Anyone contemplating a divorce should be aware that hiding assets or money from a spouse is actually (sadly) quite common. About 12 million Americans admit to hiding money from their partners, effectively committing “financial infidelity,” according to creditcards.com. There are even online instructions for concealing assets, including an article entitled “How to Hide Money From Your Spouse: A Sneaky, Step-by Step Guide.”
So it should come as no surprise that spouses often secretly conceal assets before or during divorce. But being aware of the surreptitious methods your soon-to-be-ex could be using to hide money, property or other valuable assets from you is key to obtaining your fair share of marital property when the divorce is said and done. Furthermore, courts in New York State have been known to award the spurned spouse an amount equal to that—or more—which the “cheating” spouse may have concealed before or during the divorce.
Assets can be hidden in a variety of ways, including the following:
- secret retirement account;
- joint bank account with a young child;
- safety deposit box;
- Bearer bonds or Series EE savings bonds for which no interest is reported on tax returns;
- antiques and collectibles, possibly kept at the office;
- collusion with employer to delay payment of bonuses, stock options or raises until after the divorce;
- a custodial account set up in the name of a child, using the child’s social security number;
- debt repayment of a phony debt to a friend or family member, with the pre-arrangement that the friend will hold the money until after the divorce, then give it to your ex-spouse; and
- expenses paid for a girlfriend/boyfriend, such as gifts, travel, jewelry, rent or college tuition.
Financial red flags
A knowledgeable divorce attorney can help determine whether your spouse may be squirreling away assets behind your back by looking at his or her past actions to determine the possibility. For example:
- Did your spouse exert excessive control over financial matters, such as hiding or denying access to bank information, statements and online access from you during your marriage?
- Did he or she withhold details of transactions or only advise you after the fact?
- Were there ever any large expenditures or asset purchases made without your knowledge (cars, real property etc.)?
- Does your spouse have a history of deception, such as affairs or lies about debt?
When the spouse is self-employed, there are additional clues that may indicate financial infidelity. For example:
- Is there a haphazard pattern of deposits of account receivables and are there deposits in which the source is hidden or not recorded?
- Is salary being paid to a nonexistent employee from the spouse’s business (it’s possible that the checks will be voided after divorce)?
- Is there a delay in signing long-term business contracts until after the divorce, in contrast with previous years?
- Has money been paid from the business to someone close, such as father or girlfriend/boyfriend, for business services not rendered (the money will no doubt be given back to spouse after the divorce is final)?
During divorce proceedings, your divorce attorney may be able to uncover even more red flags that could indicate your spouse is hiding assets. For example:
- Is there a pattern of inconsistencies between the financial disclosure forms and the supporting documentation (bank account numbers, etc.) he or she submitted?
- Are there incomplete and/or unsigned financial disclosures, or is there a reason someone is afraid to sign them?
- Are there a lot of missing documents, such as unfiled tax returns or records of the type that you normally would expect?
- Is there an ongoing refusal to produce relevant documents?
- Is the discovery proceeding piecemeal?
- Are documents being produced in what appears to be a purposeful disorganized, confusing or redundant manner?
- Do the records reveal a high volume of cash transactions, possibly aimed at avoiding a paper trail of money?
- Is the spouse loaning money to friends or family members?
- Does the discovery process keep uncovering previously unknown or undisclosed accounts, particularly if they have current activity and/or substantial balances?
- Is there the possibility of collusion with their employer to delay payment of bonuses, stock options or raises until after the divorce?
Recover hidden assets
If you suspect that your spouse is hiding assets from you, a knowledgeable divorce attorney may be able to help you find what is rightfully yours by subpoenaing bank and money market accounts and conducting a range of other discovery measures including retaining the assistance of a forensic accountant. Once all of the marital property has been identified, each asset will then be classified as either “marital” or “separate” property.
“Equitable distribution” is the means by which New York distributes marital property in a divorce. In a New York divorce, absent some other form of agreement, spouses keep their separate property and the marital property is equitably divided. Equitable division does not mean equal, but fair.
To ensure you get your fair share of marital assets, contact a divorce attorney who may be able to discover and recover that which your sneaky spouse may have attempted to conceal from you and to which you are rightfully entitled.