Often in the context of divorce parties may attempt to hide assets in an attempt to keep them out of the marital estate that will be up for distribution. One of the biggest red flags as far as potential hidden assets is if the spending/assets of the party are way more than would be expected based on their reported income. A party who has a small business and deals in cash can easily hide money. It may become necessary to hire an expert to analyze the income flow and see if their reported income is correct after a thorough investigation. Top level executives may receive alternative forms of income. Examples include stock options, bonuses, car allowances, and deferred compensation plans to name a few. Military members also often have a compensation package that goes beyond their base salary. It is important to obtain information on all benefits of employment so they can be either be included as income in a potential support calculation or treated as an asset subject to distribution. Another potential problem as far as hidden assets is offshore accounts. Many offshore banks have confidentiality provisions that deflect detection. Parties should also be weary of the other party transferring assets over to family members or friends.
The first step in tracking down assets, hidden or otherwise, is discovery. Discovery in family matters typically consists of interrogatories (set of questions to the opposing party) and a production request (requesting certain documents be turned over). Tax returns and bank statements are routinely requested and are good starting points for tracing sources of income as well as where the income is going. From a tax return you can see rental income, interest on bank accounts, dividends on stock, etc. Bank statements can show the transfer of money and identify where it went to and for what purpose. Parties in a divorce may also conduct depositions wherein they question a party under oath. Further, the parties can subpoena documents directly from the custodian of the documents if the spouse will not turn them over. If these initial avenues of discovery do not yield the desired results, a party will have to contemplate whether it is worth to invest more money in the chase for hidden assets. Additionally, if a party anticipates that hiding or dissipating assets may become a problem during the pendency of the divorce, it is important to get a court injunction right away preventing the dissipation or transfer of any marital assets.
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