Forensic Accountant

Irina Anissimova, CPA, CFF

Expectations. There are many, but I will address only two of them, both are related to the divorce litigation process and both are almost always wrong. Whether this is also true for the mediation and collaborative divorce I do not know.


The first expectation is that once the process is started, it can be accomplished reasonably quickly, in a matter of several months. This is not true more often than not.


Based on my experience, the average duration of a divorce case is about 18 months, but I have seen cases where it took more than 3 years to divide the assets and cases where regular visits to court on support issues ended only after the youngest of the children reached 18. While it may seem very acceptable and even desirable for attorneys and accountants, even we get tired of long lasting assignments. 18 months seem to be more than enough ...


The main reason for this rather long term is not the animosity of the ex-spouses but the general slow motion of any process that involves multiple participants with their own agendas and schedules. There are attorneys and accountants on both sides who all have other clients and there is a judge in the middle, who has an overloaded schedule, plus there is a small army of other people who get involved for shorter periods of time - document processing services, subpoena and HR departments, appraisers, vocational evaluators and so on. All participants have complicated schedules which are hard to coordinate even under the best of the circumstances. These scheduling difficulties account for most of the 18 months average. Add to this mix parties' desire to get even or some other tangential agenda and you can count 3 years or more before the divorce judgment is filed.


The second expectation is that the “other side” would be reasonable and would want to complete the divorce process as soon as practically possible. This is generally true, except for the differences in the understanding of what the word “reasonable” means to each party.


In an adversarial process opposing sides tend to have opposing interests. Both behave very reasonably according to each one’s own goals and circumstances. This is where the frequent frustration with “the other side” originates and flourish.


Divorce is seldom a unanimous decision, more often than not the decision is unilateral and not necessarily made by the petitioner. Financial and emotional incentives of the parties are thus very different and quite often opposite and irreconcilable. From the outside it may seem unreasonable when one of the parties is intent on creating constant delays, but what if temporary (during litigation) support is much higher (or lower) than what would have to be paid once divorce is finalized?


In order to obtain more realistic expectations, it is usually helpful to look at the situation from the “other side’s” point of view and inquire about the insights of one’s attorney’s experience.