It is not uncommon for one spouse to hide assets during a divorce. Everyone is in love until they’re not, and then they may not feel much like splitting everything with a soon-to-be e-spouse. If hidden assets and streams of income remain hidden, it may be impossible to get a fair divorce settlement.
Women are very often in the lesser position when it comes to the finances of the family. The money earner in the family is most often the husband. Even when both spouses work, most often the husband earns more than the wife.
Assets are hidden in divorce more often than you would expect, and women are disproportionately affected by this due to their tendency to be in the less powerful financial position. The more complex the financial portfolio (bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, stock options, real estate, deferred compensation, life insurance with cash value, a closely held business or professional practice, and more), the more difficult it may be for one party to gather the information necessary to agree to a fair settlement.
In some cases, it’s just difficult to keep track of everything because of the number and complexity of assets or earnings streams. Add divorce to an already complicated financial picture, and it is even more complicated to track everything.
Here are some tips that can help the non-moneyed spouse to uncover the truth about the marital estate:
- Identify the most recent point in the marriage when things were going well and making money was a good thing. Use this as a benchmark for income, and see how income allegedly changed as the marriage deteriorated or divorce was filed.
- Look for red flags that may indicate manipulation of the finances. Missing documentation for certain periods of time, a series of confusing transactions that may have been used to obscure true income and assets, or declining balances with no logical explanation are examples of red flags that may help uncover misdeeds in the divorce process.
- Begin gathering and organizing documentation as soon as possible. Start making lists of all known accounts and financial institutions, real estate and other valuable assets. If you have legal access to any of these accounts, consider requesting account statements as soon as possible. Knowledge is power, and it is advisable to start building your case with documentation under your control or easily accessible right away.
- Consider having a lifestyle analysis performed by a forensic accountant who specializes in divorce cases. This type of analysis is normally done to help determine the marital lifestyle and calculate child support or alimony. A lifestyle analysis can also be used to uncover hidden assets and income, since expenses in excess of reported income could signal hidden sources of funds.
Finding hidden income and assets isn’t necessarily easy, especially if the spouse doing the hiding is sophisticated in methods of concealment. Another complicating factor is that it is typically the non-moneyed spouse who needs a lifestyle analysis done, but may have difficulty paying the associated fees.
The sooner the search for hidden assets and income can begin, the better the chances of uncovering them. The longer the spouse is able to conceal the existence of income streams and valuable assets, the greater the likelihood that they will not be discovered. It’s just harder to trace assets the longer a concealment scheme goes on.