Imagine this situation: you file for divorce; you've talked about it and your spouse is strongly against it, but you're done. You know it's not a healthy relationship. You go ahead with it anyway.
When you get home from work, everything is gone. The truck that was in the driveway. The television. The artwork and pictures off of the walls of your home. The jewelry box. Your spouse loaded it all up and moved out. You even check the bank account, and the money is gone.
What are your options?
Make no mistake: it is illegal to hide assets in a Florida divorce, as Florida law calls for marital property to be divided "equitably" -- fairly -- between the spouses. Note: "equitably" does not necessarily mean "equally."
If your spouse has taken marital property in an attempt to keep you from having it, you are nonetheless entitled to a portion of the property's value. You may also be able to retrieve physical property such as home furnishings or a vehicle, but it's best to talk to a lawyer about your concerns before trying to get the property back on your own.
It's also important to talk to your attorney about the difference between marital property and separate property, which is property that is not necessarily divisible in divorce. Separate property might be the value of a business on the marriage date or property that was owned prior to the marriage and never mingled with marital property.
To ensure a fair division and protect your financial future, it's important to be aware of some common ways nefarious spouses try to hide assets.
- Starting new accounts. Sometimes spouses create brand new bank accounts in secret and stash marital money there. Some people do this, little by little, for years before the divorce.
- Giving loans to family members. Your spouse might say a sibling needed a loan for a new business venture, or your spouse might give an incredibly generous "birthday gift." The real idea is to transfer the asset to the family member, get divorced, and then transfer it back.
- Paying fake debts. The same thing can be done with debt. For instance, some business owners start "hiring" friends as consultants and paying them absurd fees that will all get paid back later.
- Putting off earnings. Maybe your spouse owns a company that landed a huge sale. Maybe the payment for that one job will be $500,000. Your spouse calls the buyer and delays payment for six months for no reason but making sure it comes in after the divorce.
- Transferring titles. Maybe your spouse owns a lake house. After you file for divorce, he or she sells the lake house to a friend for far under market value. This hides the value of the home. It's similar to transferring other assets, but it's important to note that cash isn't all that's involved.
- Altering income with pretend expenses. The court will look at earnings and tax returns. If your spouse is a contractor or business owner, he or she might make up new expenses to reduce earnings, even if these expenses are never paid.
These examples help to illustrate just how complex situations turn when a divorcing spouse tries to hide marital assets. In other words, finding that television that your spouse pulled off the wall could be the least of your worries. Make sure you know all of your legal rights.