I Know the Ex has Hidden Assets – What Can I Do?
For some separating couples, the division of property can be rather simple. A house or two, some vehicles, and perhaps some savings or investments can often amount to the sum total of family assets.
Yet for other couples, there can be a whole lot more written between the lines of their financial story. On occasion, quite substantial assets can exist in a variety of forms. Around the time of divorce, the partner with the greater personal wealth can sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to keep the true size of their assets hidden.
The nature of hidden treasures
Clever companies, strange gifts, tropical banks and ‘trust’ issues. If you are attempting to pinpoint exactly where a chunk of the marital wealth might be hiding, it can help to gather together as much information as you can from what you know for sure, and little things you might remember hearing about.
Many asset-hiding ploys involve pushing an asset away from the owner’s name (via off-shore mechanisms, the company ‘veil’, large gifts or complex trusts) while the owner still in fact has control of the strings.
Carefully sort through any available financial documents that you do have, and make a note of any obscure account names, odd business details and/ or addresses that don’t seem to tally with what you know about the family finances.
It can also pay to recall any details about ‘investments’ or ‘partnerships’ that your ex might have talked about during the relationship. Jot down any information that might help in the asset hunt.
The expert touch
Now that you are armed with all of the documents and notations that you can think of concerning hidden assets, it is time to seek some expert help to take the next step. In many cases, professionals with forensic financial capabilities will be able to provide significant assistance.
If you are uncertain as to the right experts to contact, consult your family lawyer for information on who might be the best fit.
It can be tempting to confront the ex-partner and demand answers about the asset situation. It is always best to refrain from heated emotional exchanges. Stepping calmly through the process of locating hidden assets – with help from professionals – can be a much better way of achieving a successful outcome.
This is because if the ex-spouse has in fact gone to the trouble of secreting away assets of the marriage, it is hardly likely that demands will have much of an impact!
A note on family and ‘gifts’
Sometimes as a marriage or de facto partnership is breaking up, one spouse might suddenly begin to show a strange generosity to family and friends. Without consulting you, supposed gifts of boats, jewels, shares or even property holdings might be transferred out of your ex’s name and into that of another person.
Sadly, children of your spouse’s former relationship/s are often used as the supposed beneficiaries of these newly-gifted items. These ‘gifts’ could well return to your ex-partner after the property division.
It is vital that you document all that you know about such transactions. In the hands of financial and legal experts, the truth about each matter can be established. If a ‘gift’ has been untoward and without your input, there is a good chance that you are dealing with an asset of the relationship.
Does the law frown on this?
As ‘tricky’ schemes for asset shifting have grown in Australia, so too has the court’s intolerance of such duplicity. In fact, recent cases of spouse cover-ups of assets have led to severe fines and even jail time for some participants.
Underlying the family law in Australia is a basic idea of fairness. Emotional issues aside, the courts strive to find a situation that will be as fair as possible to everyone concerned – spouses, children and extended family alike.
As the elements of property division are stepped through, there is an assumption that basic good faith regarding the assets of the marriage will flow through proceedings. And particularly where children are involved, it is only fair that the entire asset position is exposed.
With decades of experience in dealing with convoluted financial information, the court system and your family lawyers are well-equipped to assist in untangling murky asset situations.
Let cool heads prevail
If you suspect that your ex-spouse has hidden assets, time is often of the essence. Time limits prevail in property matters and it is essential that you provide all available information before a final division is made.
And if you are at all threatened by your ex-partner as you gather asset information, seek immediate assistance from a family violence practitioner. In terms of your own emotions, strive to travel this path as calmly as possible. If you need help to navigate the retrieval of hidden assets, your family lawyer can provide you with helpful advice along the way.