Searching for Hidden Assets in a New Hampshire Divorce

How to find assets your spouse may be concealing from you when you divorce.

This list includes common ways in which a spouse may undervalue or disguise marital assets in an attempt to defeat the court's orders to pay obligations related to divorce. Be advised, however, that even if you know assets exist, you may have difficulty finding some items your spouse is determined to hide or getting the proof you need to show they exist. Hiring a forensic accountant or making use of formal discovery procedures may help to uncover those assets. A forensic accountant examines the spending habits, bank deposits, withdrawals, lifestyle patterns, travel destinations, etc. to reconstruct/deduce a subject's net worth, income and expenditures and detect where assets may be hidden or where income misstatements may appear to have taken place. Techniques used to underestimate or hide assets include:

  • Collusion with an employer to delay bonuses, stock options or raises until after the divorce. You might find this information by taking the deposition of your spouse's boss or payroll supervisor, but more likely you'll need a forensic accountant.
  • Arranging for salary to be paid to a nonexistent employee. The checks will be voided after divorce. Again, you might find this information by taking the deposition of your spouse's boss or payroll supervisor, but you'll probably need a forensic accountant.
  • Money paid from the business to a close relative -- such as a father, mother, girlfriend or boyfriend -- for services never rendered. The money will no doubt be given back to your spouse after the divorce is final.
  • A custodial account set up in the name of a child, using the child's Social Security number.
  • Delay in signing long-term business contracts until after the divorce. Although this may seem like smart planning, if the intent is to lower the value of the business, it is considered hiding assets.
  • Skimming cash from a business he or she owns.
  • Antiques, artwork, hobby equipment, gun collections and tools that are overlooked or undervalued. Look for lush furnishings, paintings or collector-level carpets at the office: income that is unreported on tax returns and financial statements.
  • Debt repayment to a friend for a phony debt.
  • Expenses paid for a girlfriend or boyfriend such as gifts, travel, rent or tuition for college or special classes.
  • Investment in certificate "bearer" municipal bonds or Series EE Savings Bonds, which do not appear on account statements because they are not registered with the IRS. (The government is phasing out these bonds, realizing that it is losing a lot of money.)
  • Cash kept in the form of traveler's checks. You may be able to find these by tracing bank account deposits and withdrawals.

Get the Goods (on Paper) Before It Ends

If you suspect that your spouse may attempt to hide assets, it's best to start investigating your household and business finances before initiating divorce proceedings. Make copies of important documents such as tax returns from the past several years, personal and business bank account statements, pay stubs, brokerage statements, and any other documents that reflect joint assets or debts. Gather all information about retirement accounts or pensions. Keep copies of these documents outside the home if you're still living with your spouse or partner. Also, as a precautionary measure, you might want to open a separate savings account in your name only. If a significant business or professional practice exists, a professional financial valuation is essential, although expensive.

For a spouse who keeps the family home, remember to factor in the cost of upkeep, taxes, property value fluctuations, and so on, especially if one party takes a house worth, for example, $300,000 and the other spouse takes the equal current value in stocks. Consider the future potential value and liability of each of these assets.

If your spouse hides assets, you may find yourself in need of a nest egg. Down the line, you may have to relinquish some of your savings to your spouse after all, we're not encouraging you deal with a dishonest spouse by stooping to his or her level but having a little extra cash on hand may ward off a crisis in the wake of your divorce.

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