Hiding assets in a divorce case

In the many asset recovery cases we work on, more of them are appearing in divorce settlement cases. One spouse suspects that the other has concealed assets which would otherwise be part of the separation settlement. Even for comparatively lesser amounts, a divorcing spouse may have personal reasons to withhold assets on principle.

Where most cases of asset concealment in judgement, fraud, or damages cases start in the upper six figures, we see spouses trying to hide as little as several thousand dollars, and many cases of concealed assets in the low five figures. Taking the time and effort to hide $10,000 seems counter productive, when the spouse may have been able to keep at least half of it anyway, but personal spite comes into play. Forbes Magazine ran a piece recently about Where Husbands Hide Assets, describing some of the ways cash is withheld from marital property distribution.

It won't be this easy to find.

In asset discovery we find that no matter how hard a subject works to hide cash or assets, there is always a documented trail to where it is hidden. The high level concealment skills used by expert narcotics traffickers and ponzi-schemers can be broken, so we can locate some cash squirreled away by a first-timer trying to keep an extra few grand.

Whether you are a party to a divorce or a family law attorney, have an investigator who specializes in asset recovery take a look at your file to check for signs of this. Be aware that asset recovery is different from collections. Collections is about bothering someone to get them to pay. Asset recovery is covertly discovering illegally held assets and simply seizing them. A few hundred spent to find thousands could be a good return on investment and make a significant difference for the settling party.

In one case we followed a party to determine that he was making many large purchases for cash. After documenting over $8,000 in 3 weeks, he was forced to tell the court where the money came from after having filed a financial affidavit in the divorce listing $500 in cash assets and no regular income. In another case a sales executive was found to be artificially lowering his sales numbers during the period when income was calculated to determine spousal maintenance. The firms regular clients were interviewed to find out the actual sales volume, and the subject was forced to higher alimony and legal fees for lying about it.

Small claims lawsuit use of private investigators

As the cost of full-blown civil lawsuits skyrocket, many plaintiffs look to the small claims lawsuit process to resolve their damages. One enterprising Honda Civic owner used the small claims process to beat the manufacturer where others had failed in Superior Court. This has publicized what “could inspire a whole new litigation strategy” for consumers. Many states have a requirement that a small claims case proceed without an attorney in court on either side, so that the proceedings are fair and without an undue financial burden. But having to proceed without an attorney does not mean that a party cannot obtain professional assistance. A qualified attorney can still be consulted prior to trial to go over planned strategy and logistics.

In addition, our agency has seen increased interest from parties to a small claims lawsuit for investigative work to gather evidence for their case. It is likely that the opposing party to a case will bring to court some self-generated evidence to support their arguments. Strong evidence developed by a licensed professional investigative agency can be compelling in court.

In one case we are aware of, a party claimed to have been defrauded by a merchant for just over $1000. The merchant argued they
had done nothing wrong, and disputed the plaintiffs description of what happened. An investigator posed as a customer at the same merchant and was able to document the exact same pattern of treatment described by the plaintiff. Faced with this sworn evidence by a licensed PI in court, the merchant settled and agreed to pay all costs.

In another case, a local shipping outlet store arranged to send a package for a client containing valuable computer equipment. Upon arrival, the package was found to have been opened and re-boxed, with some of the items removed. An investigator was able to use statements from employees at the shipping store, along with samples of new boxes form that store to prove that the tampering and theft occurred prior to the box going to the carrier. The store owner agreed to replace the stolen items. In both of these cases the investigative costs were a few hundred dollars, but likely made the difference between winning and losing the case.

As small claims court cases become a more popular means to settle losses, the use of professional investigators will be more common to establish facts and evidence in those cases.