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Tips for Finding Hidden Assets in a Divorce

Woman using computer to find financial information
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 26, 2017 1:57 PM

Chances are if you're getting divorced, you already feel like your spouse hasn't told you everything. Especially if you're involved in a high asset divorce, you might get the sense your spouse hasn't told you where all the money is.

Not every high net worth ex-spouse is interested in keeping their money from you, but chances are good that if they can protect their assets from you, they will try.

And chances are, if you're reading this, you're not a forensic accountant. So how do you know if your soon-to-be-ex is trying to hide money? And how do you uncover hidden assets in a divorce process?

Inspect Voluntary Disclosures

Even in a contentious divorce involving marital property disputes, each party will make some voluntary asset disclosures. These disclosures usually come at the beginning of the discovery process. They can be considered the opening move in determining who gets what.

Make sure you carefully review any disclosures and make a note of any errors or omissions. Common ways people hide assets include:

  • Missing bank accounts or bank statements
  • Unlisted cars or real estate (or claiming they are not worth as much as they are)
  • Listing incorrect child support payments
  • "Forgetting" to mention gifts or support from family members
  • Missing Social Security statements
  • Secret credit cards or stock options

If your finances are not joined (or if your ex had a habit of opening accounts or buying things without telling you), it can be hard to know what you actually own. It is harder to understand what these marital assets are truly worth. Comments like "that boat is old and broken" might imply something is worthless, but unless you know boats well, you can't be sure on your own.

You can always request to inspect any property or assets or have them independently appraised if there is some dispute.

Demand Involuntary Disclosures

You can also make formal requests for financial and asset information with which your spouse is legally bound to comply. Known as interrogatories or requests for information, these must be answered truthfully and within a specified time frame.

Interrogatories can include specific or general financial questions. They can also demand:

  • Tax filings/tax returns
  • Bank account statements or records
  • Titles and/or liens (paperwork that shows you own a house, car or other items)
  • Estate or trust documents
  • Safe deposit box entry
  • Financial statements
  • Retirement account statements
  • Savings account balances

Any of these documents can be useful in identifying hidden assets. You may need to consider hiring a private investigator during the divorce proceedings to discover assets your ex is hiding.

Inquire During a Deposition

You (and your divorce attorney) may also have the opportunity to depose your ex before appearing in court. Depositions are sworn testimony in front of a court reporter. Both parties' attorneys listen to what is said, and it can be used later in court.

A deposition is a great way to get your ex on record regarding assets, hidden or otherwise. Once the assets are revealed, they will help determine property division and how much alimony (spousal support) or child support you can get.

Do Some Sleuthing On Your Own

Some information will be impossible to find on your own. However, if you suspect assets are hidden, you can use the internet to confirm your suspicions. Things that do not add up can clue you in, such as:

  • Social media photos of large purchases or vacations that their income would not support
  • A chunk of the mortgage or debt paid off (often from a tax-free monetary gift)
  • Expensive gifts for your kids
  • Self-employment or secrecy about work (such as removing information from LinkedIn)
  • Using unknown banks or stock apps
  • Social media posts, emails, or mail about side jobs you didn't know about
  • Any discrepancy between their income and their lifestyle (such as claiming to make no money but having expensive clothes)
  • Secrecy about income, accounts, banks, or jobs

Get Legal Help and Find Any Hidden Money

Experienced law firms that have dealt with high asset divorce cases in the past will have the best chance of tracking down any hidden assets during a divorce. These firms have investigators and forensic accountants on hand and will assign you an individual member of the firm to examine your case.

The family law attorney you are assigned should have experience with property division and can provide you with sound legal advice.

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