Many divorcing couples struggle with the asset division process. While California and other states have laws designed to make the process as equitable as possible, it still may not feel fair. When you’re already emotional about your split, the thought of having to give up some of your property to your soon-to-be ex-spouse can be upsetting.
Despite this, it’s important to be honest in your financial disclosures. Not only is hiding assets immoral, but it’s also against the law. Trying to conceal marital assets so they aren’t considered for division violates your spouse’s rights to their share of the marital estate.
But what if your spouse hides assets anyway? That can permanently affect your future finances and make it significantly harder to get back to normal life after your divorce. If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, you have every right to hold them accountable. Here’s how to spot if your partner may be concealing financial information and how to make sure you receive your fair share of your communal property.
Signs Your Spouse May Be Hiding Assets
Even though you’re ending your marriage, you still know your spouse. If you feel they may be hiding money or property from you, listen to that suspicion. Start looking for warning signs that they are trying to conceal something from you. If you notice any of the following behaviors, it’s time to dig deeper into your finances.
1. Acting Defensive or Secretive About Money
It’s normal for divorcing spouses to argue about finances. However, there’s a difference between arguing and acting overly defensive. If your spouse seems to overreact or gets angry or evasive whenever you talk about money, they may have something to hide.
Similarly, if they’re doing things that make it harder for you to understand your financial situation, that’s a red flag. Common behaviors by people who are trying to cover their financial tracks include:
- Deleting accounting software: If you usually use accounting software to manage your finances and your spouse deletes it or closes the account during your divorce, that’s a bad sign. They may be trying to make it harder for you to spot how they’re moving money around.
- “Losing” records: If you keep hard copies of things like paystubs and tax records, ensure they don’t get “lost.” Your partner might try to dispose of these records to make it harder to identify your marital assets.
- Claiming payments are “late”: Some unscrupulous people will have paychecks or bonuses deposited in different accounts or held by their employers and claim they’re late, so they don’t get included in the marital estate.
- Saying assets were “stolen”: If high-value tangible assets like jewelry, electronics, or collectibles suddenly get stolen during your divorce, your spouse might be hiding them to keep them for themselves.
2. Changing Account Details
In most states, it’s illegal to try to hide assets to keep them out of the divorce proceedings. That’s why some states like California implement automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROs) that prevent spouses from making significant changes to their financial situation during a divorce. Critically, ATROs bar either of you from making changes to your financial accounts.
This doesn’t always stop people from making these changes anyway. Changing band or investment account details is a critical sign that your spouse is trying to keep assets away from you. You must take immediate action if you notice your spouse has changed account addresses, beneficiaries, or passwords. These modifications can make it harder for you to access the accounts and the funds within them. It can also prevent you from noticing that your spouse has withdrawn money or made other critical changes.
You should also pay attention if your spouse attempts to open new accounts during your divorce for themselves or your minor children. ATROs bar the creation of new accounts to prevent the transfer of funds that should be part of the marital estate.
3. Spending More Than Usual
Some signs that your spouse is trying to hide money are less blatant. They may be more subtle and use increased spending to hide how they’re transferring assets away from your joint accounts. Examples of spending patterns to watch for include:
- Sudden withdrawals: If your partner makes unexpected withdrawals from your accounts without a good reason, they may be depositing those funds in a separate tab or buying tangible assets to store elsewhere and keep for themselves.
- Unexpected gifts: Some people attempt to hide marital assets by using them to buy expensive gifts for friends and family. Should your partner start giving unexpectedly generous gifts, they may have a deal where the recipients will compensate them for the “gifts” after your divorce is final, so the assets aren’t considered in your split.
- Loan payments: Suddenly overpaying taxes, credit cards, or loans may signify that your spouse is trying to reduce their debts post-divorce. Similarly, if they’re suddenly making payments on loans you didn’t know about from your marital accounts, they could be siphoning money into separate accounts of which you’re unaware.
4. Announcing Sudden Business Changes
If your partner owns a business, this opens up new methods to obscure the marital assets in your relationship. Appraising a business correctly is a complex task, and changes to the company can make it even more complicated. Your partner may be trying to use the industry to avoid dividing marital assets if you notice any of the following:
- Suddenly starting a new business: New businesses are notoriously difficult to fairly evaluate. Your spouse may use the new venture to conceal assets and disguise their overall net worth.
- Reconfiguring the business: Similarly, if your spouse reconfigures the company for no apparent reason, they may be trying to obscure its value and prevent you from receiving your fair share of the profits.
- Unusual expenses: Your partner might try to siphon assets away from your estate by inventing business expenses and waiting until after the divorce is final to have them reimbursed from the company.
- Sudden decline in performance: Your spouse may purposefully hamstring their business for a few months to make it look like the company is worth significantly less than its actual value to reduce the marital assets you can request in exchange.
What to Do If Your Spouse Is Hiding Assets
If you notice your spouse doing anything listed above, you should seriously consider the idea that they’re trying to hide assets. That’s when it’s time to get professional help. Discussing the situation with your divorce attorney and a forensic accountant is in your best interest.
Your lawyer will help you determine your legal rights regarding different assets. They can also help you take legal action to prevent your spouse from siphoning away any more of your joint property. Meanwhile, the forensic accountant will investigate all assets involved in your marriage so you know exactly what should be considered marital property. Expert help can make all the difference to your split. To learn more about how to protect your assets in California and ensure your spouse isn’t hiding anything, schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney.