For the time being, let’s assume the answer is ‘yes’. Among other things, it may mean that your spouse has already undertaken a deliberate and secretive plan to erase any trail of certain marital assets that would otherwise need to be split with you upon divorce or might factor into alimony and child support. Such actions are at best unethical and at worst illegal. Unfortunately, such consideration of hidden assets should be done in every divorce action, whether or not a husband/wife believes that his/her spouse is “capable” of such wrongdoing. So if you are unsure what the answer is, you should consider taking a proactive approach to getting a more definitive answer.
What are some simple signs to look out for? Look around you with a pencil and paper in hand. If the lifestyle your family leads over a period of time doesn’t correlate with what you see as inflows and outflows from bank and investment accounts or from cash on hand during that same period, that may mean that assets may exist elsewhere that you’re not considering or, worse yet, that you’re not aware of! Typical of many couples is that one spouse manages the family finances while the other consciously chooses not to be involved at all or to the extent of the other. Attorneys would call this ‘opportunity’. With a future divorce in mind as motive, this opportunity could change the persona of your spouse to someone who is “capable”.
If you’re not comfortable performing such a lifestyle analysis or it’s too complex due to numerous transactions or accounts, certified forensic accountants are well-versed at performing these functions. Even if you’re not ready psychologically to take these steps, at a minimum protecting financial records is a must. If you’re already aware that divorce is on the horizon, you need to switch into protection mode by consulting with an attorney who will advise you what should be done.
–Steven Fultonberg, CPA, CVA, Partner