Unfortunately, not all divorce proceedings go smoothly, and one of the most common issues involves spouses hiding their assets from their soon to be ex-partner (and the court). Fortunately, you can use a legal tool called “discovery” to uncover these hidden assets.
Many reasons exist why spouses attempt to hide assets from one another, sometimes motivated by anger over an affair or other indiscretions. When it comes to marital property, most people think of the family home, savings and checking accounts, and retirement funds.
However, these tangible assets are easy to discover and hardly ever the assets that are hidden. Other types of property are often forgotten during divorce settlements, such as the following:
- Tax refunds (mainly ones not yet delivered)
- Frequent flyer miles (do not underestimate their value!)
- Vacation property and timeshares
- Collectibles such as art or pop culture memorabilia
- Intellectual property such as copyrights, patents, and trademarks
- Security deposits for purchases such as storage units and rental property
The Discovery Process of Hidden Assets
If your spouse handled most of the financial affairs during your marriage, you may be called the “out spouse” by your attorney. This term means you lack immediate access or knowledge of financial information, while your spouse has full access. If this is the case, you need to request copies of all financial records, preferably through an experienced Arizona divorce attorney that knows exactly what to ask for. The Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure require all parties to disclose certain information, but also allow you to request other information and seek the court’s help if the other spouse fails to provide the information request.
Your attorney will use a legal process called “discovery” to gain access to the relevant information and documentation. The process provides your legal team with several options, including:
- Demanding Documents: Your attorney can ask your spouse for documents such as loan applications, tax returns, account records, and financial statements.
- Inspection: Your attorney can help you inspect property such as a wine collection or a safety deposit box.
- Written Questions: These are sometimes called “requests for admission” or “interrogatories,” and by using these tools, your attorney can force your spouse to answer specific questions in writing or admit to certain statements you know are true.
- Testimony Under Oath: This involves you, your spouse, and your attorney appearing before a court reporter in what is called an “oral deposition.” An attorney will ask your spouse questions under oath.
- Subpoenas: This involves drafting a specific request to a third party, like a bank, to turn over documents and information to you. This method costs money and the non-party who you are seeking to provide information can charge you a reasonable cost for responding to the subpoena.
The discovery process is an excellent way to extract important information from a spouse that is otherwise refusing to cooperate, as the court has the power to compel an individual to comply with certain orders.
For instance, if your spouse is not giving you access to certain documents, you can ask a judge to issue a court order. If your spouse still refuses to provide the paperwork, an Arizona court can impose a sanction, which could consist of a fine and/or a judgment against your spouse on a certain issue.
If you suspect your spouse is being dishonest, a deposition is the ideal way to get information. If he/she lies under oath, a perjury charge may follow; in Arizona, perjury is a Class 4 felony carrying a minimum sentence of 12 months.
You should do the following to help your attorney track concealed assets:
- Gather as much financial information as you can, including mortgage amounts, tax returns, credit card bills, stock transaction reports, and bank statements.
- See if any real property or registered vehicles have been given as “gifts” by checking with local government agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the county assessor’s office.
- Relating to your spouse’s workplace, take note of job title changes, wage increases/decreases, and known bonuses.
- Look for bill overpayments, especially credit card statements, as this is a classic method of reducing the amount of fungible cash available in a divorce settlement.
If you are getting a divorce, and you believe your spouse is hiding assets as a means of ensuring you do not receive your fair share, get in touch with an experienced divorce attorney in Arizona. The assets you find during the discovery process could be substantial and make a major difference on your future quality of life.