The common ferret is a remarkable animal. Ferrets are routinely used to hunt rabbits. Felicia Ferret1 cleaned pipes for Fermi Lab. A busyness of ferrets saved London’s Millenium Concert2. Busyness — that’s the collective noun. Felicia is one ferret; Felicia and all her ferret friends are a busyness. Ferrets are of little help, though, in ferreting out hidden assets during divorce. For that, you need either one good family law attorney or, collectively, an eloquence of lawyers.
What are Hidden Assets?
If you and your wife have sensed for some time that you may be headed for a divorce, she could have plenty of time to tuck away hidden assets. By hidden assets we mean all these sources of ready money:
- Valuables such as artwork, jewelry, and antiques
- Vehicles such as RVs, boats, yachts, ATVs, private planes, helicopters and Ski-Doos
- Items like valuable tools, wine collections, rugs, gun or knife collections, crystal, and china
- Insurance policies
Hiding assets can be done physically, as with stuffing a shoebox full of gold jewelry and then hiding it amid other shoeboxes, or financially, as in opening secret accounts or quietly selling off stocks and bonds, then siphoning off the proceeds.
Ferreting Out Hidden Assets
Virginia law compels each party to honestly list assets and liabilities during property settlement or divorce. That does not mean, of course, that your wife will comply with that law. She may hide assets from you and from her own attorney.
In high asset divorce especially, your attorney is crucial in filing the proper paperwork for full discovery of assets (and debts). In addition to discovery, your attorney can prepare interrogatories that must be answered truthfully. Dishonest answers are perjury, punishable under Virginia law.
Your attorney can petition for visual inspection of physical objects, like safe deposit boxes, that random shoebox, jewelry collections, artwork, or a boathouse.
Your attorney can put your wife on the witness stand to testify under oath about her assets.
Hire a Private Investigator
A private investigator can be hired to help find your wife’s hidden assets. An investigator will cast a wide net, looking to your wife’s relatives for sudden influxes of wealth. Your attorney can petition for Social Security Numbers (SSNs), names and addresses of relevant relatives, who in turn can be required to reveal gifts of valuables or cash from your wife.
You can be a bit of an amateur sleuth by tracking your wife’s visiting or vacation habits. If she regularly visits an offshore country, you and your attorney then have reason to assume she is transferring assets to an offshore account. Even simpler: examine credit card statements for charges that indicate trips out of town or out of state you may not know about. Then have your attorney write interrogatories about those specific places and dates.
Tax Return Deep Dive
Most Virginia couples file joint returns, but not all do. If your wife files a separate tax return, she may be hiding assets from you that she cannot hide from Uncle Sam.
Some spouses have “businesses” on paper that allow them to shelter assets, so consider having a forensic accountant take a look at your wife’s tax returns for things like this:
- Form 4797 — Sale of Business Property
- Schedule C — Profit or Loss from Business
- Schedule E — Supplemental Income and Loss
Other documents to look for include mysterious casualty and theft loss (perhaps she claims she lost the Hope Diamond’s little brother), Schedule B (Interest and Dividend Income), or Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.
She may feel comfortable hiding assets from you, but the punishment for tax fraud is so great she probably will not play games with the IRS.
See Your City or County Clerk
You or your attorney can perform a records check at the City or County Clerk’s office in each Virginia county. You are looking for public records with your wife’s name:
- Land titles
- Quit claim deeds
- Business licenses
You can extend your search to state levels, too, for things like corporate records, liquor licenses, motor vehicle registrations, and watercraft titles.
Retirement Accounts and Pensions
Your wife may have money squirreled away in retirement accounts, IRAs, pensions or other little secret stashes. Additionally, she may have tapped those accounts for distributions, which you can follow. If she took money out instead of putting it in, where did the money go?
As long as you are still married, if you know your wife’s SSN you, your attorney or a private investigator can do a credit check to see if she has opened accounts without your knowledge, is paying a mortgage on a property you know nothing about, or owes debts she is trying to pay off without your knowledge.
The three major credit bureaus each offer one annual free credit report, but given the stakes, paying a small fee for a fresh report is a worthy investment.
However you go about ferreting out your wife’s hidden assets, you owe it to your own future financial security, and that of your children, to prevent her from weaseling out of her obligations. You cannot be a mouse about this; you win nothing by playing possum while she behaves like a rat. So get busy as a beaver and uncover those hidden assets with the help of a capable family law attorney.
The Firm For Men invites you to call us at 757-383-9184, or, if you wish, to contact us online. We can provide family law services for separation, divorce, property division, and more. We can help you ferret out your spouse’s hidden assets, getting you all the financial security you deserve. Our only mission is to provide superior legal service to Virginia’s men.