Divorce and Hidden Assets

By: Jean Mahserjian

Not surprisingly, assets are often hidden in a divorce situation. Why - well simply greed, or the feelings of betrayal or anger at the need to divide assets in the divorce, or the fear of not having enough after the divorce all motivate the behavior of hiding assets.

In divorce, the parties assets are divided. Under the divorce laws of some states they are divided equally and under the divorce laws of other states, they are divided "equitably" or fairly. Equitably often means equally to overworked divorce judges.

There is no way to know in advance if your spouse has or will hide assets in a divorce. You know your spouse better than your divorce attorney will and you will need to alert your attorney to the possibility of your psouse hiding assets. Before you get to that point, however, there are some easy steps to take to prevent your spouse from being able to hide assets. Those steps include finding out everything you can about your assets before divorce.

Before you alert your spouse that you are considering divorce, you need to complile and/or stockpile documentation about all of your assets. If you do not have knowledge of your marital assets, it is time to find out what is there. If bank and other statements come to the house, open them and write down account numbers and balances.
If you have access to the cancelled checks, copy those as well. It is not unusual for a spouse who is planning a divorce to transfer money to friends or relatives with the plan being that they will give that money back after a divorce is finalized. So, you should review those records and carefully scrutinize all large or suspicious transfers that take place in the two or three years prior to or just after the filing of a divorce action.

Make sure that you know where the copies of your income tax statements are. If your spouse has a business, make sure you have a copy of several years of tax returns for that business. All of these documents can be copied and hidden safely somewhere outsided of the house in the event that you need them. Taking these simple pre-emptive steps can mean the difference in obtaining a fair settlement in divorce. It will also be incredibly helpful to your divorce attorney to have this information in advance.

If banking and other statements and financial records are not kept at or mailed to your house, you will need to obtain those records in other ways. You can contact the IRS to obtain copies of any tax returns that you signed. Request copies of those returns and have them mailed to a different address - either a friend or relative or your divorce atttorney. If there are returns that you have not signed, such as business tax records, you will not be able to obtain copies of those returns from the IRS. If you have access to your spouse's place of business, you may be able to find those tax returns there. If you are worried about your spouse hiding assets in a divorce, you really do need to find those returns and make copies of them - for as many years as possible.

If you have valuables, antiques, jewelry, art or other collectibles in your home, catalog all of them and if you have appraisals, make copies. It is not unusual for those items to disappear or even to be pawned by a spouse in need of more funds.

If you suspect that your spouse has engaged in some divorce planning and is hiding assets, let your divorce attorney know. Ask your divorce attorney to subpoena records from any other idividual or entity who could be involved in assisting your spouse in hiding those assets. If need be, your attorney can use the services of an investigator to help to obtain financial records that have been withheld.

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Attorney Jean Mahserjian is the author of numerous websites and books devoted to helping consumers through the process of separation and divorce. To download free excerpts from her family law books, visit: Divorce Help

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