It’s sad but true: lots of spouses panic when a divorce is imminent. And there is usually one spouse who makes more money, and one spouse who handles the finances. Some spouses even start hiding money during the marriage.
The result can be a spouse who acts in bad faith and who begins trying to hide assets so they won’t be included in the division of marital property. He or she may believe that money “belongs to them,” or they might just be afraid the divorce settlement will leave them destitute.
Whatever their motives, the courts don’t look kindly on attempts to hide assets. They may even prompt a judge to levy sanctions against your dishonest spouse.
But before anybody can do anything, the assets have to be found.
#1) The last 5 years of tax returns.
Your spouse will lie to you all day long, but he or she is a little less likely to fib to Uncle Sam. You can’t send your spouse to jail for failing to mention that little investment account.
The United States government can.
If the numbers on the return don’t match reported income, you’ll know something is wrong.
#2) Bank statements.
Yes, some spouses actually make large withdrawals from your checking accounts, even your joint checking account, and just assume you’ll never notice. Pay special attention to cancelled checks or large cashier’s check withdrawals, which could both point to valuable property your spouse has failed to mention he or she purchased.
If you know for a fact your spouse itemizes expenses for reimbursement because of a career that sends him or her traveling all over the world, then you should also be looking for what isn’t there. Spouses will often try to hide assets by choosing not to deposit those reimbursements…or by choosing to deposit them in a second account you don’t know about.
Don’t forget to check savings accounts, investment accounts, or custodial accounts, too. Look for large cash withdrawals.
And don’t forget about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
#3) Business income.
It may be a little harder to get your hands on your spouse’s business records without help, unless you own part of the business too. But if he or she keeps them in a file cabinet in the home office, you can certainly have a look to see if invoices are being delayed, if there’s a sudden surge of payouts to people for no apparent reason, or if checks have been written that don’t ever actually clear.
But businesses are complex, so keep in mind you may need a forensic accountant to make heads or tails of anything. Your lawyer can help you obtain one. Your lawyer can also give you the legal “oomph” you need to give your forensic accountant access to the records (see below).
#4) Other locations your spouse owns or visits regularly.
Think the office, or a vacation home you rarely go to.
Look for precious metals, rare coins, artwork, gems, antiques, or expensive and unused hobby equipment, like golf clubs. These assets are easy to overlook, are harder to find, and are very easy to liquidate back into money later.
See also: Help, My Ex Took All the Money.
#5) Get the discovery process rolling.
Your divorce attorney can use this legal tool to help you find assets you’d have a hard time locating on your own, and can allow you to examine records or property your spouse could keep from you under other circumstances.
For example, discovery can help locate a boss who is “helping your spouse out” by sitting on bonuses, stock options, retirement benefits, or pay raises until the divorce is done.
The discovery process can also help you nail down transfers of assets, especially to friends and family members who intend to give the assets back after the divorce, or identify bogus “debts” that have been created to temporarily put cash into the hands of trusted accomplices.
Between interrogatories, depositions, inspection demands, and document demands it becomes much harder to hide. For example, if your spouse lies in a deposition, he or she is committing perjury.
Don’t just assume your spouse is acting in good faith. Divorce does funny things to everyone. Instead, get expert help to ensure your interests are being protected before, during, and after your divorce.