The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of opposite-sex couples getting divorced in England and Wales surged to 107,599 in 2019 – an increase of almost 20 per cent on the previous year and the highest level in five years.
The ONS also recorded 822 same-sex divorces last year, nearly twice the number as in 2018.
The main reason for these divorces was unreasonable behaviour. This has been a common reason in many separations but it can make divorces less amicable and it is likely that it will be used less frequently now that couples have the option of a No Fault divorce.
Acrimonious behaviour can involve all aspects of a breakdown in a relationship but typically revolve around arguments about children or disputes regarding assets, income or money.
This is why it can be useful to engage a forensic accountant in situations where one spouse feels the other party is not being honest about their finances or if the parties have an interest in a family business or privately owned company.
The emotional turmoil of going through a separation and divorce often prevents people from focusing on their financial future, so having an expert ready to help uncover hidden assets or income can pay dividends when reaching a financial settlement or agreement over maintenance.
Forensic accountants can also value shares or other assets, to ensure a fair distribution of wealth. In most cases the court will appoint a single joint expert to represent both parties to the divorce. In larger and more complex cases, each party might also need to rely on the expertise of a so-called “shadow experts” who can provide confidential advice only to the party instructing them but who cannot directly give evidence in court.
Where there is an impasse in coming to a financial agreement and the case ends up before the courts, a forensic accountant can also act as an expert witness to prove or disprove any financial issue the other party might raise.
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “In recent years the rate of divorce has been in decline, but it would be surprising if we did not see a further spike in proceedings in 2020 considering the pressure that has been placed on many relationships by the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Undoubtedly the Lockdown will have brought many couples closer together but, for others for whom absence may in the past “have made their hearts grow fonder”, enforced proximity could have brought tensions to the fore.
“There are even anecdotal examples that Lockdown restrictions have exposed infidelities, which inevitably increase levels of suspicion and mistrust. It is therefore unsurprising that a new facility that facilitates the identification of undisclosed overseas and UK bank accounts is becoming increasing popular.
If an undisclosed account is identified, forensic accountants are ideally placed to comment on the source and legitimacy of the funds held therein”