A client facing divorce asked me how she would know if her spouse was hiding assets. She said she was concerned because her doctor said his colleagues tried to coach him on how to hide assets prior to his divorce. Here is what you should do to protect yourself from a greedy spouse.
Each state has laws to ensure “fair” divorces. The divorce process includes a court order preventing both spouses from doing anything with any marital property outside normal expenditures like paying bills without the other spouse’s written consent. Additionally, both spouses provide financial statements and swear under penalty of perjury that they are providing accurate information and must update the statements as needed. Even if your spouse is not being deceptive, you still need to protect yourself from simple mistakes through the divorce.
Finding hidden assets is time consuming and complex. In fact, forensic accounting is it own field. If you suspect fraud in a divorce, you should consult a specialist. Here is what to look for:
- Personal Tax Returns – Look for unknown sources of income, depreciation of unknown assets, and deductions against unknown income and or assets.
- Business Tax Returns – These returns can show the same things as personal returns, but can also show assets and deferred income as retained earnings, loans, and capital contributions.
- Credit or Loan Applications – People will make the best of their finances when applying for a loan so look for income and assets that don’t appear elsewhere.
- Account Statements – Look for transfers to and from any unknown accounts. Regular payments could indicate a loan on an asset while regular deposits could be from rent.
- Cash on Hand – Hiding just a hundred dollars a week can add up to thousands very quickly. Look for regular withdrawals from any account, cash machine, or cash back on deposits.
- Safe Deposit Box Records – How often did your spouse visit the deposit box and when was the last visit? Maybe you didn’t even know you had a box at your bank. Be sure to check.
- Employment Documents – These can reveal unreimbursed expenses or deferred bonus and commission or overdue raises and promotions. You need to know the value of health and retirement benefits. Finally, check to see if they make payroll deposits to other accounts.
- Friends and Family – While employers, friends, and family may be sympathetic to your spouse, few will commit perjury and will be truthful when forced to reply the court.
Most of the time, errors are simple mistakes. I have even seen couples make them together in good faith. However, distrust can creep into any situation. If you suspect your spouse is not being honest, look for the things above and then contact an attorney and a forensic accountant.