Oh! So many assets, so little time, where does one begin?  If your soon-to-be ex is serious about hiding assets, the beginning of your search may seem easy compared to all of the other ways to determine if a portion of your marital assets has been concealed.

Many people with reasonable amount of marital assets hire an attorney to represent them in a divorce.  Upon doing so, and if not already obtained in their entirety, your attorney will request financial records.  These can include account statements, individual and joint bank statements, loan documents, title records, deeds, stock certificates, royalty agreements, paystubs, investment account information, tax returns with W-2's, etc. 

If your spouse is not forthcoming in turning over such documents...

Sometimes these cunning spouses plan well in advance to take advantage of their soon-to-be ex in a divorce.  They use deceptive measures to elude their spouse and the courts, bringing heavy consequences that can be damaging to both sides, especially if the assets are discovered after the divorce is final. 

We have listed some common considerations below to help you get the correct distribution of assets through your divorce process (nonspecific to your state's laws) by ensuring every marital asset is considered.

Duh...I'm not sure where I keep our financial records?

Your first clue that you may be divorcing someone who has something to hide is when he/she fails to produce requested financial documents in a timely manner.  While some spouses may simply have poor record keeping habits and require some additional time for a few documents, you should use common sense to determine if your spouse is characteristically disorganized or generally an excellent bookkeeper who is delaying the process for deceptive reasons.   

Has your spouse been more secretive with his banking transactions?

If you do not have access to the bank statements, get set up with online banking for recent and on-going transactions immediately.  You can also go to your nearest branch and request statements from the past several months.  Determine if there have been unusual withdraws, increased withdraws, or withdraws of large sums of money with no recent purchases.  This could indicate your spouse has been siphoning money and keeping it in an undisclosed location or safe deposit box.  This may be a good case for a private investigator. 

If the withdraws are on-going and recent, before confronting your spouse you may want him/her followed by the investigator to determine where he/she goes after the withdraws.  The investigator may also uncover a drug or gambling problem or perhaps an affair, for which you may have a claim to retrieve the money he/she removed from your accounts.

Drastic times call for drastic measures

In the case of a typical marriage where trust and honesty is essential, overly suspicious spouses routinely spying on each other's phones and computers is a no-no.  But, in cases where divorce is immanent or your spouse has brought about significant cause for you to do so, it may be time to protect yourself through any reasonable (and legal) means necessary.  This may include starting your own investigation with your spouse's phone or computer.   

Search his "search history" for any strange purchases or investment opportunities/accounts.  Also, search his phone for any new banking or savings apps/accounts where money can be hidden, syphoned from your marital assets.  Your attorney can then subpoena bank statements from that account at the start of the divorce.

You'll also be looking for searches for items or investments that your spouse would typically be unable to afford and does not usually shop.  New cars, real estate, expensive jewelry are common examples.  This could indicate your spouse is expecting a large sum of money for which he has not been forthcoming and is searching for a way to hide it or just spend it.  While it may not always indicate where the assets are or are coming from, it could be a start to substantiate your suspicions that your spouse is being deceptive.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"*

Try not to let your emotions get the better of you.  When expecting or beginning your divorce, where your trust for your spouse may easily begin to unravel,  don't obsess over concerns he is being dishonest, even if he has been over other issues.  If you play detective, know you may find things that are very hurtful.  Be prepared. 

If you find nothing or find suspicious, but inconclusive information, don't make assumptions.  Instead hire professionals to take over your investigation to obtain proof.  

Don't do anything that would put your family in harm's way or violate any law. 

Don't be obvious or accusing, even if you find something suspicious that would indicate financial infidelity (when a spouse lies about financial matters to his/her spouse) and/or your spouse's intent to hide assets.  It's best to bring your suspicions, concerns and any information to your attorney and other professionals for further action.  

It's tempting to show your spouse that you know, but, you could be wrong, thus bringing about a bad start of your negotiations.  If you're right, then your spouse may take the opportunity to up his game to keep his wrongdoings covered.

When did we buy a multi-level dog emporium and what is it anyway?  Plus, we don't even own a dog!

Yes, even the most cunning spouses can be rather stupid.  Check out your bank statements for unusual vendors, stores or online purchases.  Sometimes you can get a reference number to determine what was purchased and perhaps later returned onto a different card or into a separate bank account unknown to you.  

Deceitful spouses may make large purchases when they suspect a divorce is around the corner.  They then return the items, sometimes before they are even delivered.  They may buy items that are easy to store in a safe deposit box to later return once you are both legally separated when they may have more claim to the money.

Either way, you may find purchased items of value or unknown cash accounts that may have months or years of hidden funds.

Did somebody call for a professional?

  1. Hire a private investigator who can monitor your spouse's work habits to substantiate full-time employment and follow him/her to any banks that may have accounts that may or may not be discoverable otherwise.  Subpoena records to include bank statements if your spouse has not provided these documents upon request.
  2. Hire a forensic accountant to trace bank accounts, determine family expenses to compare with your spouse's income claims (this will assist in determining hidden income that has been available to pay expenses but has not been reported upon request).  
  3. Hire an attorney who has experience in search and investigation to uncover suspected hidden assets.  Subpoena records to include bank statements if your spouse has not provided these documents upon request.  Subpoena employer records to include bonus or commission statements to compare with tax and income documentation provided.

Mid-life crisis or sneaky-soon-to-be-ex?  Hmm? 

So your spouse goes out weeks before requesting a divorce and buys his parents an expensive new car as a gift for their anniversary.  Odd timing or sneaky way to hide some assets? 

How about expensive holistic weight loss therapist who requires thousands of dollars paid in advance?  Mid-life changes for midriff toning?  It could be an easy way to move money to a family friend who, upon finality of the divorce, issues a 100% refund to your ex.  Good therapy with a good return policy or shady ex-wife with lots of shady friends?

Mr. Top Sales Guy suddenly hits a slump, but his top accounts don't seem to have decreased sales?

Sometimes the stress of divorce can be difficult for each spouse to maintain their usual production at work.  However, if you suspect there may be foul play, you may ask your attorney to request commission reports, then issue a subpoena for such reports if your spouse fails to produce.  Be particularly suspicious if he is also self-employed or works for a small business.  A small, "friend owned" business may be holding commissions or bonuses until the divorce is final. 

You may need to employ the use of the forensic accountant.  Without affecting his/her accounts, a private investigator may be able to determine if his accounts and sales listed on his commission report are accurate by investigative measures.  

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes.  If there is tax, there is a way for her to hide assets

Upon obtaining your tax and income reports you will want to review several documents for clues to hidden assets.   It is really best to hire a forensic accountant or attorney, both of whom should be experienced in such investigative reviews.  Below is a sample of ways to locate hidden assets through information found on your taxes, as well as, tax loop-holes used to defer assets to avoid recognizable assets prior to the divorce.  It is not a comprehensive list nor does it imply every opportunity.

  • Higher withholdings on payroll -   This would indicate she is allowing the state or federal government to hold onto her money until your divorce is final.  She will then file a return or claim overpayment has been made to get a refund.
  • Review old returns - Looking for overpayment on past returns that will be refunded on subsequent filings after your divorce is final.
  • Form 1040 - Review income from wages
  • Form 1040 - Interest and Dividend
  • Form 1040 - Retirement Plan Distributions
  • Carry Forwards - Allows a reduction in tax liability for future reduction in taxes.  Basically carries a capital loss to a future year which could affect your asset protection for the year(s) for which are currently married.
  • Schedule A Itemized Deductions - On this schedule you will find out if your spouse has property in another state for which you are unaware.  She would have paid property taxes for which the name on the title, purchase date and payment source would be listed.
  • Schedule A Miscellaneous Deductions - Look for a tax or estate planning advisor listed on this document.  It could lead to an advisor for whom you could subpoena any information relevant to investment, retirement accounts or assets (hidden or otherwise).
  • Schedule B - Foreign Accounts - Look at part III of this schedule to find a list of spouse's foreign accounts or trusts in addition to sources of dividend and interest income.
  • Schedule C - Profit and Loss from Business - Determine relevant information related to business growth and potential, especially if you had involvement in this company while married.  Cross reference profit and loss with current clients of the company, actual expenses, deductions, etc.
  • Schedule E - Supplemental Income and Loss - Use this to find income generating assets such as royalties from patents-copyrights-software-music-books, rental income and investments in partnerships, s-corporations, estates and trusts.

Spouse seeking lending opportunities brings about asset recovery opportunities for you

Your attorney should request any loan applications recently made to locate information that may or may not have been forwarded or disclosed upon request or during the discovery process.  The application could contain information relevant to hidden bank accounts, whole life insurance policies, hidden income, hidden assets and/or collateral to include real or personal property.    


*Quote attributed to: “The Place of Action in Personality Change”, author Allen Wheelis, 1950, Medical Journal "Psychiatry"


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