Divorce can be freeing, but the process is daunting. One of the scariest parts of divorce is how it’ll affect your finances. What happens when you’re finally divorced? Can you even afford a divorce? How will you pay your bills without financial help from your spouse?
We’ve discussed forensic accountants here on exEXPERTS before, but Melissa Gragg, a valuation expert in St. Louis, Missouri, brings a different area of expertise to a divorce team. She is a crucial part of the financial settlement process, but in what way?
Melissa joined Jess & T.H. on the Divorce etc… podcast to discuss the value of a valuation expert in your divorce, and what they’ll do to help you face your financial fears.
What is a Valuation Expert?
Think forensic accountant, but even more intensive. As a valuation expert, Melissa not only helps give a value to a business, but she also tracks the money down as far as she can, finding what you didn’t even know existed, and navigating how to approach and settle the divorce with the information she’s compiled.
“In a divorce, when I’m coming in, I’m supposed to be neutral. I’m in the middle,” Melissa simplifies. She’ll be the voice of reason during your emotional state. She gets the facts for you, what’s going on with the financials, and brings clarity to the situation for you and the judge.
Melissa explains that a big reason a valuation expert is so important when people own their own businesses is that often business is done with cash, and the other spouse may not have a clear understanding of exactly how much money is coming in and going out. People can have an inaccurate idea of how much money they and their spouse actually have, because they aren’t privy to the books and only “see” what their spouse shows them, in terms of money. The business-owning spouse could be giving an impression that the family has much more than they actually have because they are living beyond their means, but the other spouse doesn’t even realize it. Or, on the flip side, there could be a lot more money on hand than the business-owning spouse is letting on, and that money could be moving around in ways that the other isn’t aware of. Is your soon-to-be ex hiding money? This is what Melissa will help you find out.
The Role of Integrity
So if a valuation expert can help you dig up hidden financials, can they also help you hide them?
Not in Melissa’s case. She is all about integrity and consistency. “It’s how you value your own expertise,” Melissa emphasizes. “When I go and testify in court, I’m a person. I testify as Melissa Gragg. I don’t testify as a company.” So if she has a client coming, an ex hiding money and wanting her to manipulate the truth, she won’t work with them.
For Melissa, it’s all about efficiency and recognizing the signs that something fishy is taking place. Melissa’s got some key red flags she’ll see when uncovering a dirty financial situation. For one, a lot of times, when people do things fraudulently, it’ll be an even amount. So if you start seeing a recurring $5,000 payment coming out of the books of the family-owned business, that’s something of note.
She’s got to get all the facts down and narrow it to the most impactful things that the judge will actually listen to. “I put my efforts in the areas that are going to actually move the needle,” she breaks down. Clients will come to her asking, “what about this?” and “what about that?”. When they start to pile on every little thing, Melissa says, “when I go to the judge, I want three issues. That’s all the judge can handle.” She determines what’s valuable and what will help you most in figuring out your finances and how to move forward. But clients do get a say in how far they want to dig to discover something. If you’re coming in with a gut feeling, Melissa will do her best to follow it until it has run its course. Again, it’s all about efficiency.
How Much Will a Valuation Expert Cost You?
A valuation expert, though expensive, can be greatly beneficial for you in resolving large financial discrepancies that make up the cost of the service. Melissa gives her service in levels based on what they’re finding.
Spend your first retainer, let’s say $5,000, and see what that gets you. Okay, found some red flags? Let’s now work on chasing those flags down for another $5,000 retainer. But if a client keeps pushing without them finding anything, then Melissa will be upfront and cut the cord. There are times when big-ticket items are discovered that can quickly settle your case, giving you the satisfaction you deserve. So a lot of times, what determines the cost is what strategy you use to approach each situation.
But at the end of the day, nobody wants to stretch their divorce out and be struggling with settling it for the rest of their lives. You want it to be over. Melissa always recommends settling over taking it to court, but hey, if this gets you your peace of mind, it’s worth it.
Where Can You Find Melissa?
Melissa’s group works with people all across the country, including mediators and collaborative divorce professionals. “A lot of times we’re partnering with mediators around the country. You handle it, and we’ll come in and solve the financial stuff, and then we’ll leave,” Melissa breaks down.
If you are involved in a divorce and your spouse owns their own business and you think your ex is hiding money or you are unsure of the business’s true value, definitely speak with your attorney about whether a valuation expert like Melissa could be helpful for you. Oftentimes, working with a valuation expert actually diminishes the need for a forensic accountant, so it’s important to know what both do and which one would serve you best.