Claiming Your Share of Marital Property
California is a community property state, meaning that each spouse is entitled to half of the assets they acquired as a couple throughout their marriage. However, while this is the intended way for marital property to be divided, some spouses, whether out of bitterness for the end of their marriage or due to a belief that they are entitled to more than their partner, will attempt to hide assets to receive a bigger portion of property and wealth. If you suspect that your soon-to-be-ex is doing the same, follow these steps.
Recognize Common Types of Community Property
Before you can further investigate whether your spouse is hiding assets, you must be aware of all that is considered community property, and thus what you could be partially entitled to. Community property includes everything you and your spouse received throughout your marriage, such as:
- Income from almost any source, including earnings, bonuses, stock or stock options
- Business venture returns
- Investment returns
- Lottery or gambling winnings
- Purchases made during the marriage
- Employment benefits like vacation pay
Some property, however, is protected from the other spouse as it’s deemed a separate, personal asset. Common examples of separate property include:
- Any inheritances or gifts either spouse received, regardless of if they received it during the marriage
- Gifts spouses exchanged with each other
- Income earned from a spouse’s separate property
- Property either spouse acquired after they permanently separated
- Property either spouse bought with their separate funds and in their name alone
- Property either spouse brought into the marriage
- Property protected by a prenuptial agreement
The party owning this separate property will be tasked with proving that the assets are theirs alone and have not become comingled throughout the course of the marriage.
Look for Signs of Hidden Assets
After familiarizing yourself with your community assets, you can ensure that they appear where they should. Questionable changes in your accounts could point to an attempt to hide property. Look for unexpected transactions such as:
- Changed spending: Keep an eye on your credit card and bank statements, paying attention to cash withdrawals or significant changes in how much is being spent, and how.
- Cancelled checks: Cancelled checks could be evidence of peculiar spending habits.
- Unusual small purchases: Large purchases will likely immediately catch your eye when you review your account history. A spouse may be privy to this, and alter their approach in response. Pay attention to where your money is going, especially if multiple smaller transactions are leading to the same place.
- Transfers between bank accounts, especially involving an unknown institution.
Understand Your Legal Obligation to Cooperate in Financial Disclosure
Both spouses are required to submit a complete report of their assets and debts. They must offer a preliminary disclosure at the beginning of the divorce process and a final report at the end, while making honest efforts to be transparent about their financial standings throughout the legal proceeding.
This duty of candor is not only courteous, but also legally mandated. If either spouse fails to fully disclose their assets and debts, there could be legal repercussions.
Use Discovery to Find Assets
Our attorneys can help you utilize formal and informal discovery to find hidden assets. In informal discovery, one party casually asks the other for the information that they need. In formal discovery, however, we have a number of additional methods to get answers to the questions we’re asking. We can use:
- Interrogatories: Written requests for information.
- Inspections: Requests to inspect the other party’s property, such as personal safes or investment income.
- Oral depositions: Formal interrogation sessions comprised of a series of questions and answers. It occurs in front of a court reporter and under oath, with all answers being on the record. The questions can target both marital and separate property.
As discovery is a legal process, both parties are required to comply and provide complete and truthful information.
Penalties for Hiding Assets
If either party willfully withholds information regarding their financial assets or debts, they could face civil penalties.
- Civil penalties: The court can award up to 100% of a hidden asset to the non-hiding spouse, or order a spouse who has hidden assets to repay the legal fees and investigator costs incurred by the innocent spouse.
You have a legal right to half of ALL your marital property. Ensure you receive the assets that you are entitled to. Contact The Law Office of David A. Martin & Associates for dedicated help throughout the divorce process.