Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to exEXPERTS.com to subscribe.
Jessica: Welcome to today’s episode of the Divorce etc podcast. We are thrilled to have with us today, Melissa Greg, a valuation expert from St. Louis, Missouri. We always talk about how one of the scariest parts of divorce primarily for women is the financial aspect. How is it going to look? What are people going to do once they’re divorced? Can they afford it? Will they be able to pay their bills? We have spoken about forensic accountants before. That is not what Melissa Gregg is. However, she is a crucial part of the financial settlement process of all the divorces that she is involved in coast to coast. We’re going to dig into that so that you can understand why it’s important to utilize someone like her in your divorce. Melissa, thank you so much for taking the time today.
Melissa: I love this powerful woman trio!
T.H.: Yes. Melissa and I had great conversations before this podcast. It was so empowering. I felt like I could leap tall buildings–
Jessica: In a single bound!
T.H.: In ways I never thought of. She just makes you feel you could do anything. So welcome to our show.
Melissa: Thank you.
Jessica: So let’s start off by, as I just said, I mean, you’re not a forensic accountant. I think that there are a lot of people who’ve heard about the reasons why someone needs a forensic accountant in a divorce, but you really are going down the wormhole into tracking down the money, finding things that people don’t know exist or where they are, and giving the pragmatic approach of what that should all look like in the end. Tell us exactly what it is that you do, or how you would describe it.
Melissa: Sure. Part of it is that I become part of the team. And so when somebody gets divorced, they usually hire an attorney and that’s the traditional way. They could go mediation, but let’s just talk traditional. They hire an attorney, and the attorney’s role is to build them up and to fight for them. Okay, I come in more as a financial expert witness. I think it’s interesting that you talk about forensic accounting because that’s the term that everybody knows. I have a forensic background. I was a Certified Fraud Examiner, and I did forensics for big companies and governments and stuff like that. It’s the skills behind it that you need. It’s the skills of looking at things a little bit differently. But in a divorce, when I’m coming in, I’m supposed to be neutral. I’m supposed to be in the middle. My role is to tell the judge the financial reality of this situation. And so a lot of times, really, I listen to all the parties tell me information. But the reason why everybody thinks they need a forensic accountant is because when you’re going through a divorce, there’s mistrust, there’s paranoia, but there’s also that you remember your spouse saying, hey, we’re having the best year ever. Hey, we’re going to be able to buy that car now. Hey, Susie’s going to get a free ride to school because I’m going to have all that money. They hear that, but that’s what business owners always do. We amp ourselves up, right? And we’re like, yeah, this is going to be a great year. Whoop whoop! Well, but do you ever talk about how you had to finance that equipment with the debt? Do you talk about the credit cards that you needed because the cash was low for one month? You don’t talk about the bad. You talk about the good, right? Because you’re coming home to your spouse and you’re like, hey, babe, it’s a great day. The problem is none of that conversation happens about the hard stuff, the worry, the stress, the pressure of keeping everything together. And so then when we get to divorce, we see both sides and we’re like, well, that’s not what somebody told me. That is where I’m coming in and saying, okay–not that you get outside of the emotion, but I’m looking at the actual documents. What does it show me? What picture? What story do the financials tell me about the business? Because I come in and value businesses, or pension plans, or stock options, very complex things, but what are the actual documents? Tell me about the story. And then what story is the judge going to understand? And so a lot of times, I’m bringing clarity to maybe one spouse that was in the dark about the finances. Traditionally, that has been the female in a lot of situations. What I talk to both the couple about if I’m doing mediation or working with them together, I say, listen, it is in everybody’s best interest to know the facts and circumstances of this so that you can both make decisions that are for the best interest of yourselves and your family. I’m not saying that there is the best decision. I’m coming in and saying here’s what the financial picture looks like. Now how are we going to go forward? Now if we’re in litigation, then it’s like, okay, here are the big picture items. What is our strategy? The strategy isn’t just till trial. The strategy is can we settle this? Can we discuss it? And how do we go forward?
Jessica: Who’s hiring you?
Melissa: Typically, the attorney is hiring me. I have a lot of relationships with the attorneys. But with social media content, a lot of business owners are finding me. Because a lot of times, the couple or the spouse has no clue because they want somebody to help them understand what is really happening. Where did this money go? Was it there in the first place? A lot of times, the spouse has pieces of the puzzle. Maybe they have eight pieces of a 10-piece puzzle, and those two missing pieces are really throwing everything off. Well, I can come in and look at it from a little bit different perspective and say, okay, I don’t need those two other pieces. Here’s what this tells us. But you guys thought you had a 10-piece puzzle…you have a 20-piece puzzle. You guys only have eight pieces, and I can see five more pieces over here that nobody’s talked about. Okay, and that’s just looking at the tax returns. You have to report a lot of things on your tax return on K-1s, on 1099s. All of this stuff is out there. I try to tell people the reality is everybody who gets divorced believes that their spouse is lying, right? They’re hiding and lying.
T.H.: He’s richer than they say they are.
Melissa: Always. I kind of come back in there and I say listen, I’ve done forensics on some of the best scoundrels, and I’ve got to tell you, you’ve got to plan that in advance. And I’m not talking a month before you file. I’m talking for years. And then you have to cover it. Unless your spouse is a hardened criminal, (which I have seen) they’re probably not going to get away with it, or they’re not going to be able to cover it. We’ll still look at the bank statements, and we see transactions or moving money. You only have to have one movement of money, right? You move $1 into an account in your Bank of America and you go to Nation’s Bank or you know, they were the same–you are going to see a trace or a transaction that’s going to loop. Let’s say I write you a check Jessica and you go deposit it. Guess what happens? A picture of that gets logged into the information. So I look at the picture, and on the back of the check, it shows the routing number to where you deposited it. So now I know your bank. And that’s how. We’re really collecting the little nuggets. But when you get to that point, I had a client call yesterday and he’s like, where’s this $3,000? And this is an expense that’s ridiculous. I said you should not be worried about that $3,000 expense. You should be worried about the $130,000 expense right above it. He was like, oh, man, I thought that was normal. I was like, no, it’s not. A lot of times people are looking–they have the right intuition. They have the right assumption that there’s something not right. They just don’t know where or how to look for it. We have to not only assume that it exists; we have to find it. We have to be able to present it to the judge. That’s a little different.
T.H.: So, two questions. Assuming they’re not amicable, assuming one is somewhat of a scoundrel if you’re hired by the scoundrel, are they able to limit you on what you report and what you don’t report? Or you’re following the values of your own business, which I’m not saying you’re ever hiding anything, but I feel like, and I’m only basing it on my own experience and the people I worked with, I feel like a shit ton of stuff was withheld. I did hire a forensic, and he ended up just going along with whatever the forensic said. But he uncovered a lot of stuff that I was thinking if my ex hired him, would he be as revealing?
Jessica: That’s a great question.
Melissa: It’s integrity. It’s consistency. And it’s how you value your own expertise. When I go and testify in court, I’m a person. I testify as Melissa Gragg. I don’t testify as a company. And when I produce a report, I know it’s going to be seen by other people, so I know that it needs to happen. Now how I deal with–and I will tell you, I rarely get hired by scoundrels. Because what do we know about divorce? There are three stories. One is a wife, one is a husband – or wife/wife and husband/husband, then the third one is the truth. I’m always looking for the truth and taking what they’re saying out of the context of the divorce and saying, does it make sense? Is it rational? But if I have a client that comes in and says, this is how we’re going to do this, I don’t take a check from them. I tell them how this is going to be done. I testify on my integrity and my reputation. It’s irrelevant what you think. Attorneys and clients will use you, absolutely. There are those that just have a reputation and they’ll use you and abuse you. You protect your own integrity. If I see a client that’s not going to work with me well, I walk away.
Jessica: But if someone hires you for the business valuation part, I think this is a kind of a follow-up to T.H.’s question if someone hires you as the business valuation part, but their spouse is suspicious of other money that wasn’t associated with the business, other things that may have been hidden through the marriage, and you come in and you’re just valuing the business, how involved do you then get in the whole overall financial picture of the divorce?
Melissa: Sure. Sure. When we go and value a business, and even if an accountant comes in and does accounting work, we’re not guaranteeing that we’re going to–we’re not there to detect fraud, and we’re not there to quantify fraud, okay? But what do we do? We need to make sure that the information is sane. A of couple things is you can work in phases. The first phase is to let’s see the lay of the land. Let’s see everything that we’re dealing with. Then I come in and say, okay, you got five issues. Three move the needle, and two are non-essential, so we put the two at the end of the line. And so of these three, this one is going to move the needle by a million, and these two are going to move it by 100,000. Now we’re down to one issue. But what are we going to do with this one issue? Well, if it’s a business valuation, but you have a client that’s saying, listen, there’s cash, there’s this, there’s that, what I’m doing is I’m reconciling the bank statements with the tax return, with the internal financials, or the QuickBooks. I’m seeing if there are just discrepancies that come through in even just looking at that. Sometimes we just take a year. We try to say, oh, a spouse says we filed for divorce in this year, so he must have started before that. Let’s take the biggest year that we think something happened and first see if we see any indications. We’ll go through the bank statements. We’ll look for those transactions. We’re going to take some time, but not in an ordinate amount to see if we see any of the crumbs, because if we don’t see the crumbs, then you’re into a situation where it could cost you 10, 20, 30, $40,000. The fact of the matter is you might not find anything.
T.H.: Right, you’re on a fishing expedition.
Melissa: Yeah. And so we take it in tranches, but we’re always going to look for those things a little bit. The other thing is most of the time when people do things fraudulently, it’s an even amount. So if you start seeing a $10,000, a $5000, a $3000, when’s the last time Jessica, did you Venmo T.H. $20.33? You don’t. But when you go to Walmart or Walgreens, your bill is always $13.29. So if you look at your own bank statement, it will almost be apparent, those even numbers. We have a couple of tactics. Then it becomes, client, I don’t see a lot of this. Could it be in another account? Could it be another year? So I do let the client help us figure out how deep we’re going to go because sometimes we’ve got to stop if it’s not going to affect the outcome.
Jessica: Let me just ask, someone is getting divorced, and as is common, they’re thinking, I just feel there might be money hidden somewhere. It has nothing to do with the person’s business because maybe they have the kind of job where they don’t own their own business. They’re an employee of someone else.
T.H.: Or they gave the money to somebody else in cash to stash or something.
Jessica: Right. Or maybe they inherited something, whatever, anything that’s not associated with the business. I mean, first of all, do you take on personal cases like that? Because I know you work coast to coast. So for anybody listening, theoretically, they could be a client of yours. Do you take that kind of personal case on? And also, do you recommend that anybody getting divorced should have a financial expert like you on the team?
Melissa: Oh, yeah, I mean, I think what’s happening with a lot of attorneys is they’ve seen enough cases that they kind of know enough. And if it’s a simple divorce, I’ll just figure it out. The fact of the matter is I have seen everything. I’ve seen situations where, hey, Melissa, review this valuation. They’re saying it’s worth nothing. And I was like, they missed one big thing and now it’s worth 500,000. They were like, oh! How do we miss that? I was like, well, you missed it because I see it in three minutes, and you don’t know where to look. A part of it is an efficiency kind of situation. I’m not saying every financial expert can do this. I’m saying find somebody who really dives in. Nobody really likes divorce. I mean, that’s just the reality. I like helping people get to a resolution. I don’t see it as divorce; I see it as a choice. You chose to get married, and you chose to get divorced. I’m helping facilitate your decision. I don’t take any judgment on it. But in looking at that, I think you need the sanity check. So if you really think that there’s money missing, and I’ve had clients that have thought it was missing, and we found it. I’ve had clients where we thought it was missing, and you can do legal things to stop the bleeding.
Jessica: Well, I want you to expand on that because right before we started recording, you started telling me a story about a certain circumstance–you said two things. There was one about the surgeon who you’re like, it doesn’t even matter what you think about what the house is going to be worth in two years. You can tell that story. And then also another one where you were saying that the lawyer was saying, wow, you know so much. And you’re like the way that you look at it is just totally different. I feel that would be really helpful for people to hear.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s kind of like at the beginning of a case everybody comes in and they’re just like, let’s just take some steps. We know we have to do the statement of income and expenses. We know we have to do a statement of property. Those are pretty consistent around most states. We have to file, and usually, there’s a cooling-off period, all this stuff. So they kind of just walk these steps, right? Let’s check the boxes and walk the steps. Whereas I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa! The reality is divorce is all psychology. Splash in some legal, splash in some financial, it’s psychology.
T.H.: We talk about that all the time. It would be so much easier.
Melissa: Yeah, and if we don’t look at the end…I had a client that was just like, okay, I really am concerned about this. I’m concerned about that. I said, but why? What does it matter? Then they’ll tell you why it matters. But for the most part, I’m just coming in and trying to look at a bigger picture and put our efforts in the areas that are going to actually move the needle. Most of the time when I’m talking to the client, like, I have one client right now, and he’s just like, well, what about this? And what about that? And what about that? I said, when I go to the judge, I want three issues. That’s all the judge can handle. This is a huge case, and if you can’t tell the judge those three issues in two hours…I said we’ve spent 100 hours on this case for me trying to understand the business, or the value, or the whatever. I have to go break it down in two hours, in three points. And so I’m always thinking about if we get to trial, how are we going to present this in a simple fashion. A lot of times, that means there are certain things we don’t need to do at the beginning because we might need to do it closer to trial. It’s just about efficiency.
Jessica: It’s about efficiency, but you had also talked about how there are clients who intentionally are like, we’re going to try to block this, or we’re going to try to do something that would essentially damage the other partner’s ability to either access money or whatever it is. You come in and you’re like, yeah, but if you do that, then you’re screwing yourself. I feel you need to talk a little bit to people who get caught up in all of the legal strategies and the legal tips and tricks that they’re trying to do just to spite their soon-to-be ex, that you’re saying that’s going to backfire and hit you in the ass in the end.
T.H.: Right. I mean, and also to that point, we talked about nobody wins. You’re not winning because you got this and you get a point, and you win because you got a point here. Let’s incorporate that in your answer because that’s people just being angry, and that’s emotions getting in the way of the business and clouding your judgment and your ultimate maybe decision.
Melissa: Here’s the thing, the judges have discretion. In some cases, and we call it scorched earth, so we have in some cases a spouse would rather burn everything to the ground than let you have it. In those cases, maybe everything’s gone. I mean, I had a client once that thought that her husband was putting money into a different country and taking the money. We could see it, and the banks should have flagged those things. A lot of things should have happened, but none of them did. We should have put some stops on the accounts, but those didn’t even happen in time. Finally, we couldn’t serve him for something, their attorneys couldn’t serve him, so we sat a private investigator out in front of his house for seven days. He didn’t show up. In seven days, we went and we knocked a bit. Well, I didn’t. I’m scared of that kind of stuff. I’m just the finances, right? They took in the police and they walked in, and guess what they found?
Jessica: He had left.
Melissa: Nothing. It was all gone. Everything was gone. Gone, gone, gone. No trail. That’s very rare. Now, when we went to court, he didn’t show up to court either. He did show up a couple of months later for something else. But the judge determined a judgment based on what the marital property was before he started getting rid of it. Let’s say there’s a million dollars of assets, and your spouse gets rid of, and now there’s only 200,000. Well, the judge has discretion to say all of that now goes to you. And they owe you some back. But you have to figure out how you’re going to show the court what is the biggest pieces of it. And so in some cases, you have a business owner that’s doing crazy stuff. Everybody wants to lock the business owner down and say, no, give them limited access to these accounts. I said they will burn it to the ground. And if you burn it to the ground, is there anything left to split? Or we’re saying, hey, this value of the businesses is $15 million. I say, okay, well, do you have $15 million other cash so that he can keep the business and you take the $15 million? No, we only have about 100,000. Okay, well, then we need to figure out how you’re actually going to get this out. In some cases, there’s so much money to go around that everybody still wants to be specific. I have a client, and there’s more money to go around, but this client is very concerned that she’s getting screwed over in one particular area. All the attorneys, who are male, told her, can you just be happy? Can’t you just be happy? Do you know what happens with the male that says that? We vow to find every little dollar!
Melissa: So when she calls and she’s like, I’m looking for this. I want to make sure that this is right. I said, what did they tell you, to suck it up? And she’s like, yeah! Well, we found it. And it was wrong. And it was really wrong. But there’s the thing, it could have been fine. I said let me understand this if I find something good. If I find nothing, will that make you feel like you didn’t get screwed? Is that what you’re seeking, to know that you didn’t get one moreover because of this person that’s done this for so long? She said yes. I said fine, I will find it.
Jessica: That is the psychology behind divorce. The reason why I had asked that question before was because I think that–I did not hire a forensic in my divorce. There were things that I knew existed, and I was just like, you know what, it was from his family. I was like I’m not going to take stuff from his family and whatever. I definitely probably left money on the table out of my first divorce. But I feel there may have been, or there may not have been. I don’t know what the value of that stuff was. I just think that a lot of people think they have to have a financial expert because they think, well, I can spend 20,000 on the financial expert because I’m going to get 100,000 back. Then people spent 20,000, and the ex-spouse was being truthful. And now it’s like, you spent 20,000, and you’ve got nothing.
T.H.: Except that–
Jessica: It’s peace of mind.
T.H.: And there’s definitely something to be said for it. If you have $20,000 to blow, and it is your peace of mind, sometimes that’s your sanity. Because then you’re moving forward and you’re co-parenting, you’re paying for college, you’re paying for trips, you’re paying for time at home, and cars, and supporting them while they look for a job and everything. I think that it really depends on your financial position to decide. And if you’re in a position where, you know what, I need $20,000 to live. I think it’s a matter of perspective and where you are in your life. I hired one because he couldn’t be trusted for anything. It really didn’t matter what he was saying. He was lying to himself and believing his lies. I needed someone to give me the truth.
Jessica: And it worked out in your benefit because you were right.
T.H.: I probably still spent more than I got, but at least I got the truth. I’m very happy with the way it worked out for my kids and their college and everything. There may still have been money out there, which I’m sure there was, but as long as we are taken care of properly, I’m fine. I don’t care how much more money he makes, as long as he’s being financially responsible and following through on what he agreed to. Otherwise, I can’t worry about whatever else. It’s not my money to have.
Melissa: And that’s the issue, that when we come in at the beginning and we say, okay, we’re going to take this amount of time or retainer, and we’re going to look at all the issues, then we’re going to all decide, based on where I see the trial strategy or the biggest movers of money, we’re going to decide where we’re going to go. I let the client be in control of the cost involved. Because what I learned in 2021, my growth for 2021 is I am in control of one single person. And that’s me, right? I trust that I make the best decisions for myself, but I also have to trust that Jessica makes the best decisions for herself. So when Jessica comes to me and says Melissa, I need to know this because I can’t co-parent. All I’m going to think about is how he effed me over, and I can’t do it. I hear her on a level of human that I say, listen, so I’m not going to judge and say you don’t need to spend this money on you. Or, yeah, I’ll take your money, no problem. No, I hear her on a ‘this could be ended today, or I’m going to have to continue to deal with this for years’.
Jessica: That’s right.
Melissa: And for me as a woman, as a human, heal it, fix it, heal it, forget it, and move on. If we can’t do that because of some little issue–now in this situation, she was right. And in another situation I have, where they have burnt everything to the ground, she was like I think he’s putting money in another country. She was right.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s crazy. That’s crazy.
Melissa: Not always are they right, but if you take it in levels, like, okay, let’s just spend $5,000 and see if we see any red flags. Oh, we saw some red flags. Let’s chase those couple red flags for another $5000. Okay, nope, all of those didn’t pan out, but one did. A lot of times we’re trying to use that information to settle the case. So it’s not all for naught. In one situation where I have some fraudulent activity in a client, and they’re like, oh my gosh, we’ve got to blow this thing up. I said, no, no, we don’t. I can make a lot of assumptions in the valuation. I can say, hey Judge, they should have had 500,000 more because of A, B, and C, and I make that assumption in the valuation. It doesn’t mean that we actually have to–we have to have enough information to do that, and I feel good about it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s all–
Jessica: To show where it is, right?
Melissa: Yeah. In one situation, we had a huge, I mean, big-ticket items. There was probably like $3 million worth of inventory missing on 12 items. That’s all we did. We took the 12 items, gave them the serial number and the inventory number, and we said, would you please, please tell us where these items are? And the next week, it’s settled.
T.H.: Because it opens a can of worms.
Melissa: So a lot of times that’s the strategy. In my mind, the strategy, what I know about divorce is settling is always going to be beneficial. You get to have some control. You get to have some capability to make it work for your family. Not everything is the same. You have an ability to make a situation that maybe you guys can move away from. Because a lot of times, the co-parenting, you can’t hold on to that stuff, or else it’s just going to affect the kids. And it is like did you get divorced? Or are you still divorcing?
Jessica: That’s really the end goal. I mean, well, for most people, because obviously, it takes two to be able to have an amicable co-parenting relationship. But at the end of the day, nobody wants to stretch it out and spread it out and have acrimony for the rest of their lives. It’s great to know that there are people like you that are able to go in there and do these things to be able to give, I would say, ‘the underdog’, the peace of mind that they need to be able to move on in their lives, however, it looks. But to be able to say I can sleep at night, that’s worth the cost.
Jessica: That’s right. That’s right.
Melissa: Let’s take my person that thought that there was some fraud. I said, okay, well, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to take five grand, and we’re going to see if there’s anything there. We got there and I said, it’s there, and it’ll probably move the needle a couple of hundred grand if we do it. She’s like I want to go full steam. I was right. That’s not fair. That’s not how we operated. So there’s always this underlying stuff going on that I never fully know about. But what I know, Jessica, or T.H., is if I give you the information, you know the best answer of how to move forward. I will take direction on how to move forward or how deep we go, but I typically will not take direction on what the value is and things like that. So that’s got to be my own–
T.H.: Because you know your job. That’s why you’re hired. You’re the expert here.
Jessica: That’s right.
T.H.: Melissa, do you work with people across the country, or only in Missouri?
Melissa: No, we work across the country, but we also work with mediators and collaborative divorce professionals because the court systems are backed up. A lot of times we are partnering with mediators around the country and we’re saying, you do all the mediation. You handle it, get the clients, etc, and we’ll come in and solve the financial stuff, and then we’ll leave.
Jessica: That’s right. Dip in, dip out.
Melissa: Recently with a collaborative case they’re like, we finished this case in three months. How is that possible? Well, a lot of it’s just having honest discussions. If I have a person that’s making 500 grand, and somebody’s staying at home, I’m telling the person that’s making 500 grand, how much do they need to live? They’re worried about life. You just can go and make more money. Now that doesn’t mean that that’s fair. Because fair is the ‘F’ word in court. There is no fair. There is reasonable. There is ‘I will accept it’. There is ‘I’m okay with it’. But you don’t want to really get greedy, because the judge is just going to come and maybe split it in the middle.
T.H.: I love that you said that and ended that way because that’s in my notes too about being greedy and not being smart.
Jessica: Right. I mean, there’s so much more that we could delve into for sure. I feel we’ve barely scratched the surface.
T.H.: But it was great.
Jessica: Yeah, and so much valuable information for everybody out there listening to know that there are people like you that exist, and to be able to make the best decisions for yourself, like, is this a path that you want to go down? And how far down the path do you want to go? So thank you so much for taking the time and being able to explain and clarify all of that for people. For everyone listening, go to our website www.exexperts.com. You’ll find the expert page all about Melissa Gragg. You’ll find all of the ways to contact her, why we love her, and her links so that you can connect with her directly if this is something you feel you are going to need in your divorce. Thank you so much, and we’ll see you next time.
T.H.: Thank you so much.
Melissa: Such a great resource that you guys are putting together too, so awesome.
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