San Diego Metropolitan
BY LYNNE CARRIER March 2002
About half the forensic CPA’s clients are men, but that’s little solace to the money cheating males she nails.
Certified public accountant Ginita Wall is a kind of private detective. But instead of searching for missing persons, she’s called in to solve the mystery of cash that disappears when couples divorce. California’s community property laws may seem straightforward: husband and wife must split the community property 50-50, including business income and retirement funds accumulated during the marriage. But Wall, a prominent financial adviser and forensic accountant, has seen enough to know some people can be downright sneaky.
She searches balance sheets looking for hidden cash flow. Sometimes she uncovers duplicate sets of books at a business owned by a divorcing husband or wife – one showing the money actually going through the business, the other showing what was siphoned off into what Wall terms “Hip Pocket National.” When a husband fills out five different IRS forms, she figures out which one really counts – not necessarily the one presented to the wife.
She’s consulted when divorce attorneys suspect their clients are getting a raw deal financially. “She’s extremely competent,” says attorney Richard Feuerstein, a certified specialist in family law. “What’s most remarkable about her is her ability to get the work out quickly and to keep it simple so it can be understood by the court.”
Describing her as an impassioned champion for the client, “sometimes to her own detriment,” Feuerstein says she’s able to provide valuable financial education to a divorcing wife, including how to plan for her financial future. And he praises her ability to help the “out spouse” – the husband or wife who are clueless about their spouse’s business income – figure out the true net income for purposes of support.
Wall recalls one case in which the husband sold his business, informed his wife he wanted a divorce, bought a boat and moved onto it in a single day. The wife’s initial anger quickly grew into suspicion. Although her husband insisted he was providing his spouse with 50 percent of the monthly proceeds from the sale of the business, he seemed to have more money than she did, even though he had retired. The wife and her attorney studied records but found nothing.
Finally, Wall was brought in. She figured out the deception. The wife had assumed that her husband and business partner each had a 50 percent share of the proceeds from the business sale. It turned out the partner only had a 25 percent share. “He was giving his partner 50 percent of the business installment payments,” Wall explains. “He would give his partner half and give his wife half of his half. And then he would get the other part (of his money) back from his partner.”
In another divorce case, a wife suspected that her husband’s wholesale distributorship made more money than he was reporting in the documents presented to her. She could find no evidence, though, until a disgruntled receptionist revealed that her husband made off with the big checks coming into the office. Wall was able to trace the checks and determine the true cash flow of the business.
In the case of a divorced dentist, Wall discovered that he had included his golf clubs as business expenses. He also deducted clothing purchases for himself and his new wife as “uniforms.”
Besides her knack for finding hidden community property, Wall uses her financial expertise to advise women going through divorce. Each month she holds her “Second Saturday” workshop on the San Elijo campus of MiraCosta Community College, drawing up to 50 women – and sometimes a few men. The $45 half-day program includes presentations by a divorce attorney, a family counselor who speaks about emotional issues, and a family law attorney who discusses mediating a divorce rather than going to divorce court.
At her workshop, Wall offers tough-minded financial advice on how women can stay afloat during and after a divorce. Among tips, she tells the women they should make sure they go into a divorce with enough cash. They should establish an account in their own name, although she reminds them that legally they will have to disclose the amount to their husbands. Before the date the couple separates, the wife also should consider buying a new car, professional clothes and other necessities while she can still use community property funds. And if the couple plans to sell a house, do it before the divorce to minimize tax consequences. Wives should fight for what is rightfully theirs, she says, because “divorce is not about manners. It’s about survival.”
Wall’s resume is impressive. She graduated from Antioch College with a bachelor’s degree in administration, later earning CPA credentials for California and New Mexico as well as a certified financial planner certificate. She began her accounting career in Las Cruces, N.M., where she was managing partner and tax partner of a 16-person firm. When the firm was sold, she signed an agreement not to set up another firm that would compete. Her search for a new home brought her to San Diego in 1987.
The following year, then Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s office released a survey showing that San Diego women needed help in getting divorced and recovering financially. Wall had found her new mission. In 1988, she teamed up with stockbroker Candace Bahr to start the nonprofit Women’s Institute for Financial Education, and shortly after, the “Second Saturday” program was launched. Average attendance has grown from 15 to 25 per session to between 25 and 50.
Since moving to Carmel Valley, where she operates her business from her home, Wall has written half a dozen financial books, including “Smart Ways to Save Money During and After Divorce.” She also wrote several booklets, among them “150 Ways to Divorce Without Going Broke.” Named one of the top 250 financial advisers in the country by Worth magazine, Wall’s star is rising. She is a frequent lecturer and a columnist and financial expert for iVillage.com.
While she is known for her financial advice to divorcing women, she says about half of her current clients are men. Among them is the former husband of a woman Wall represented when the couple divorced. The ex-husband remarried but is divorcing again. This time around, he wants Wall on his side.