Searching For Hidden Assets in Divorce

One of the issues that is settled during a divorce case is how a couple will separate the property that they have accrued in their time together. Known as marital property, this consists of any property that has been purchased by, increased in value due to the work of, or belongs to the married spouses. Since each spouse is seen to contribute to the marriage, whether financially or by caring for the home, they both have a right to the marital assets. However, there are some instances where a spouse may attempt to hide marital assets in order to prevent the other spouse from receiving that property in a settlement.

How can I find hidden assets?

Many times, one spouse remains in charge of the bookkeeping while the other spouse has minimal insight into where their finances are going. In divorce, the spouse left out of financial planning is referred to as "the out-spouse", meaning that they don't have immediate access or knowledge of their financial resources.

If it is believed that a spouse has used their intimate knowledge of the couple's finances to hide some of the property the other spouse is entitled to, hiring an attorney to work on the discovery process may be beneficial.

During the discovery process, an attorney:

  • Requests financial statements, tax returns, and account records
  • Develops a list of questions that must be answered in writing
  • Requests to inspect property
  • Calls an oral disposition and require the spouse to answer questions under oath

Depending on the results of the discovery, it may be uncovered that a spouse used tactics to hide or undervalue property. Some common ways that this is accomplished is by setting up accounts in the name of the children, hiding accounts, investing in antique furniture or paintings, or spending excessive money on another person.

There is a difference between marital property and separate property, which is important to remember if it seems like property has been hidden. Property that one spouse owns outside of the marriage, whether by their own purchase, by inheritance, or gift, cannot be divided in the divorce if it remains their own.

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