Family Law

Ways to Discover Hidden Assets During Your Divorce

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Find out how to uncover your spouse’s hidden assets.

In your divorce proceeding, you’ll need to have the complete financial picture in order to prepare for a settlement or trial. If you suspect that your spouse is hiding assets, it’s important to discover the truth.

Where Should I Look?

When you’re beginning the hunt for hidden assets, it’s best to start with your bank account statements. If you have joint accounts, or you're an authorized user on an account, you can easily access statements online or by going into your local branch and asking for printed copies.

Once you have the records in front of you, review all the activity for anything out of the ordinary. For example, does your spouse regularly withdraw large sums of money from your account? Do your account statements show transfers to another bank? Are there credit cards linked to these accounts that you didn't know about? Do you see any unfamiliar payees on the bill pay section of the statements? These kinds of clues can quickly put you on the trail to uncovering secret bank accounts and funds that have been transferred without your knowledge or consent.

As you continue your review, take notes, and make copies of any bank statements you want to show your attorney: These documents may become important pieces of evidence if you end up in court.

Take things a step further by contacting the bank where the money is being routed. Although bank personnel are bound by privacy laws and can’t give you information on an account that doesn’t belong to you, they may be able to tell you basic information like how long the account has been open. If you get no cooperation, you should talk to your attorney about using subpoenas. During your divorce proceeding, your attorney can subpoena third parties to demand that they produce documents, which are relevant to your case: This is part of the divorce discovery process.

If your spouse has been careful to cover the money trail, you'll definitely want to talk to your attorney about subpoenaing financial institutions and even your spouse's employer. Spouses often try to hide income by deferring bonuses or failing to disclose reimbursed expenses and other forms of less obvious compensation. An employer that's been served with a deposition subpoena for records (and possibly even testimony) will be less inclined to cooperate with a dishonest spouse.

You might also want to examine your tax returns. Did your spouse take a large tax deduction? Is your spouse’s income higher or lower than you expected? Are there businesses listed on the return that you haven’t heard of? All this information will help you locate hidden assets and income.

What Is a Forensic Accountant?

If you’ve uncovered a lot of information, but are left with questions, it may be time to hire a forensic accountant. A forensic accountant is trained to do more than a CPA: These professionals are experts in detecting fraud, uncovering hidden assets, and making sense of complex finances. A forensic accountant will review all of your spouse's financial records to ensure that everything adds up and may be able to reveal secret bank accounts and additional sources of income.

Why Do I Need a Forensic Accountant?

A forensic accountant’s skills can be invaluable during a divorce. Specifically, a forensic accountant will be able to complete a financial analysis faster than your attorney. In addition, a forensic accountant can help you determine your spouse’s actual income, value a business, or find out if your spouse is hiding something. This information is essential to preparing a strong and fully-informed position for settlement or trial.

You may be reluctant to add another expense to your divorce, but if you suspect your spouse is anything but 100% honest with you, then you’ll need help uncovering the truth. If you have questions, you should contact a local divorce attorney for advice.

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