If there’s one thing that’s universal in all divorce cases, it’s that each spouse wants to come out on top—with their share of the assets. And why wouldn’t you? Your marriage has ended, but you don’t want your financial future to end, too.
Although you’ve hired an attorney to get your fair share, your soon-to-be-ex may be taking another approach and hiding assets. It’s a dirty move, but one that’s all too common.
In the time leading up to (and during) a divorce, it’s crucial that you keep a careful eye on your money and property. If you suspect your spouse is stashing purchases and hiding assets from you, it’s time to take measures to find them. There are a few things you can do to unearth these buried treasures.
1) Check for hidden documents
The best place to start your search is in hiding spots that you have access to. Look at bank-account statements, stock certificates, and insurance policies; they’re usually hidden close to home. During your marriage, if your spouse tended to keep these types of documents in certain spots, check those places first. You may be surprised at what you find in a safe-deposit box, filing cabinet, or dresser drawers.
2) Monitor your accounts and credit report
Your spouse may try to stash assets in a secret bank account under their name. They may use it sparingly, transferring small amounts at a time. But if you don’t catch it, you can find you’ve been bled dry. Even sneakier, your spouse might go as far as transferring funds to a relative’s account (or opening one up in your child’s name).
It’s imperative that you keep a close eye on your credit report—paying special attention to any new loans, credit lines, or credit cards that your spouse has opened. Save bank statements, and note any unknown transfers or cash withdrawals that aren’t accounted for. If your spouse is funneling anything into a new account, it won’t be long before you spot patterns that’ll confirm your suspicions.
3) Question new spending habits
Has your spouse gone on a spending spree—buying items they never would’ve dreamed of purchasing while you were together? Your first guess might be that he or she is going through a midlife crisis, but there’s a real possibility that it’s their sneaky way of hiding assets during your divorce.
Look through their spending history, and highlight any items that look suspicious. Common purchases include expensive furniture, new vehicles, jewelry, or collectors’ items. If you spot any of these, it’s likely that your spouse is planning to cash in the goods once the divorce is finalized—leaving you with nothing.
4) Get professional help
If your soon-to-be-ex is particularly sneaky, you may have to hand over the sleuthing to a professional. There are several websites, such as Docusearch, that offer investigative searches for documents. These are, by far, the most affordable options, and they’ll quickly and legally uncover hidden accounts. Other websites, such as Instant Checkmate and US Search, provide background checks that can uncover hidden property and any criminal activity.
If you’d rather deal with a person than technology, you can go the old-fashioned route and hire investigators. A private investigator and forensic accountant are pricier than online searches, but good ones have extensive experience in uncovering a variety of hidden assets.
Asset division can have a huge impact on your financial future, so it’s imperative that both you and your attorney have a clear picture of all marital property. To protect your pocket, take a “better safe than sorry” approach. Be preemptive to uncover hidden assets during your divorce.
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Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA is author of Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide and host of the Divorce and Your Money Show on iTunes. Learn more at www.divorceandyourmoney.com.