The most contentious part of many divorces is splitting up the assets owned by the couple. Sometimes it is relatively straightforward because the couple kept all they money in a few joint accounts that can be easily split up as needed. In many cases, however, one spouse could be very much in the dark about the other spouse’s financial situation. A spouse may have hidden assets, and the other spouse needs to find out about them in order to get a fair share. There are a few options available.
Check what you can yourself
Before involving anyone else, it is usually best to take some time to see what you can find out on your own. Get a copy of your tax return to make sure you understand how much you are earning as a couple. Scrutinize your bank account to make sure there are no payments that you do not understand. Get a credit report to see if there are any loans taken out in your name that you are not familiar with. You may also want to check around the house for any stashes of cash or similar high-value items. Just make sure you do not break any laws, for example, do not try to guess your spouse’s’ password to break into his or her computer.
In a courtroom proceeding, each side is entitled to learn information about the other side. This discovery process allows the lawyer for one spouse to ask the other spouse to disclose all their assets. Usually, this process is relatively smooth. If one side refuses to answer reasonable requests for information, then a judge can compel the answers.
The exact form of discovery varies from court to court, but it generally includes a series of written questions to the other side. These can be open ended questions called interrogatories or requests for admission where you request that the other side confirms a fact that you believe to be true. Parties can also demand that the other side produces certain documents. You can demand to see certain physical items as well. Finally, your lawyer may have the opportunity for a deposition, which is basically an opportunity to interview the other side.
You may sometimes need to know about any hidden assets earlier in the divorce process. For example, you may not want to hire an expensive lawyer to fight for every penny if it turns out your spouse does not have much money. Private investigators are often adept at searching for hidden assets at divorce. Local investigators could do the job for you, but today there is also a range of internet-based investigators that can search for assets at affordable rates.
Common hidden assets
Assets are most often hidden by the spouse that handles the bookkeeping for the family. A spouse may use a business entity, like a small consulting operation, to shelter assets from the family. Spouses may pay “debt” to a friend as a way to get that friend to hold cash for them. Unexplained payments of any kind are a red flag.