No matter how amicable, a divorce inevitably produces conflicts, none greater than the division of assets between the parting couple.
When assets are divided during a divorce, the first step is normally to create a comprehensive picture of all the assets owned by each spouse. Property and other assets acquired during the marriage may be categorized as “marital assets,” while property acquired prior to the marriage (or through a gift or inheritance) may be categorized thought of as “separate.” “Comingled” assets are those where marital and separate assets are combined, such as a joint bank account or retirement investment fund. Even in cases where you may not have an ownership right in your any separate assets held by your spouse, depending on your state’s laws, the court may consider the value of both parties’ separate property when deciding how to distribute marital property and debts.
It is not unusual for a spouse to hide assets during a divorce; hidden assets and unreported income are very often alleged in divorce proceedings, generally by the spouse who has not had a hand in managing the finances. Finding assets or proving unreported income can be challenging, which is why divorce attorneys rely on private investigators who are familiar with the ways individuals move assets into the hands of third parties or use false documents to obscure ownership.
There are as many ways to conceal assets as there are personalities of the people involved. In their attempts to hide assets, spouses may look to relatives or friends who may or may not be aware of their complicity. Sometimes personal possessions or insurance and investment certificates are put into safety deposit boxes in the name of a family member.
Money that may have been spent by a cheating spouse on gifts, travel or rent for a boyfriend or girlfriend can be disguised as valid business expenses. Spouses who own businesses may conceal assets by skimming cash from the business, paying nonexistent employees or paying fees to relatives that can be collected back after the divorce. Sometimes a spouse may simply try to artificially lower the value of his or her business prior to a divorce by delaying the signing of contracts.
A private investigator charged with locating hidden assets in a divorce case will first collect timely and accurate personal identification information about the spouse in question: full legal name and variations as well as known aliases, current and recent address information. Because assets may have been transferred to family members, the investigator will also collect the names and addresses of close relatives, their social security numbers and dates of birth.
While cases vary, at the outset of the investigation there is generally an attempt to get a sense of the spouse’s lifestyle: how do they spend their money and their time? Who do they spend their time with? Do their paychecks go into the marital account or are they deposited separately, into the spouse’s bank account? Is cash routinely used to pay for purchases? Are there credit cards? If so, where do the statements get mailed?
From there, a private investigator will do whatever digging is required and send reports back to your divorce attorney. Knowing what’s out there is the only way to know what is rightfully yours in any settlement. Contact us today if you need help.