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Therapeutic Justice in Family Cases – The Accountant (Part 3)

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By PracticeForte Advisory Affiliate Shirley Tay of 10.10 Consultants Pte Ltd.

Law, divorce, litigation, suits — nobody would ever consider these circumstances ‘therapeutic’. These terms are more likely to induce stress, anger, fights, arguments, disputes and many other negative emotions. So how did the concept of Therapeutic Jurisprudence [or “TJ”] come to be, what role does therapy play in the judiciary, and how can accountants adopt TJ in their work?

TJ takes into account the emotional and psychological impact the law has on parties involved. At its core, TJ offers an interdisciplinary, non-adversarial approach, using law as a potential therapeutic agent, where a team of key players come together to assist a party to make positive changes. Some examples include adopting a therapy-centred legal process, or even steering parties towards healing their relationship as opposed to punishing each other.

Forensic accountants play a major role in TJ as well; we are engaged to investigate complex financial and accounting issues like identifying, tracing and assessing the values of assets, or collating evidence that withstands cross examination or scrutiny. Here, we’ll focus on matrimonial disputes.

When couples come together, their world is flowered with romance and love. Unsexy topics like money and finance are rarely openly discussed. Most times, the party deemed more financially (and digitally) savvy is tasked to handle money. In the long-run, because it is an awkward subject that is not properly worked through, it often leads to mistrust or unhappiness. So, it’s not surprising that financial matters can quickly turn into sore points that form the basis of long-drawn matrimonial fights.

In divorce matters, accountants are often brought in for ancillary matters like maintenance and division of assets. We recommend TJ to encourage parties to mediate before going to trial. At the negotiation table, the dollars and cents are naturally a mainstay issue. How would a forensic accountant apply TJ in his or her role as a financial specialist in such cases?

Consider all sides

While we are engaged through solicitors representing one side, accountants have to consider proposals and numbers tabled from all parties. By referencing and comparing the documents and figures supporting the submissions of every side, we can highlight the main areas of disagreement, and assess the reasonableness of the sums against documentary proof of the same, effectively shortening the negotiation process while engaging parties to narrow their differences and work towards an agreement.

Asking the right questions

Different couples will adopt different ways to manage funds and contributions. From joint accounts to sharing of burden according to ability-to-earn, or in the case of a single-income family, full reliance on the breadwinner. In the last scenario, even when the marriage isn’t working out, the party without an income stream may be reluctant to pursue divorce as they cannot imagine how they can cope financially in the aftermath.

That these non-income earners don’t handle the family finances would also explain why most don’t know how to obtain information about, much less how much money or what assets exist. This is also where forensic accountants can help alleviate their anxiety. From examining just basic information, we’re able to lead clients to ask the right questions for more information, and from analysing numbers, we can also help prove misstatements or find relevant undisclosed facts.

Systematically working through complex financial issues

With globalisation and high volumes of cross-border trades, financial transactions have also become more sophisticated, especially for high net-worth individuals whose assets may include corporate shares, overseas investments, bank borrowings or even non-financial institutions and other elaborate financial arrangements. These can be very intricate and require tracing and analysis, and forensic accountants work systematically through these issues, and present our findings to the clients with a goal to find the simple within the complex.

Joining the dots to understand the motivation

Forensic accountants provide independent, objective analysis, not only by paying attention to detail, but also connecting dots. From the numbers we work with, we’re able to explain the “who, what, when and how”. And to apply TJ in our work, we also have to find and understand the “whys” that reveal motivations behind behaviours, so we can help parties in dispute work towards resolution or settle grievances.

Presenting the numbers in comprehensive manner

A good piece of work needs to be presented simply and comprehensively for easy understanding, especially for subjects such as finance. As such, our reports summarise main facts into tables, present trends in graphs, and use simple language that is easy to digest.

While lawyers use words to paint the picture, accountants believe numbers tell the story. Whichever the case, to create positive change, the legal route need not have the negative effects most clients would come to expect. By collaborating with a team of professionals comprising accountants, counsellors, lawyers and mediators, such as that assembled under PracticeForte Advisory, we can adopt TJ to steer parties towards healing and amicable settlement.

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