Hidden Assets: How to Spot Them, and What to Do About Them

By: Elliot Rysenbry
February 22, 2017

Worried your husband or wife might be hiding money before a divorce? Divorces are stressful enough without having to worry about whether your and your spouse’s assets will be divided properly. Unfortunately, plenty of people seek hidden assets before a divorce; in fact, there are even articles about how best to do it. Unfortunately, human nature is human nature, and people often try to take advantage of their spouse in this fragile time.

Protecting assets is best done proactively; if you spot the signs that your spouse is hiding money or assets early, you can protect what’s rightfully owed to you. Let’s run through some common signals that your spouse might be seeking to conceal assets.

How to Spot Hidden Assets

  1. Look out for bank and credit card statements that you might not be familiar with. (Remember, its illegal to open someone else’s mail  just record the bank name).

  2. Keep an eye out for ATM receipts for accounts you’re not familiar with.

  3. Watch out for overpaying of paying credit cards, utility accounts, and other bills. While not as common as it used to be, this is a technique to squirrel away cash.

  4. Be aware of ACH (Automated Clearing House) payments that are being made from your joint account to accounts you’re not familiar with.

  5. This is obvious, but that’s all the more reason to check. Look for large withdrawals that are being made from your joint account without discussion.

  6. Purchasing expensive artwork, antiques, cars, etc. is a way to convert cash into assets with a less tangible, more subjective value. Your spouse may be converting money into physical assets and under-reporting the value.

  7. Look out for income under-reporting. This is less likely for W-2 employees, but if your spouse gets paid in cash or other assets, they can easily under-report what they actually make.

  8. Look for custodial accounts in your children’s names. By opening an account in your child’s name, it’s possible to funnel money away in the guise of something to benefit your child, like a college fund.

  9. Keep an eye out for unusual debt repayments or large gifts. By paying a nonexistent debt to a friend or relative or giving generous gifts, your spouse could be transferring money away with the understanding that it’s to be returned to them at a later date.

  10. Fake payroll payments. If your spouse owns a business, it’s possible they could have fake employees on the books. By paying false employees, money can be transferred away.

  11. Mismatch between salary and payroll deposits. It’s often possible for payroll to deposit salary split over multiple accounts.

  12. Charges from the local post office. Your spouse may have purchased a PO box to receive bank statements, rather than have them sent to your home..

  13. And, of course, your spouse being secretive or defensive about money can be a sign. Being able to have an open conversation with your significant other about money is important  it could help you avoid a divorce in the first place.

If you’re looking to do a bit of your own snooping, you should have a look at this article about doing your own online research and investigation.

What to Do About Them

If you’re about to go through a divorce, or are currently negotiating your way through one, not to worry. There’s a legal way to find any of your spouse’s hidden assets called discovery.

Discovery, in simple terms, is the lawful procedure of obtaining evidence from the other party or parties (in this case, your spouse). Some tools for the discovery process include:

  • Document demands. You can demand that your spouse produce documentation, including bank statements and tax returns.

  • Interrogatories. You may ask written questions called interrogatories. Your spouse is required to answer these, and in these statements you can have them formally admit to statements and facts you know to be true.

  • Inspection demands. This is great for inspecting property like safety deposit boxes, homes, and those antiques we mentioned earlier.

  • Testimony. When under oath, your spouse has to tell the truth or risk committing perjury. This is called an oral deposition, and it’s an opportunity to ask your spouse questions they must answer truthfully by law.

We do suggest that you seek professional help for this process. Divorce attorneys that have experience in investigations know the best ways to get the information you’re looking for. We would also suggest that you talk to your attorney about whether or not it makes sense to hire a private investigator to help find your spouse’s hidden assets.

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