When you marry a person, you’d like to think that your bond is forged on honesty and integrity. Unfortunately, divorce can bring out the very worst in some people. If you are going through a divorce and you suspect that your spouse is hiding assets that should be divided and split among you, you may not know where to turn, especially if your ex is more well off than you are.
First, it becomes important to define what we mean by hidden assets and how uncovering assets may affect the case of a California couple going through divorce.
Divorce, Assets & California Family Law
Family Code 760 dictates that all property, no matter where it’s situated, that is acquired during the marriage while living in California is defined as community property.
Going by that law, hidden assets in a divorce case could include money that was earned during the marriage and then stashed away unbeknownst to you. Other types of property include real estate, tangible financial assets like gold, stocks, or bonds, vehicles, boats, or anything else collected or earned while you two were married.
Division of Assets During a California Divorce
California is very specific when it comes to how community property is divided by a court order. Family Code 2550 states that unless the couple has a prenuptial agreement in place, the court must separate the assets evenly between the two parties.
What is Considered Separate Property?
What if you accuse your spouse of hiding assets and he or she claims that the asset is considered separate property? This might be the case.
Under California family law, separate items are those that were purchased or acquired before the marriage, such as a car that you’ve had since college.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, even if the family home was purchased before the marriage, equity accrued inside the home can be considered community property. Pension fund earnings and bank interest can also be considered community property.
When the decision to divorce becomes final, a family law attorney can help you disclose all the necessary property for division of all assets during the divorce process. Your spouse is required to make full disclosure of any community property that he or she owns and that should be divided. If you feel that your spouse is hiding assets, there are some steps you can take.
- Don’t Attempt Revenge
You may feel that if your spouse can hide assets, you can too. This is a bad idea for several reasons, but least of all because you could be hit with civil penalties.
You never want to hide assets that could be considered community property, even if you’re unsure if the assets are community or separate under the law. It’s always best to get the advice of a qualified attorney before filing any paperwork or listing assets that could be divided during the divorce.
- Get the Help of a Qualified Family Attorney
Your lawyer can help you decide which is community and which is separate property under California family law. If you inadvertently hide assets, you could be required to pay the other spouse’s attorneys fees. That’s just one example of civil penalties that are sometimes applied to those who attempt to circumvent the law, such as hiding assets during a divorce.
- Have Patience and Hope
If your spouse is hiding assets, it may take time to uncover the missing money, real estate or other property. This may require diligent detective work, such as from a private detective or forensic accountant.
However, have hope because if your spouse is found to be hiding assets, he or she could end up giving you even more assets as a result. Section 110(h) of the Family Code states that married couples have a fiduciary responsibility to each other. If breached, such as when one spouse hides assets during the couple’s divorce, the law will allow the court to award the other spouse 100% of the value of the undisclosed asset.
- Provide Evidence, if You Have It
Spouses can hide evidence in a number of different ways. Checks can be rerouted to a different address, such as a parent’s or lover’s house, investment property can be undervalued, and expenses can be distorted.
This is why it’s critical to get the proper assistance from a qualified family attorney. A lawyer will help you uncover hidden assets of any type, even hidden bank accounts, fine art that may be kept in storage units, or anything else.
If you have a suspicion about hidden assets and you have text, electronic, video, photographic, or other type of evidence, give that information to your lawyer. The more information you can provide, the more assets you can potentially uncover for a more than favorable outcome to your California divorce case.
- File a Request for Inspection
If you do suspect that a piece of real estate, storage unit, or other type of property exists, ask your attorney to file a request for inspection.
This is a type of inspection allowed under California family law that asks your spouse to allow you to inspect a particular piece of property. Any property that falls under community property would qualify. For instance, you may want to inspect a vehicle, deposit box, or storage unit. Even a rental property could qualify.
In many cases, these inspections end with one spouse catching the other “red-handed.” You won’t know if that’s the case with your divorce unless a request for inspection is filed but filing this request may be the only action you need to uncover the assets you suspect your spouse is hiding.
- Request Interrogatories
With this type of request, your attorney is asking the court for more information regarding any hidden assets. For instance, your lawyer could file this request asking for bank account documents, real estate certificates, stocks, bonds, or the address to a rental property the spouse is alleged to own.
- Request an Oral Deposition
This request is designed to allow your attorney to question your spouse regarding any hidden assets in a formal setting. You probably won’t meet in a courtroom, but the proceedings will most likely be recorded under oath by a court reporter.
If your spouse arrives at the oral disposition and continues to lie about hidden assets, even more civil penalties could result.
- Hire a Forensic Accountant
Your California family lawyer may suggest that you hire the services of a forensic accountant, whose job is to follow financial trails. Forensic accountants can be used to uncover crimes like money laundering, embezzlement, and they have unique skills that can assist divorce attorneys. If your spouse is hiding assets, in most cases, a forensic accountant can sniff that property out.
Forensic accountants may increase your legal fees substantially, but if you suspect high-value assets are hidden, that may influence your decision to hire the accountant and proceed with the divorce.
- Get the Services of a Private Investigator
A private investigator can provide your attorney with photographic and video evidence of your spouse driving a car you didn’t know about, or a boat. Frequent arrivals at a rental property or storage unit facility are other clues that can assist in you and your attorney uncovering one or more assets.
Private investigators are experts at catching people with their guards down. Individuals attempting insurance fraud, for example, are sometimes observed walking around with their neck or back braces. While they may play hurt for a California court, the P.I. can compile evidence that can get any fraudulent insurance claims dismissed.
The same goes for hidden assets. The private investigator can follow your spouse to and from work and while engaged in personal and business affairs.
If your spouse is hiding assets during a divorce, the process is the perfect opportunity to make sure the hidden assets stay hidden, at least in their eyes. That means they may go to extra efforts to ensure you don’t suspect or uncover any assets that could be divided.
Which, in turn, means that you could catch your spouse lying and hiding assets by using a private investigator.
Your attorney will know which private investigators to call and how to ensure fast and efficient proof that hidden assets do exist so that full disclosure can commence.
Once you have proof in hand that your spouse has been lying about one or more community assets, you can proceed with the divorce. You never know, the judge may grant you 100% of the value, but your situation will depend on the specifics of your case.
Ask your lawyer about hiring a private investigator if you think doing so will help you get to the root of any concealed assets you suspect are out there, waiting to be revealed.
- Talk to Your Spouse and Avoid a Messy Divorce
Before you and your spouse begin battling about hidden assets in a court of law, you may try discussing the matter with your spouse, if you two are amicable.
Explain to your spouse how community assets are defined under California family law, how the law says that those assets should be divided and explain that extreme civil penalties could result if your spouse doesn’t come clean.
This avenue may not work, as – once again – divorce often causes emotions to boil over and run rampant.
However, this strategy is worth a shot. The more honest both spouses can be as you approach the divorce, undergo the process, and then strive to continue on with your lives, the better off both of you will be.
Full honesty and disclosure will allow for a less lengthy legal process, keeping attorney’s fees to a minimum, and the divorce will presumably have less of a negative effect on any children the two of you share.
Contact a Family Law Attorney and Disclose All Community Property
If you are going through a divorce and you find this process complicated, hire the services of a skilled, experienced, and qualified attorney. A lawyer who is accustomed to representing clients like you in a California courtroom can help you deal with the other spouse’s disclosure and navigate the law as you fight for all the property and rights you’re allowed under California family law.
Divorce can be scary. Most facing divorce find it difficult to sleep, eat, or otherwise care for themselves. It’s unfortunate that this is the time you also have to step into a courtroom, talk to a judge, and argue it out for a favorable outcome.
However, you can make this time easier on you and your family by relying on a skilled attorney. A family lawyer can fully explain your case so that you understand all aspects from start to finish. When there are no surprises, clients going through divorce seem to fare better.
You can also explore every option available to you and analyze all the consequences of those choices for the most favorable divorce outcome.
If during this process, you manage to uncover hidden assets, your attorney will go to bat for you, hiring the necessary professionals, and putting years of knowledge and experience to good use on your behalf.
Depending on the value of those assets, you could end up getting an even more favorable outcome than you first considered.
It all starts with a call to a qualified California family attorney.
The attorneys at Griffith, Young, and Lass are waiting by to take your call. We serve the areas of Carlsbad, San Diego, and the surrounding areas. If you are facing a California divorce and you suspect that your divorce is hiding one or more assets, give us a call. We can uncover any assets, including financial records, currency, real estate, vehicles, and more.