How to tell if your spouse is hiding assets

Hiding assets is easiest if your spouse is fairly hands-off with the finances during the marriage. That’s the first red flag that you should look for. If you do not really handle the money while you’re married and then you file for divorce, your spouse may assume that you do not have an accurate picture of what your assets even look like. This can tempt them to hide some of these assets to keep them from you when you divide up what you own.

As such, your first steps should be looking into the finances, making lists of assets, writing down exactly what assets you control — to the last cent — and gathering as much information and documentation as possible. Do not take a hands-off approach. Know exactly what you should expect.

Even so, your spouse may try to hide assets. Here are a few things to watch out for:

The trick: Giving assets to friends and then getting them back after the divorce.

What to look for: Your spouse suddenly “remembers” an old debt or gives an extravagant “gift” to a close friend. Watch for large transfers out of your accounts, and look for these thin excuses. They may also call it a “business loan” or something along those lines. The real goal is just to get the full sum back after the divorce, without splitting it.

The trick: Overpaying and getting refunds.

What to look for: High payments to credit card companies, mortgage lenders or even the IRS. Essentially, your spouse knows that the company will cash the check and then write out a new check refunding the overpayment. When that refund comes, they can pocket it. If you don’t look carefully, it looks like a valid payment and you assume the money is gone, but it’s not — not all of it, at least.

The trick: Putting the money into a business.

What to look for: A sudden increase in business expenses. Your spouse may simply start making up fake expenses and funneling their personal money back into the business. Since they also run the company, they may doctor the books to make it appear that they used the money to pay vendors, workers, suppliers, advertisers and others. What they are really doing is setting that money aside and using the business as a shell to hide it. After you finalize the divorce, they plan to start moving those assets back into their own name.

What you should do: Learn about all of your legal options. Look for the red flags. Know what rights you have. Understand that hiding assets is illegal, and you can take steps to protect yourself when it happens.