Could Your Spouse Be Hiding Assets?

No one wants to believe his or her spouse would raid the family piggy bank, but it happens more than you might think.

When it does, it can turn an already difficult circumstance into a financial nightmare during a separation and divorce. Whether your family has a lot or a little in the way of financial assets, protecting them is always key.

Warning Signs That Your Spouse May Be Hiding Assets

Several circumstances may hint at possible impropriety:

  • You don’t have access to financial information. If your spouse maintains complete control of your family bank accounts and passwords, he or she already has a leg up regarding your finances. This division of labor may make sense in an intact family, but transparency is critical during the divorce process. If your spouse refuses to allow you access to financial information, it is cause for concern.
  • Your spouse mentions trouble at work or other issues. Be aware of your spouse’s comments regarding his or her income and finances. Pay attention when your spouse mentions problems at work, failed investments, debt issues, tax trouble or other financial problems. Sure, he or she may just be sharing a tale of woe, but these comments could also be a cover story for financial misdeeds.
  • You notice changes in spending or account activity. If your spouse is making extravagant purchases or taking expensive vacations, monitor your financial accounts and track the purchases. If you cannot connect the dots, it may suggest that your spouse is drawing from a separate asset, or making other undisclosed changes to your finances.
  • Your spouse asks for your signature. Many financial transactions require a spouse’s consent, for example a line of credit secured by a jointly titled home or a loan against a retirement account. If your spouse is asking for your signature, ask your spouse to explain the reason for the request, and review the relevant documents.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of warning signs. Do not rely on the status quo or turn a blind eye or deaf ear to your family finances. Maintain awareness of your family’s income, spending, assets, debts, and overall financial picture. If you see signs that suggest your spouse may be hiding assets, take action.

Collect Information as Quickly as Possible

If you believe your spouse is hiding assets, you should move quickly to gain information.

Documents that exist one day may not exist the next. Make copies of account statements, loan applications, tax returns, and any other potentially relevant financial documents in your home. Federal law prohibits you from opening mail addressed solely to your spouse, and if your spouse keeps documents under a lock and key and does not allow you access, that safe or drawer may also be off-limits.

Electronic devices are the modern day file cabinet – if a computer is not password protected, it is fair game. If your spouse has shared a password with you or it is an oft-used family password, in most circumstances you can use it to access an account or device. You should consult an attorney before accessing your spouse’s protected documents to be sure you are not violating any state of Federal laws.

Swift Action Can Save You a Fortune

The remedies to address the improper handling of financial assets often require quick and decisive action – they are also fact-specific and subject to relevant statutes and case law. If you believe your spouse may by hiding or misusing assets, you should consult a qualified family law attorney immediately. It may mean a world of financial difference for you and your family.

Erin Kopelman is a divorce attorney who handles cases involving domestic relations and family law, including often-complex matters where a spouse is hiding marital assets. For more information, contact Erin at [email protected].