I’ve seen quite a few clients go through divorces over the years. Some were messy and contentious, some actually were amicable, some started off in a good direction but headed downhill quickly. One lesson I’ve learned from all of these scenarios is that, no matter how happy (or unhappy) you might be in your marriage, you need to be fully aware of your financial situation at all times. If you aren’t, chances are you’ll regret it later. And, just as importantly, you should be on alert for ways your spouse may be hiding money from you, possibly as a precursor to a divorce.
I recently interviewed Jamie Sack, a domestic relations attorney at Bean, Kinney & Korman, a full-service law firm in Arlington, Virginia, to gain some further insight into what signals you should look for to see if your spouse might be hiding money from you. Sack also shared some of the tactics people may use to obscure their real financial situation.
Potential Signs Of Trouble
When it comes to some of the signs to be on the lookout for, Sack’s suggestions include:
- Reviewing investment changes and money movements. If there is an increase in unusual activity, it could be a signal that someone might be trying to muddy the trail. Creating a lot of transactions could make it difficult for someone to determine the location of all of the assets and the purpose of withdrawals.
- Comparing expenses to the norm. Living expenses should be considered relative to what is common for that region. If a person is paying New York City rental rates while living in Buffalo, a closer look at the details is warranted.
- Keeping a keen eye on oversights. Accidents happen, but it is often telling if a spouse neglects to share information about something significant. Forgetting to provide a statement for an account that hasn’t been touched in years is one thing, but overlooking an account that houses the majority of assets or day-to-day transactions would be peculiar.
- Noticing the level of cooperation. If a spouse avoids or refuses to answer questions, that should provide the grounds to look into why they have that level of resistance to talking about the family’s financial situation.
Hopefully, your spouse will pass these tests with flying colors, but what should do you do if you see some red flags? First and foremost, Sack says to remain on alert. Then, it’s time to dig more deeply into your joint financial situation.
Follow The Money
Begin researching more into the issue that concerns you, and consider what other avenues your spouse might explore to minimize income, increase expenses or hide assets. Hiding money isn’t limited to shifting funds between accounts — it is often more subtle than that. For instance, a spouse might ask his or her employer to postpone a salary adjustment or other bump in income. Why? Sack said that “income plays a big role in the amount of support received.” In other words, a spouse has every incentive to delay income until after a divorce or accelerate expenses in the near term as a way to decrease the amount of alimony they may owe.
Other tactics Sack says that people often use to conceal assets or income include:
- Deferring a bonus or promotion.
- Intentionally overpaying taxes or applying a refund to future estimated payments.
- Transferring assets to a friend or family member for safekeeping.
- Covertly having a separate bank account or opening an account with a third party.
- Retaining assets in a closely-held business to lock up assets and/or decrease stated income.
- Inflating expenses such as travel costs or childcare expenses.
Unfortunately, this is just a sample of the possibilities, as the list goes on and on.
An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure
The best way to avoid a spouse hiding money from you is to immediately take a more active role in managing and tracking your family finances. In my experience, it is common for one spouse to lead in managing the money — and that can be okay. However, it is vital that both spouses are knowledgeable and involved in the finances.
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