Hundred dollar bill hidden under puzzle pieces

I Think My Spouse Has Hidden Assets

Shelly Jean John, Attorney at Law Feb. 1, 2022

You’re in the process of divorce, and the two of you are facing what is called division of property or division of assets. In other words, this is the point where it is decided who gets what. This can be accomplished amicably between the two of you in an uncontested divorce or fought over in court in a contested divorce.

Regardless of whether you intend to let a judge decide on the division, you get the nagging suspicion that your spouse is hiding assets from you in a ploy to retain more than his or her fair share.

Remember, in California, assets acquired by either spouse during the time of marriage belong 50 percent to the other spouse under the Golden State’s legal principle called community property. Community property generally means a 50/50 split when divorcing.

What can you do to uncover the suspected hidden assets? You can become a sleuth on your own, or you can involve the court to help you obtain the proof, but most of all, you should consult with a family law attorney first and foremost.

If you find yourself in this situation in or around Ontario, California – you’re going through a divorce and you suspect your spouse of hiding assets – contact me at the Law Office of Shelly Jean John. I have more than 20 years of experience in divorce and family law, and I can help you resolve the situation so you can get the fair share you’re entitled to.

Division of Assets in California

As mentioned above, the Golden State is a state that honors the principle of community property. This means that everything tangible and intangible acquired by either spouse during the period of marriage becomes marital property subject to 50/50 ownership and entitlement.

Separate property can still exist, but it generally affects only assets acquired before the marriage or received individually through an inheritance or gift during the marriage.

Even separate property acquired before marriage – say a rental property – can become marital property, in whole or in part, if the spouse uses marital assets to maintain the property, for instance, to make repairs or pay the mortgage. When this happens, the separate property becomes commingled.

Common Ways to Hide Assets

It’s probably easiest to hide cash assets. You can’t really buy a boat and hide it away unless you put it in someone else’s name for the time being, but there would still be transaction records.

Say one spouse senses divorce on the horizon. He or she can set up a new bank account and make deposits there without informing the other spouse. Sometimes, spouses even use a child’s Social Security number to establish a “hidden” bank account.

Other methods include using trusts or “gifting” to sock away money until after the divorce is completed. Spouses can do this through the gift of money to family or friends who are thereby entrusted to return it once divorce terms have been finalized.

If one spouse owns a business, he or she can pay salaries to nonexistent employees through bookkeeping tricks and stash the money away. The business owner could also just delay closing a big deal until after the divorce settles.

Uncovering the Truth

As mentioned above, you can become a sleuth and look around the residence for financial records, receipts, bank statements, and other documents. Poking around the house in drawers and closets, or out in the garage in boxes or cabinets, is one thing, but you don’t want to overstep your bounds and attempt electronic sleuthing, for instance, by hacking into a spouse’s online account or cell phone for text messages. This is against the law.

The bottom line, then, is to contact an attorney immediately to craft a strategy to uncover the hidden assets.

If legal home sleuthing hits a dead-end, you can use the divorce court to help you. As a first step, your attorney can demand that your spouse turn over all financial statements, tax returns, loan applications, and other documents. The court can even apply sanctions if she or he doesn’t comply.

You can then go into what is termed the “discovery process” in civil proceedings. Your attorney can submit a set of questions – known in legalese as “interrogatories” – to your spouse, which under court direction he or she must answer.

The next step might be to demand an inspection of property, including safe deposit boxes or even art collections. The final step is an oral deposition before a court reporter. Since the deposition is taken under oath, if the spouse hiding the assets doesn’t tell the truth, he or she can be subject to perjury charges.

Working With an Experienced
Family Law Attorney

A spouse hiding assets probably isn’t going to “come clean” without a reason to do so. If you can find receipts and other evidence around the house, that is certainly the first step, but is it enough? You really need to confer with a family law attorney experienced in these matters.

If you find yourself in this situation, contact me immediately at the Law Office of Shelly Jean John. I will bring my two decades of experience to help you sort things out. I proudly serve clients in Ontario, California, and throughout the counties of San Bernardino, Riverside, and Los Angeles.