Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law

Where to look if you suspect your spouse is hiding assets

Whether the decision to divorce was yours, your spouse's or a mutual agreement, you may still be left struggling to get your head around it. You may have custody issues foremost in your mind, but your concerns about your post-divorce finances may not be far removed. Ensuring you have enough security to support yourself and care for your children depends on the success of a fair property division settlement.

Unless you have a prenuptial agreement that says otherwise, California law requires courts to divide marital assets equally. A marital asset is anything either of you acquired during the time you were married. However, it may be impossible to obtain your just half of community property if your spouse is hiding assets from the process.

Show me the money!

Hiding assets during divorce is not uncommon. Some spouses fear they won't have enough to get by if they rely on a settlement, so they stash some away for safe keeping. Others may believe the assets rightfully belong only to them despite the law's definition of community property. Still others hide assets because they do not want the other spouse to have them. In fact, some spiteful spouses are willing to destroy their own property to prevent their spouse from getting it in a divorce.

It may not be easy to know for certain if your spouse is keeping community property from you, especially if you are unaware of his or her exact income or you did not take an active part in the family finances. However, there are some places where you can look for clues of assets your spouse may be keeping from you, for example:

  • Tax returns should reveal your spouse's complete income plus the presence of real estate, partnerships or trusts you don't know about.
  • Unexplained withdrawals or cancelled checks from your joint account may indicate your spouse is using the money for his or her own benefit.
  • The courthouse keeps records of loan applications if your spouse purchases real estate as a way to hide assets from you.
  • Even a cash real estate transaction will have records in the county tax assessor's office.
  • You may be able to learn if your spouse's employer is withholding a bonus until your divorce decree is signed.
  • Close friends or relatives may be holding money for your spouse in the form of a loan.

If you suspect your spouse of keeping community property from your divorce settlement, bring it to the attention of your attorney. He or she will have resources to investigate in ways you may not be able to on your own. Even if your spouse denies hiding assets from you, it is worth searching. Your future may depend on it.

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