Pretty in black

When divorce happens, strange events can occur

don-bays 45

Donald R. Bays, CPA, CFE, CVA, CFF

Although some gaps have been filled in by the author, the divorce story you are about to read is based on actual events that occurred. The names of the parties have been changed to protect their identities.

I’ve been involved in family law matters for many years. There are a lot of stories about unusual events that happen when a husband and wife decide to call it quits to their marriage and divorce. This is one of those stories.

Susan looked at her watch. It was 1:20 a.m. and time for her to put on the attire for her night out.

After dressing, Susan walked over to the floor-length mirror affixed to the bedroom wall. She gazed at her reflection for a moment as she admired the outfit she had selected for the evening – black sweatpants, black sweatshirt and black sneakers. She then tucked her long blonde hair into the black ski mask that would hide her face for the next two hours. Susan was now dressed for the job ahead – to stealthily break into her soon to be ex-husband’s rented house and do what she had to do.

Susan opened the zipper of the black bag she had taken from a closet shelf. She scanned the bag’s contents and was satisfied that it contained everything she would need. She then walked to the garage, got into her car and proceeded to her estranged husband Greg’s place. It was now a few minutes past 2:00 a.m. Susan noticed there were few drivers on the streets at this hour. She decided to keep the ski mask in place. No need to pull it up. No one would notice her.

At approximately 2:25 a.m., Susan pulled up next to the alley running behind Greg’s residence. She turned her vehicle’s motor off, shut off the lights and began to walk down the alley to Greg’s backyard. When she got to the fence, Susan, who exercised frequently, easily made it over the six-foot high wall.

Susan made it to a side window, reached into her black bag for the small crowbar she had packed and was ready to pry the window open once she removed the screen. To her good fortune, the window was unlocked. She carefully and quietly raised the window and eased herself into the house.

Susan made her way to the stairwell and softly stepped upward in the direction of Greg’s bedroom. The bedroom door was open. She then crept near the foot of Greg’s bed. It was almost pitch black in the room except for the red light coming from the digital clock on the bed stand. The red light seemed to Susan as if it were watching her every move.

Susan felt around in her bag and found what she was looking for – her camera.

There was no real need for all the stealth put forth by Susan. Her main concern was that she would hide her identity just in case, by some remote chance, a neighbor would see her going into, or out of, Greg’s backyard. She was aware, even before she came to Greg’s house that night, that he was on a business trip back to the East Coast. She liked the idea, however, of playing ninja for a night and the rush it gave her as if she were being filmed in a movie.

Susan then went to Greg’s closet and proceeded to shoot several pictures of skiing outfits – women’s skiing outfits. Some very expensive women’s skiing outfits. None belonged to Susan.

Susan then eased herself back out the window, put the screen back in place and climbed over the fence into the alley.

Susan had done her work quickly. It was a few minutes past 3:30 a.m. when she returned home. She poured herself a glass of wine, sank into an easy chair and smiled at the thought of what she had just accomplished. She would use the pictures to show the judge that Greg was spending money – of which one-half was Susan’s – on his girlfriend. It did not occur to Susan that the judge might think that she was guilty of burglary. (It’s possible the judge could have not allowed the exhibits to be used at trial; although probably not likely, the judge could have charged her with trespassing, illegal entry or burglary; or, he could have ignored how Susan acquired the photographs. However, the case settled before it went to trial.)

What brought Susan to her ninja routine you ask? It all started after Greg decided he wanted a divorce and moved into a rented house. Once that occurred, Susan began to look at bank and credit card statements pertaining to the couple’s personal accounts. She never paid much attention to them before because Greg always took care of the finances for the household.

Susan began to notice large expenditures for trips that Greg used to say were for business purposes. Susan wondered why the trips weren’t funded through the company’s bank accounts. Greg was a successful business owner as the president of a pharmaceutical distributing operation. His company made a lot of money. Why was Greg paying for these trips with funds of the marital community?

One trip in particular caught Susan’s eye. It was for a trip Greg said he had to take back to New York for business purposes. Susan would find that Greg took a trip alright, but he bought two airline tickets – to Switzerland. She also found credit card payments to a skiing resort there. It was then that Susan decided to hire a forensic accountant to find out whether there were other funds of the marital community that were spent by Greg and about which Susan had no knowledge.

The forensic accountant would eventually find that Greg had spent almost $100,000 on expenditures unknown by Susan. Many of the expenditures would be for trips taken with, whom Susan had now discovered, Greg’s girlfriend.

Susan hired an attorney. She would ask the judge to consider the $100,000 found by the forensic accountant as community waste. This meant that Susan would get half of this amount as a payback from Greg. The attorney told Susan that he would also ask the court to award Susan spousal maintenance payments from Greg. In order to do that, an analysis of Greg’s income would have to be made by a forensic accountant – one different from the one who discovered the $100,000 previously mentioned. That’s where I came into the picture. I was ordered by the judge to come up with an annual amount of Greg’s income for spousal maintenance purposes.

And that’s when I saw the photos taken by Susan.

Donald R. Bays, CPA, ABV, CVA, CFF, Director, is known for his expertise in valuing businesses as part of divorce settlements. He has also testified as an expert witness on numerous civil cases. You can reach Donald at (480)-483-1170 or DonB@hhcpa.com.