Divorce is hard on everyone, and the stress gets to the best of us. The division of marital property, however, will directly affect your financial rights, and if your spouse is hiding assets, it is more than just a symptom of his or her stress. Your divorcing spouse’s actions could cheat you and your children out of assets that belong to you, and hiding assets should not be tolerated. Rooting out such activity, however, is complicated. Turn to the professional legal counsel of an experienced Killeen divorce attorney for the help you need.
The Division of Marital Property in Texas
In the State of Texas, marital property (called community property) must be divided in a manner that is deemed fair (in the eyes of the law) upon divorce. Everything that you and your spouse acquired over the course of your marriage is considered marital property – with the exception of any inheritances or gifts that came to either of you in your name only.
Those assets that either of you brings into the marriage with you will remain your own private property – if you are able to keep the assets separate throughout your marriage, which can be exceptionally challenging. As such, the separate nature of assets is often hotly contested during the divorce process.
Separate and Marital Assets
Some assets, such as retirement accounts that either of you brings into the marriage with you, are distinctly separate. However, as they grow in value throughout the years of your marriage, that increase in value is considered marital and must be divided between you fairly. The same is true of any increase in value of a business or real estate holding that either spouse manages to keep separate throughout the marriage.
Keeping Separate Property Separate
It is important to carefully consider separate property and to note that if the spouse to whom it belongs is not careful to keep it distinctly separate while you are married, it is very likely to become a marital asset. For example, if one of you brings a business into your marriage with you, any of the following can affect its separate nature:
If the spouse who owns the business failed to pay himself or herself an appropriate wage (or any wage), the family’s finances likely subsidized his or her earnings – thus smudging the dividing line between separate and marital.
If marital funds helped to grow or maintain the business, its separate nature is unlikely to hold.
If both spouses run the business together, it becomes more difficult to claim as separate property (and makes it more difficult to address in the division of marital assets).
If the business’s finances became intertwined with the family’s in any way, it might not retain its classification as separate.
The determination of whether or not a property is separate or marital can be a serious battle in and of itself.
Assessing Your Marital Assets
When it comes to the division of marital assets, you need a basic working knowledge of what you have to start with. This process begins with gathering a wide range of documentation. While not every category will apply to you, it is a good idea to begin with, a comprehensive list that allows you to explore your own unique marital assets.
Your yearly taxes are a primary source of information, and you should gather all the following:
Your federal taxes as filed over the last several years
You and your spouse’s W2s
Any tax liens that apply
All additional IRS-related documents
Cash and Financial Accounts
A thorough reckoning of all your cash accounts, including checking, savings, commercial, and credit union accounts, is important. This should also address all retirement accounts, such as IRAs, 401ks, CDs, and pension plans. For each, gather all the following information:
The name, address, and telephone number of each financial institution
The amount in the account at the time of marriage and the amount currently in the account
The account number and the name(s) on the account
Statements from each account for at least three years back
Any information related to company loans and all documents related to work benefits
Cars and Other Motor Vehicles
Regarding the cars and other motor vehicles you own, put together a list of the following:
The year, make, and model of each
The name or names on each title
The VIN number of each
The fair market value of each
The balance owed on each and any monthly loan payments (including car payment invoices for the last three years)
Net equity in the vehicle at the time of divorce
You should do a walkthrough of your home and pay careful attention to all items of value, including:
Furniture, fixtures, and furnishings
Computers and other electronics
Antiques, artworks, jewelry, watches, and collections (including appraisals)
Firearms and other sporting equipment
Real Estate Properties
You should have an updated list of the addresses and locations of any real property that you own, including any vacation and/or commercial properties, timeshares, and/or lots. Your documentation should include:
All deeds of trust
All relevant notes, such as equity loans and second liens
Legal descriptions of the properties
Current fair market values and appraisals
Closely Held Business Interests
If either of you is involved in any business interests, be sure to capture all the following specifics:
The name, address, and phone number of the business
The type of business
Percentage of ownership
The number and value of shares owned
A list of company assets
Cash flow reports
Balance of accounts receivable and liabilities
Keep track of all the following regarding each of the insurance policies that apply:
The name of the insurance company, the policy number, and the person insured
The type of insurance (whole, term, or universal)
The date of the policy’s issue
The policy’s face value
The cash surrender value
The current surrender value
All designated beneficiaries
Publicly Traded Assets
Also, take stock of your publicly traded assets, such as securities, stocks, and bonds, and do not forget to address the matter of securities that are not in a brokerage, retirement account, or mutual fund. Having a record of all the following for each will help:
The name of the exchange where listed
The type of security, the number of shares, and the value per share
The certificate numbers
The date you acquired it
The tax basis
Whether any have been pledged as collateral
The current market value
Stock option plans
In addition to your assets, it is critical that you have a complete list of your liabilities, including your mortgage(s), personal loans, car loans, student loans, credit card debt, and more. For each, be sure to record all the following:
The name, address, and phone number of the loan holder
Your most current statements and account statements for the last several years
Your account number
The amount owed
Your monthly payments
Any property used to secure payment
Wills and Trusts
Obtaining copies of any wills and/or trusts, including all attachments that reflect holdings, is essential.
It is also important to address the matter of separate property by designating what you consider to be your own separate property. This makes gathering the documentation necessary to support your claim more straightforward.
Additional considerations include items such as the following:
Possessions held in a safety deposit box
Possessions kept in a storage facility
Burial plots and documents of ownership
Club memberships and travel award benefits
Any payments either of you is expecting, including tax refunds
Assets specific to your line of work and business
It is a lot, but the better acquainted you are with your finances, the better prepared you will be to move forward with confidence and purpose – and to spot any hidden assets if it becomes necessary.
Factors that Increase the Risk of Hidden Assets
There are a variety of factors that can increase the risk that your spouse will have ample opportunities to hide assets.
The higher assets you have overall, the easier it is to lose sight of them – and the easier it is to disappear, hide, give away, or otherwise get rid of these assets before they are missed in the divorce process. The more thorough you are with your documentation and careful assessment of your assets, which can require a forensic accountant, the better off you will be when it comes to protecting your financial rights moving forward.
Businesses are complicated financial matters – even when they are small, mom and pop affairs. If you are selling a business, its value is determined by what the market will bear. In a divorce, however, you are unlikely to sell your business outright, but one of you will probably need to walk away – and to be compensated accordingly. Determining a value of your business that you can both agree to can be exceptionally challenging (even when there are exacting valuations involved). If both of you run the business together during your marriage, the matter can be that much more complicated. If your spouse, however, is far more involved in the financial end of your shared business, the complicated financials allow him or her far more opportunities to hide assets.
Suppose you run a business that generates a good deal of cash and/or if your spouse takes it upon himself or herself to make cash his or her primary financial tool, it builds in considerable wiggle room for hiding assets. Cash tends to be very difficult to track, making it the best friend of those who engage in unfair dealings.
If you Have a Feeling
If you have a feeling that your spouse is up to something, do not ignore it. After all, you know him or her only too well. Further, it does not take a financial wizard to spot financial discrepancies in your bank accounts, bills, and family finances. As you pour over the numbers, make a note of anything that strikes you as odd. There may be a perfectly innocent explanation, but there may not be. If you recognize a financial trend, take action by consulting with your dedicated divorce attorney about the matter.
Do Not Forget Online Activity
It is 2022, and you should have access to each and every one of your financial accounts and assets online. If your spouse will not provide you with the information necessary to access this information, consider it a red flag. There are also online accounts, such as PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle, to take into consideration. Further, if your divorcing spouse’s online history on a computer that you share gives you pause, pay attention.
Keep Your Eye on the Mail
People often forget that the U.S. Mail can tell stories. If you see information arriving from bank accounts, credit cards, or anything else that you do not recognize, it may be time to do some investigating. If, on the other hand, your spouse does not seem to be getting his or her mail at home anymore, it can mean that he or she has rented a post office box in an attempt to keep his or her activities private.
Discuss Your Concerns with an Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney
If you suspect your spouse of hiding assets, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a seasoned divorce attorney who is well acquainted with less-than-honest divorce practices and is well prepared to help protect you from them. We are on your side, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.