Divorce at Altitude: A Podcast on Colorado Family Law

Forensic Accounting & the Divorce Money Guide with Tracy Coenen, CPA | Episode 116

July 21, 2022 Ryan Kalamaya & Amy Goscha
Divorce at Altitude: A Podcast on Colorado Family Law
Forensic Accounting & the Divorce Money Guide with Tracy Coenen, CPA | Episode 116
Show Notes Transcript

If you’ve found yourself asking the question, “Where did my money go?” this episode is for you! Our guest, Tracy Coenen, is a no-nonsense forensic accountant whose job is to look at bank statements, loan statements, credit card statements, and the like, to determine whether there are any improper expenditures being made.

During this episode, Tracy shares some of the financial red flags to look out for when you are going through a divorce, and she walks us through what you can expect to learn from reading her Divorce Money Guide. Whether you have suspicions about your spouse's spending habits or you just want to become more informed, the Guide is the first step to financial empowerment!


Key Points From This Episode:

  • Who Tracy created the Divorce Money Guide for.
  • An explanation of what a forensic accountant does. 
  • Fees that Tracy charges for her services.
  • Tracy shares what motivated her to create the Divorce Money Guide. 
  • Examples of red flags to look out for in relation to finances. 
  • An overview of how the Divorce Money Guide works. 


What is Divorce at Altitude? 

Ryan Kalamaya and Amy Goscha provide tips and recommendations on issues related to divorce, separation, and co-parenting in Colorado. Ryan and Amy are the founding partners of an innovative and ambitious law firm, Kalamaya | Goscha, that pushes the boundaries to discover new frontiers in family law, personal injury, and criminal defense in Colorado. 

To subscribe to Divorce at Altitude, click here and select your favorite podcast player. To subscribe to Kalamaya | Goscha's YouTube channel where many of the episodes will be posted as videos, click here. If you have additional questions or would like to speak to one of our attorneys, give us a call at 970-429-5784 or email us at info@kalamaya.law.

************************************************************************

DISCLAIMER: THE COMMENTARY AND OPINIONS ON THIS PODCAST IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT AND INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES AND NOT FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY IN YOUR STATE OR AREA TO OBTAIN LEGAL ADVICE ON ANY OF THESE ISSUES.

Ryan Kalamaya (4s):
I'm Brian Callahan

Amy Goscha (6s):
And I'm Amy. Gosha

Ryan Kalamaya (8s):
Welcome to the divorce at altitude, a podcast on Colorado family law.

Amy Goscha (13s):
Divorce is not easy. It really sucks. Trust me. I know besides being an experienced divorce attorney, I'm also a divorce client,

Ryan Kalamaya (21s):
Whether you are someone considering divorce or a fellow family law attorney listening for weekly tips and insight into topics related to divorce co-parenting and separation in Colorado. Welcome back to another episode of divorce at altitude. This is Ryan Callahan. As listeners know, we frequently reference Eric Wolfard hypothetical divorce client, not as often do we reference Melanie Wolf? Well, this episode in particular is focused on Melanie and her concerns at the end of her story. And you can Google Melanie Wolfe and my last name to find out Melanie Wolf's story.

Ryan Kalamaya (1m 2s):
But one of her concerns is about Eric having control of the money and her not really knowing what all is going on. And this week we are going to be talking with a forensic accountant and expert in the area of fraud, investigations and forensic accounting. So let me tell you about Tracy Conan. She is known as a no-nonsense forensic accountant who delivers the real deal to her clients. And let's face it when your money is on the line. There is zero time to dance around an issue. So her passion lies in helping people find answers. And one of those answers is two questions like where did our money go?

Ryan Kalamaya (1m 43s):
And is people going through divorce will frequently find out, come to me and ask me, where did my money go? People like Melanie will have questions, but the answer is sometimes can be very expensive. So Tracy has created the divorce money guide, and we're going to talk about her experience, red flags and the creation of the divorce money guide. And it's really a fancy way for someone to do their own forensic accounting with years of experience, kind of coming to the fold. So Tracy, I could go on and on. Why don't you explain a little bit about your background, where you are located because listeners are gonna immediately get to hear your Milwaukee accent and, you know, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Tracy Coenen (2m 31s):
So I've been a forensic accountant for more than 25 years. I've been working as a solo practitioner with my own firm for more than 22 years. And you're right. I do fraud investigations and that's, you know, often corporate executives who are stealing, but it's also sometimes in divorce cases where there are questions about where the money went. So I like to tell people that my job is to find money and you're right. I am in Milwaukee. That's where I live. Most of my clients are in Chicago, but I do cases quite frankly, around the country. It really doesn't matter where my clients are. So it just depends on who finds me.

Ryan Kalamaya (3m 4s):
And so Tracy for listeners, I, I mentioned the divorce, my guide. So who did you create the money guide for? So we have kind of a, an established playing field.

Tracy Coenen (3m 17s):
The divorce money guide is for the person who is going through the process of divorce, who either just doesn't know enough about the money in their family situation or has suspicions about where their money has gone and is unable to hire a forensic accountant. So it's sort of a do it yourself with the help of an expert. And so the person that I was thinking about when I created this product, even though it's really for anyone who wants to use it, I was specifically thinking about a stay-at-home mom. Who's probably age 35 to 45 with a few school-aged children who hasn't been actively involved in managing the family's finances because her husband has been in control of it.

Tracy Coenen (3m 57s):
And she has suspicions about the money and her husband is probably even having an affair. So we know already just by the fact that he's having an affair, that there has probably been some money, spent inappropriately, some marital money that has been spent on these activities, maybe for dinners out hotels, gifts, things like that.

Ryan Kalamaya (4m 15s):
And Theresa, you said most of your clients are in Chicago, but you do have a nationwide practice. So if I were to call you, and I think that this is just helpful for people, Melanie Woolford, you're a stay at home mom with three kids in Colorado to understand. So what, first of all is a forensic accountant or account team. And, you know, can you give us an idea of how much that costs? Because I think if listeners hear what that process is like, because it is a term bandied about and thrown around in the divorce in Colorado, I'm going to get a forensic accounting and they hear that and they just kind of, you clients often use it, but they didn't really understand what it entails or, or more importantly, how much is this going to cost?

Ryan Kalamaya (4m 60s):
Because then I think listeners will then understand the divorce money guide and the value that one can get from what you've created,

Tracy Coenen (5m 9s):
Think of a forensic accountant as an investigator. So I investigate the numbers in a divorce case. What I do is I focus very heavily on bank statements, credit card statements, investment account statements, loan statements, and I literally trace the money. So I look at all the transactions and I look at every dollar and where it's going from one account to another, or what it's being spent on. Ultimately trying to find out if there are improper expenditures or if there's money, maybe that's been withdrawn. And we don't know what happened to it or transferred to an account that we didn't previously know about things like that. So what I do is pretty involved, the typical case, it's, it's pretty common that you would have a retainer of $10,000 to get started with a forensic accountant.

Tracy Coenen (5m 54s):
I like to say my cases are my normal in the divorce space are between 10 and $25,000 of fees. I do larger ones as well, but if you wanted the normal, it's about 10 to $25,000.

Ryan Kalamaya (6m 7s):
So, you know, just as an example, I had a case where a landscaper, he was buying his girlfriend, you know, Victoria secrets things and running it through the business. And that lingerie, I remember on the stand, you know, I asked him about the, the uniforms and the kind of normal equipment that he would purchase for his guys. And, you know, he admitted it was first girlfriend, but he was experiencing it through the business. So, but it wouldn't make sense to hire someone like you to do a forensic accounting, to find, you know, a hundred dollars in laundry there or this or that. So what are the circumstances? Can you give us some ideas of when it makes sense for, you know, to really go into a forensic accounting and then what are the kind of the red flags that people would first look at that would be part of the divorce money guide.

Tracy Coenen (7m 2s):
So it makes more sense to hire a forensic accountant when there is more money on the line. When you think that there is more significant, unusual spending, you know, in some cases they already have some evidence of improper spending. In other cases, they don't have that evidence. And that's exactly why they need me is because they have some pretty strong suspicions though. So I would say, you know, it's a balancing act of how much money is on the line, how much you can reasonably guess might be missing because you're not only paying for my fees. You're also paying for the attorney's fees then to pursue the issue of getting this money back

Ryan Kalamaya (7m 38s):
And going to divorce money guide. I imagined that you would get calls from people like me, divorce attorneys, or the Melanie wolfs of the world. That would say, I, I don't know. I just don't trust my husband at this point, or my wife, you know, and often it's going to involve, you know, some sort of private business or is kind of the most frequent circumstances, but Tracy, tell me, talk to me about why you created it. Is it because you just got so many calls and it just didn't justify the fees?

Tracy Coenen (8m 13s):
Well, that's just, it is like I would get people calling me saying, I have some suspicions. I need some help, but they either couldn't afford my services or they didn't have enough at stake to make it worthwhile. You know, for whatever reason, when I would tell them 10 to $25,000, of course their sticker shock there. And they say, I've already spent so much on my divorce and I can't afford another cost. And I got frustrated because I didn't have an option for them. You know, it's disappointing to me to be able to tell someone, okay, I can't help you. And they say, well, what do I do next? Well, here's a couple articles on the internet that you can go read, but that really doesn't help them. And so I wanted there to be an option and I knew that clients were also going to their attorneys and their attorneys were saying, well, a forensic accountant could help, but I know you can't afford one.

Tracy Coenen (8m 60s):
And the buck kind of stopped right there. So I said, I want to create something where people have an opportunity to get more information about their financial situation. If I could walk them through very simply what I do give them some really simple techniques for looking at their bank statements, things to look for techniques to do that. I like to say anyone can do, even if you're not a numbers person, I thought if I could put something like that together, it would be a way for me to help literally thousands of people who otherwise would have no help available to them. And so that's how the divorce money guide came to me.

Ryan Kalamaya (9m 35s):
And, you know, Tracy, what would you say for someone with would say, listen, Melanie, you're just inciting a fear by creating something like this. And it's just going to make a divorce, even messier. Well, how would you respond to that kind of viewpoint on a product like this?

Tracy Coenen (9m 56s):
And the goal is actually the opposite. I don't want to incite fear. What I want to do is help people get peace of mind. So you probably see it, Ryan in your practice that so many of your clients come to you and have suspicions. And until they can take some steps to satisfy themselves with more information, they're never going to get over those suspicions. And so I tell people who are talking to me about the divorce money guide. You have been married to your spouse for a period of time. You know them very well. You have intuition. I think you should trust your intuition, but let's talk about, do you have specific things that you can articulate that leads you to be suspicious? If someone just says, well, I think he's a jerk.

Tracy Coenen (10m 37s):
And so probably he's stealing money. If that's all they've got, I'm going to say, Hey, probably barking up the wrong tree. But if they say, you know, I've seen some things that really concern me. Like our bank account statements used to come in the mail every month to the house. And all of a sudden they stopped coming and I asked him where they were and he wouldn't give me a straight answer, right? To me, that's a red flag. Something has changed in your financial situation. And so then trust your intuition about that. When you see more red flags, trust your intuition about that. So it's not supposed to get people all upset. It's supposed to give them the means and the tools to take their intuition and then take some action steps towards finding out the truth.

Ryan Kalamaya (11m 20s):
This episode is brought to you by our law firm. Kalamega negotia Amy and I describe our law firm as an innovative and ambitious trial team that pushes the boundaries to discover a new frontier is in family law, personal injuries in criminal defense in Colorado. We currently have offices in Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Edwards, Denver, and Boulder. If you want to find out more, visit our website, kalmia.law. Now back to the show, Right? And you know, we had guest a joint valuation expert, Yvonne Zuber, and she talked about her process for valuing a business.

Ryan Kalamaya (12m 2s):
And it's a similar process to what you are explaining and your, your role, but really one thing that stuck up it just, I was reminded when you were talking about that, the change in the monthly statements was that she likes to ask if the business owner who filed, because if the business owner is the one that filed, then that raises the suspicion that they had been planning it. And therefore they might have been kind of playing around with some of the numbers. So some of those, you know, red flags that you described that really help walk someone through whether or not they should, you know, take the next step. So can you talk about maybe some other red flags that people could spot it financially in their relationship that you know, would be part of the divorce money guy?

Tracy Coenen (12m 51s):
You know, I think about things like someone doing a lot of cash transactions when they haven't before, because everybody knows that cash transactions leave no paper trail, nobody knows what you spent the money for. So if your spouse typically didn't use a lot of cash, always use the credit card or the debit card. And now instead they're going to the ATM potentially they're going to the ATM multiple times a week. And they can't really account for where that money is going, or especially if they're withdrawing cash, allegedly spending that, but also still using the credit or debit card at the same level, as they used to those types of things, raise suspicions for me, I look for things like potentially backdated documents or unusual documents that don't seem to make sense in the financial arena.

Tracy Coenen (13m 39s):
Right? One more that comes up is someone who is flaunting their power or control over the financial situation or over you. So in the weeks months leading up to divorce or in the divorce process, the person has had control of the finances is telling you you're going to get nothing. I control it, all that type of behavior. And those types of words are concerning to me because they are, they can be a red flag of fraud as well.

Ryan Kalamaya (14m 10s):
Reminded, you know, we, we divorce lawyers frequently to tell war stories and it can make a difference, or at least I think provide some concrete examples. But I remember a client that he was, you know, trying to go through his divorce on his own. And he finally came to me and he was just getting buried by the other side. And he told me that his wife made a lot more money than he did. And she was a stay at home mom by all accounts. And I said, how does she make her money? She's not employed. And it turned out that she was getting, she would go to Las Vegas with her parents or her parents would kind of bankroll her. And then she would pocket the money on her parents is, you know, and come home with just bags of cash.

Ryan Kalamaya (14m 55s):
And sure enough, you go through the bank statements and you would see like clockwork $9,900 deposited in, in cash. And when you could put that together, he just lacked the resources and the know-how of really knowing how to present that to the judge. It's a little bit different than what you do, but it's just an example that I think, you know, you can understand of where people, they don't know how to prove that cash or that the forensic accounting to really show, and it could come to the other way where money could be going out. And there's so many just tricks where business owners or, you know, people they can skim off the top.

Ryan Kalamaya (15m 37s):
And in the grand scheme of things, it can be a lot of money. It's just a matter of knowing the difference between I don't trust Melanie Wolf saying I don't trust Eric because he's having an affair and he's not the person that I thought he was. And now I don't trust anything versus well, I'm leaving hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars, you know, off the table, because I didn't know that I could put it on the table. Cause I didn't know what was missing in the first place.

Tracy Coenen (16m 6s):
Well, you know, to you and I, it seems pretty simple to say, go get your bank statements and look for deposits of $9,900 every month or every week or something like this. Right. It seems really simple to tell someone, go, go look at the bank statements and look for unusual transactions. But what I've found is that just saying it like that is super intimidating to many, many people. I'm not going to turn someone into a forensic accountant overnight, but I can walk them through the process very simply of here's how you get the bank statements. Here's how you organize them. Here's what to look for in them once you have them. And I think that by taking it step by step, instead of just saying, get the statements and look at them, I think it makes it a lot easier for the person getting divorced to actually make some headway on them.

Ryan Kalamaya (16m 54s):
Right. And Tracy, so the divorce money you got to do, it's an online handbook that it has 10 steps. So tell me and our listeners a little bit more about what they could expect and, and you know, a cost and just what the process is that you have, have created.

Tracy Coenen (17m 11s):
So the 10 steps start with helping the person understand the financial part of their divorce so that they understand what financial discovery is, what kind of documents they're going to need. They've even got a checklist of all the financial documents that they should put together for the financial discovery part of their divorce. It walks them through the red flags of fraud. There's even a quiz it's 25 questions about their family's financial situation and interactions between them and their spouse in the financial realm to help assess how likely is it that there has been money that's hidden or spent inappropriately, really helpful tool for people to, to take that gut feel that they have about the potential for fraud and sort of have an expert sort of assess it for them, right?

Tracy Coenen (17m 58s):
And then it walks them through getting their financial documents. So what do you need in terms of bank statements and credit card statements? How do you get them? How do you organize them? And what do you do with them once you have them? So 10 steps, you don't have to do them in order. You don't have to do all of them. If you already have some of your documents, you could skip right to the step that's relevant to looking at them, something like that. And really it's all it's for the cost of about one hour of a divorce attorneys. Time is what it'll cost you to get the divorce money guide. And so I was looking for that value there and thinking to myself that if the client gathered all of their bank statements and tax returns themselves with the help of the divorce money guide and their attorney didn't have to do those things, didn't have to organize those documents.

Tracy Coenen (18m 44s):
Didn't have to bill the client for all of that. And they saved money, save an hour or two or three of the divorce attorneys time. It's well worth it for them.

Ryan Kalamaya (18m 53s):
And I think they, something that you mentioned earlier is that the cost of the peace of mind and where people they can download the handbook and then, then they know, or at least have a better idea of is this worth pursuing. I have questions and it will arm them with tools to better work with someone like me, where women as listeners know, we have a, how to series on the divorce of altitude podcast, where we walk people through the process of getting a divorce parenting property, and we're working on, you know, support, but you have videos in addition to the written materials and that downloading, you know, the, the online handbook.

Ryan Kalamaya (19m 42s):
And so it's really arming people with the tools to better work with us, to really deal with the complex issues, because not every person it's going to be appropriate for them to use the divorce migrant. They might need your services, but if they don't, they at least have the peace of mind that they looked into it and they examined the bank statements and went through that process.

Tracy Coenen (20m 9s):
Yeah. I feel like even if they only do one or two of the steps, they'll still know more than they did before they started. And that's a win to me

Ryan Kalamaya (20m 16s):
A hundred percent. And I think that even being better organized for working with someone like a divorce attorney, where they can upload their documents to Dropbox, which is what we use or to have them organize, they're just going to understand the financial issues much better, even if they don't determine that, you know, a bunch of red flags exist or there is a necessary forensic accounting that needs to be undertaken

Tracy Coenen (20m 46s):
100%. I just think that knowledge is power. And, you know, the opportunity to know more than you did before is really key.

Ryan Kalamaya (20m 55s):
Tracy. If listeners are interested in finding out more, and first of all, we'll have links in the show notes, but where can people find the divorce money guide? And, you know, you've written some other books and, and, you know, materials out there. So, and obviously do consulting and the expert work. So for listeners that are interested in finding out more, I'm willing to find out about divorce, money guide, or other materials that you have done. Can you tell us a little bit about where they can find that and what would all they can find,

Tracy Coenen (21m 25s):
Just head to divorce, money, guide.com. That's where you find the product. There's also a little introductory quiz there where you can get some insight into how much you know about your financial situation. As you are heading into divorce, everything you need is there. You can find me on Instagram. I'm also divorced money guide there as well.

Ryan Kalamaya (21m 44s):
And Tracy, if people want to find out more about materials that you've put together, where can they find that and what, what all is out there?

Tracy Coenen (21m 52s):
So my corporate website is sequence Inc com sequence like a sequence of numbers, Inc com what you'll find there is a blog that I've got about fraud issues. You can find my book, lifestyle analysis in divorce, which I wrote for divorce attorneys to help them learn more about the financial issues and the work that a forensic accountant might do

Ryan Kalamaya (22m 13s):
Well, you know, really appreciate the contributions to the industry and the space and, and helping out people, Tracy, going through a divorce. I, I know, you know, it's, it's implicit, but there's not anything out there that exists. And I think it was really helpful for people like me, a divorce attorney who explains to a client, Hey, listen, like you'd have to go through a forensic accounting to really get down to that answer. And I cannot tell you how many times, you know, Melanie Wolfe or someone close to her will call them and say, I really just don't trust Eric. And I want to do a forensic accounting, but then they're, they're deterred because of the costs.

Ryan Kalamaya (22m 56s):
I know that's one of the reasons you wrote and produced this product, but you know, really appreciative of what you've done here. Cause I think it's going to help a lot of people.

Tracy Coenen (23m 6s):
I think it's going to empower a lot of people and that's that's the whole point is, you know, to give them again, more knowledge than they had before they started and, and allow them to take some control. You know, even if there aren't suspicions about the money, like let's just say that you're the person who hasn't been in control of the money. You don't suspect your spouse has been doing anything funny with the money, but you still want to be informed about what's been going on the divorce money guy can help you with that as well. So it's a win, no matter whether you think there's fraud or not.

Ryan Kalamaya (23m 36s):
Well, thanks for joining us on divorce at altitude. And again, we'll have links to the show notes, but until next time, thanks again for listening to divorce. Altitude. Thank

Tracy Coenen (23m 47s):
You so much for having me,

Ryan Kalamaya (23m 49s):
Everyone. This is Ryan again. Thank you for joining us on divorce at altitude. If you found our tips, insight or discussion, helpful, please tell a friend about this podcast for show notes, additional resources or links mentioned on today's episode. Visit divorce@altitude.com. Follow us on apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen in. Many of our episodes are also posted on YouTube. You can also find baby and me@calomine.law or 9 7 8 3 1 5 2 3 6 5 that's K a L a M a Y a.law.