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Search for Hidden Assets in a Divorce

Where to Search for Hidden Assets During Divorce

Candance Bahr and Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®

My husband just told me he wants a divorce, and he says he’s been thinking about it for quite a while. I’m afraid that he’s taken steps to hide money so that I won’t receive a fair share of our property. Where can I look to try to find any hidden money?

 It’s smart of you to be suspicious. Although by and large people are pretty honest while going through a divorce, too many women trust their husbands when they shouldn’t. As a forensic accountant, I’ve seen a lot of cases where a husband tries to hide assets so he can keep more of a couple’s marital estate. Fortunately, many men try to hide cash in predictable places. Finding hidden assets is one of my specialties, and here are the first places I always look:

 Antiques, artwork or hobby equipment: Your husband may convert cash into an expensive asset and then under-report its value. Look for new purchases, like furniture, artwork, watches, etc., especially at his office.

 Delayed bonuses, stock options, or raises: If your husband gets stock options or a bonus before the divorce, that extra money will be included in the marital estate, which he might have to split with you.

 Unreported income: If your husband is involved in any type of cash enterprise, he may be able to pocket the cash without reporting it on his tax returns and financial statements, which means you might never even know it exists! If you’ve ever felt that your lifestyle costs are greater than your combined income or that your husband always seems to be flush with unexpected cash, this suspicion is worth pursuing.

Custodial account: Your husband may try to hide cash by setting up a custodial account in the name of a child, using the child’s social security number.

 Debt repayment: If your husband has an outstanding debt, he may decide it’s better to use his savings to pay it off rather than split that money with you. Men will sometimes pay a phony debt to a friend, with the pre-arrangement that the friend will hold the money until after the divorce and then return it.

 Salary paid to a nonexistent employee: If your husband owns a business, he may funnel assets in the form of salary to a fake employee. To get the cash back after the divorce, all he has to do is void the checks.

 Fake payments: In collusion with a family member, friend, or new girlfriend, your husband may pay for fake services or products. He can do this out of his private accounts or funnel revenue out of his business this way. The money will no doubt be given back to your spouse after the divorce is final. It is in your interest to carefully review all business and personal transactions.

 Delay in signing long-term business contracts: A new business contract could mean a lot of money for a business; money your husband doesn’t want to share with you. If he purposefully delays the signing of a new contract until after the divorce, that can be construed as hiding assets.

 Expenses paid for a girlfriend: This includes such things as gifts, travel, jewelry, rent or college tuition.

 Investment in bonds with no interest: This includes municipal bonds or Series EE Savings Bonds for which no interest is reported on tax returns. If it isn’t reported, you may not realize it exists.

  If something does add up to the income your husband is reporting, let your attorney know right away. Your attorney may need to hire a forensic accountant to start digging a little deeper into your husband’s finances. It may be a lot of work, but if your husband is hiding assets, you could be losing out on a large amount of money that you are rightfully owed!

 As you can see, divorce can get really complicated, especially if your husband plays hardball. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need by attending a Second Saturday Divorce Workshop near you.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Women's Institute for Financial Education (, creator of the Second Saturday Divorce Workshops. Founded in 1988, WIFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial education for women. Copyright 2019