Searching for Hidden Assets

Divorce is never an easy process. Quite often it is impossible to avoid emotional issues such as resentment and anger. Resentment and anger can fuel attempts to "strike back" at or "get one over" on the other. Another emotional issue spouses may be dealing with is anxiety; fear that a quality of life previously enjoyed may decline. All of these issues can influence the division of marital assets.

Research and Document Your Assets
One spouse might attempt to undervalue or disguise a martial asset intentionally. While suspicion and proof of these kinds of activities are two very different entities, there are ways in which to protect yourself. An effective counter-measure is to start compiling detailed financial records complete with accurate asset assessments or valuations from the moment the decision to separate is made. Also consider hiring a specialized professional known as a forensic accountant. A forensic accountant is one who is an expert at tracing properties, evaluating financial reports, and assessing values for businesses and investments. Should things get really ugly, he is also one who makes a very good witness in a court of law.

Make Yourself Aware of Financial Tactics
Yet another way to eliminate any potential problems would be to familiarize yourself with some of the most frequent tactics used in such economic warfare. For example, in anticipation of divorce and a reluctance to share, a spouse may persuade an employer to delay delivery of a bonus, stock option, retirement benefit, or pay raise until after such time as a divorce is final. In this way, such monies would not be considered in the formal division of the marital assets. To prevent this, you may wish to take the deposition of your spouse's direct boss or payroll supervisor. Should this prove unsuccessful you may need to enlist the forensic accountant.

Other methods have been known to come in the form of payments to nonexistent employees, which the checks magically becoming void after the Date of Divorce. Sometimes monies are paid from a business account to somebody with close personal ties, such as a father, brother, or uncle, for services never actually performed. Naturally, the monies are returned after the divorce is final. Or, custodial accounts appear in the name of a child, under the child's Social Security number, for money to be parked until such time as the coast is clear.

There could be delays in signing any formal business contracts, lucrative only by coincidence, until after the time is right. Although in some cases there is nothing inherently illegal about this, if the intent is to hold down or lower the value of a business, in the eyes of the court this is considered asset hiding. The help of a forensic accountant would almost certainly be required here.

Document all antiques, artwork, hobby equipment, gun collections, or tools that are quite often overlooked by the other spouse. If possible, have a professional appraiser establish a value in writing. Pay a visit to the office and notice if there are any lush furnishings, paintings, or collector-level carpets around. Pay attention to the monthly billing statements to see if the lifestyle is exceeding the normal income. Somebody may be stockpiling for the future.

Other means would be skimming cash off the top of a business, "debt repayment" to a friend for an alleged outstanding obligation, or perhaps expenses paid to a new girl or boyfriend for items such as gifts, travel, rent, or tuition for college or other educational classes (that will never be attended, with the monies refundable upon student withdrawal by a specific date). Another prominent method would be cash kept in the form of traveler's checks, although you may be able to discover the existence of these by tracing bank account transactions.

Again, you may wish to employ a forensic accountant. While a forensic accountant obviously does not work for free, the money spent on his or her salary could prove to be well worth cost.

What is Right and Wrong!
In the opinion of a court of law, it is one thing to put assets into safekeeping or use them for necessities of life, it is quite another to hide them and not admit they exist as we have just seen. The taking of monies from a joint bank account for transfer to an individual account, for example, is acceptable so long as the existence of such an account is admitted. In this manner, the judge will still be able to include them in a fair and equitable distribution of marital assets.

Conversely, if you claim you lost monies from a joint bank account at a casino in Atlantic City, the judge might very well conclude (perhaps incorrectly) that you are not telling the truth and are attempting to hide assets. In this case, there is a very good chance that the judge will award YOU the "missing" assets and assign an equal amount of assets to your wife in the final distribution. If you are able to substantiate that certain assets were spent for a legitimate purpose, such as probable and reasonable living expenses, then there will be no penalty to pay, unless there was a specific restraining order issued by the court restricting such expenditures.