Investment Accounts and Accountant Tracing in Divorce

When my clients come to me and they have separate property investment accounts, in other words, accounts that they had prior to the marriage but that have continued to exist during the marriage, they'd want to know how they can prove that that's their separate property. And because of the commingling that naturally occurs with these accounts, you have to hire an accountant to do a tracing. And then the question always comes up, well, the tracing is going to cost me money. I'm going to have to hire an expert. How large should my account be before this is justified?

And actually, it's a combination of two things. It's a combination of the size of the account and how long the account has existed. In other words, how long the marriage is because the tracing has to go back through each year of the account's existence during the marriage. And so to give you a ballpark, a very rough ballpark, a very general guide, if the account is $10,000 and the marriage has been 30 years, it is absolutely not going to be economically appropriate to do a tracing. On the other hand, if you've been married four or five years and the account is half a million dollars or a million dollars, it's absolutely going to be appropriate to spend five or $10,000 a little more than that to get the separate property traced improved so you can set that aside and keep that and only divide what's has been created from income during marriage.