What Criminal Law Taught Me about Division of Assets in a Divorce
Multiple Foreign Numbered Accounts, Offshore and Shell Corporations, Family Owned Businesses with “Perishable" Inventory, Multiple Holdings in Precious Metals and Other Commodities, Bearer Bonds, as well as Real and Personal Property owned through layers of corporations, individuals and other entities. These traditionally have been the means by which criminals have avoided government detection. All in an effort to stay one step ahead of law enforcement agencies. As a former Miami criminal lawyer, I became intimately familiar with how law enforcement discovered the illegal enterprise, collected evidence, and built and organized their case. Twenty one years later, what does this have to do with Domestic Relations Law in Maryland and DC? Five words – Hiding Assets In A Divorce.
After representing individuals charged with Embezzlement, Money Laundering, RICO, Continuing Criminal Enterprise, Criminal Fraud, and other white collar crimes, I’ve learned how these individuals hide their money, assets and activities. I’ve also learned for those falsely accused how to successfully explain and present a case exonerating what from the outside looked as fishy business for what it truly was – complex and convoluted, but non-criminal, business practices. Whether you believe your spouse is hiding income and assets, or your spouse has accused you of doing so, it is something you may have to deal with. Sometimes the suspicion is just a hunch. Often times complex financial structures are misinterpreted as a deliberate attempt at obfuscation. But, attempts to hide assets are also common enough that your hunch may be an indicator of a spouse trying to hide assets and cheat you out of your fair share of marital property.
Division of Assets in A Divorce
A major part of divorce proceedings are focused on finances. Like a business partnership, dissolution requires division of assets, whether agreed to or determined through courtroom proceedings. Some involved in a divorce try to hide assets in a misguided attempt to deprive their spouse. My experience both as a criminal defense attorney and as a Maryland divorce attorney has taught me some of the signs to be on the lookout for, a few which are:
Business owners have more methods at their disposal to hide assets. If your spouse is a business owner some of the following could also apply:
When your spouse is hiding money or assets in a divorce, it is important to understand the means by which they move income and property. Whether that’s transferring ownership to a third party or using false documentation, an experienced professional knows the techniques to uncover those hidden assets and can realize the value of the property so that it is included as part of the equitable distribution in a divorce.
Hiding Assets and Property
There are all sorts of creative ways people find to hide assets. If you are concerned that your spouse may be trying to hide assets, some of the more common methods include stacking a safe deposit box full of paper money as well as gold coins, jewels and other collectibles. A sudden interest in collecting items like firearms, collectible cars, tools, hobby related items, artwork, antiques, or original paintings. These are often overlooked or undervalued.
Hidden assets may also include mutual funds, bonds, cash value and insurance policies and other annuities as well as savings bonds. Money and assets can be hidden by individuals in businesses in the value of vehicles, planes, boats, motorcycles and other conveyances, as well as inventory.
Finding Hidden Assets
Discovering hidden assets is sometimes just a matter of understanding what specific questions to ask yourself and expect to then pursue through the discovery process conducted by your attorney. Much of it has to do with understanding the clues that tip you off to the existence of hidden assets; often times these clues are just the tip of the iceberg. Securing documentation of the activities – “the paper trail" - or electronic documents stored in computers concerning these activities is crucial.
Although not exhaustive, some additional questions might include:
What To Do If You Think Your Spouse Is Hiding Money
Without the resources of a law enforcement agency behind you, what is a spouse to do if they suspect that their spouse is hiding money, or have a hunch that assets are being hidden, transferred, assigned, or otherwise dissipated? Or what if you are a business owner and your spouse falsely accuses you of these acts, including not reporting income, skimming money, or hiding assets or property? First, you need an attorney who understands the manner and means by which individuals and businesses hide money and assets. And if accused of doing so, an attorney who has experience in presenting evidence to the Court in defense of such claims, including distilling in understandable terms and evidence, complex financial endeavors and business enterprises.
Second, takes notes about “suspect" arrangement and take steps to preserve evidence to share with your attorney. Hiding money or other assets almost always leaves some sort of trail. However, you must be careful. Under no circumstances should you hack into a spouse’s computer or mobile device since that is illegal and can compromise the evidence. Instead, watch for unreasonable or unexplained financial transactions and make a note of it.
Third, after first consulting with your divorce attorney, gather bank statements, cancelled checks, tax returns, tax payments, pay stubs, brokerage account statements, or other things that make up the paper trail.
Whether concealed, hidden, obfuscated, or obscured, the various instrumentalities and means that one spouse can use to prevent another spouse from understanding the true picture concerning their personal, business, real property and cash can be a daunting and ostensibly impossible task. Although it may seem extremely difficult to uncover hidden assets, unreported income, and other hidden property, an aggressive and disciplined approach by an attorney who understands the complexity and variety of the means by which individuals and businesses hide assets and money can secure a just and fair result for their client when these types of activities occur.
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