questions. So I don’t want them to think, Hey, I’m in a storm right now, if I just get this and I get an offer over, it’s going to solve, here’s what’s coming next.

Pete Wright: Well, doesn’t it also seem like it’s indicative of what I have to imagine is incredibly natural in the divorce process, which is having this one big thing representative of the entire divorce, right? The house is this giant asset and it’s full of memories and emotion and if we can just solve this, then everything else is probably going to be easy, right? I just feel like that’s kind of the, that’s what I’m reading, that’s sub textually what I’m getting out of this question.

Seth Nelson: Right. And that was going to be the next step is don’t think if you solve this problem everything else is going to be easy, because they’re all intertwined.

Pete Wright: Yeah, right.

Seth Nelson: Right. And so the next step might be, we agree on all this, but there’s not enough other assets to offset the house. Okay. Well, can you get a mortgage? Can you get a home equity line of credit? Does he have to take you off of the mortgage? How does all of that work? And you got to do your due diligence starting early to see if you can get a final resolution on that.

Pete Wright: David, any additional thoughts you want to … You have this opportunity to call Seth wrong in any way, shape or form?

David Harper: Well, I hate it, but I can’t, I can’t call him wrong on this, I agree with what Seth is saying. Often the other side of this, we’re talking about the two buckets, the assets and debts being one bucket and then the income and expenses being another bucket. And sometimes part of the support discussion can fit in here, that hey, there might not be quite enough assets to offset the value of a house, but perhaps we can talk about child support or we can talk about alimony as part of a part of a global resolution.

Pete Wright: Yeah. Well, this has been a-

Seth Nelson: Excuse me, Pete. I’m not letting that slide, are you kidding me?

Pete Wright: All right.

Seth Nelson: Yeah. Hello, toaster bingo, Seth was right again. You thought I was just going to let that go.

Pete Wright: Okay, you’ve got another notch on the wall, Seth. I do have one final question speaking of toaster bingo, I don’t have the bell out, but what sort of jurisdictional concerns or constraints do you have David? I mean, do you work across state lines or are you just in the Tampa, Florida area?

David Harper: Great question, so I am a CPA in the State of Georgia as well as Florida, but our litigation support practices devoted to the state of Florida, because every state obviously follows different legislative nuances case law and so forth, so.

Seth Nelson: But I will tell you, he’s a very smart guy, he got his master’s degree in accounting from University of Virginia, which is much more impressive than being [inaudible 00:39:40] from Auburn, roll tide David, and that’s coming from my son and his bonus dad, Steve.

David Harper: Oh no, did I just hear a roll tide?

Seth Nelson: Yes you did.

David Harper: Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. What I have to do, where do you go back at it?

Pete Wright: Speaking of Mic drops, David, for our Florida listeners, where do you want them to go to learn a little bit more about you, your work, your training? Give us plaque.

David Harper: Sure. is our website, a lot of information on there, a lot of articles, good content. We really got a great team, I feel very, very blessed that we do have a great team of CPAs and staff members. So great to be with you today.

Pete Wright: Outstanding. Thanks for your time and thank you everybody for listening to the show. We talked about Sarah Peter’s question, which was wonderful, if you want to ask your own question, head over to and others form there, you can be completely anonymous, drop us a line, let us know what’s on your mind and we’ll get Seth and our fantastic guests to weigh in on the show on behalf of the fantastic David Harper who makes numbers fun. And America’s favorite divorce attorney, Seth Nelson. on Pete Wright, we’ll catch you next time right here on How To Split A Toaster, the divorce podcast about saving your relationships.

Speaker 4: Seth Nelson is an attorney with Nelson Costa Family Law and Mediation with offices in Tampa, Florida. While we may be discussing family law topics, How To Split A Toaster is not intended to nor is it providing legal advice. Every situation is different. If you have specific questions regarding your situation, please seek your own legal counsel with an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. Pete Wright is not an attorney or employee of Nelson Costa. Seth Nelson is licensed to practice law in Florida.

Seth Nelson is a Tampa based family lawyer known for devising creative solutions to difficult problems. In How to Split a Toaster, Nelson and co-host Pete Wright take on the challenge of divorce with a central objective — saving your most important relationships with your family, your former spouse, and yourself.
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