Hidden assets is a very real concern when couples divorce. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a study by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 31% of spouses with combined assets report they have been deceptive about money and 58% of those adults admit hiding money from their partner or spouse. Not surprisingly, this practice continues when the parties go through a divorce. Unfortunately, divorce behavior often reflects the animosity between spouses. Hidden assets are most commonly an issue in high value asset divorces.
Often, finding hidden assets requires an experienced family law attorney working with financial experts. The issue is contentious — the party hiding the assets often does not voluntarily reveal the existence of those assets or their location. Experienced family law attorneys know where to look for evidence of undisclosed assets. A party hides assets for a variety of reasons, but the result is an unfair distribution of marital property.
Common Types of Hidden Assets
Hidden assets take a variety of forms. Frequently, offshore bank accounts are not only used to hide money from the IRS. Spouses use offshore accounts to hide money from a divorcing spouse. Parties also hide future compensation owed. This includes stock options a party earned during the marriage but has not yet received or taken advantage of. Sometimes a party intentionally delays receipt of those options in the hopes of keeping it from their soon to be ex-spouse. Spouses hide future retirement benefits from a spouse. This includes pension plans and other deferred compensation plans.
Signs You and Your Attorney Must Watch Out For
The easiest sign to watch out for when determining if there are hidden assets is large transfers out of a joint account that are not discussed and agreed to. Similarly, watch for automated payments being made to an account you are not familiar with. Be aware of any bank statements or credit card statements for an unfamiliar account. Also, ATM receipts may reveal evidence of accounts you may not be familiar with.
Sometimes, parties open accounts in a child’s name to hide money. Spouses have also usee college funds to disguise money.
Watch for a spouse converting cash into other assets, such as antiques, cars, and artwork. It is a way to convert cash into an asset with subjective value. This allows that spouse to underreport the value of those assets.
Watch for a mismatch between salary amounts and payroll deposits. It is possible to spread payroll salary over multiple accounts.
Charges by the post office may indicate a post office box that the party was not aware of. This allows a spouse to receive bank or other financial statements without the knowledge of the other spouse.
Unusual debt payments or large gifts serve as a way to hide assets. Sometimes, spouses transfer money to a friend or relative. The understanding is it will be repaid later.
Also, a spouse reluctant to discuss money is an indicator he or she is hiding money.
Using Legal Tools to Find Hidden Assets
Fortunately, an attorney has a number of legal tools to discover hidden assets, a legal process called discovery.
For example, attorneys take depositions. Depositions are testimony made under oath. Remember, lying under oath is perjury and a crime. Generally, this makes people more truthful.
Also, attorneys make demands for documents. Documents such as taxes, bank and other financial account statements can lead to finding hidden assets. Credit card statements can be important evidence. Pension benefit statements show future benefits a party attempts to hide.
In addition, attorneys make written demands for answers to various questions, called interrogatories. A party must also answer those questions truthfully.
Further, attorneys make demands to perform inspections. Often, this includes property such as homes and safety deposit boxes.
However, do not seize evidence illegally. Leave the investigation to your attorney, who is versed in searching for hidden assets. Illegally obtaining evidence is a crime. It also is likely not admissible in court. Your attorney will not use illegally obtained evidence.
Often, information is available legally and freely online. For example, a corporation discusses its available pension plan on its website. Social networks reveal a great deal about a person, useful in divorce. Does a spouse’s lifestyle reflected on social media match the income they are reporting? An experienced family law attorney knows how to track this information down.
After obtaining all of the appropriate documentation and other information, attorneys hire experts to interpret the data and assist in making sure the attorney understands the information discovered. Forensic accountants, other financial experts, and even private investigators are helpful in discovering hidden assets. In some cases, forensic computer experts review computer hard drive contents. When computers are used to hide evidence, it exists somewhere, even if attempts were made to delete proof or clear web browser histories.
Unfortunately, hiring experts quickly becomes very expensive. Please, consult closely with your family law attorney to make a cost benefit analysis. High value asset divorces most frequently include hidden assets, but they occur in any type of divorce.
If You are Considering Divorce
If you are considering filing for divorce, do not attempt to do this alone. The lawyers at Fait & DiLima focus exclusively on family law issues. They have experience in tracking down hidden assets, and will not hesitate to hire the right type of expert to assist in locating hidden assets, where the situation calls for it.