Is Your Soon-To-Be-Ex Hiding Money In Your High Net Worth Divorce?
If you’re in a high net worth marriage, one things’s for sure. The finances will be complicated. And often the power games go up a notch too. It’s important to have your wits about you to ensure you aren’t being swindled out of a fair settlement. This is especially true if you weren’t the main wealth generator and didn’t have as close an eye on the finances.
Do you suspect that your soon-to-be-ex is hiding money? Are they disposing of assets? In this blog we’ll look at what to do, and what not to do.
But first, we need to understand how they might be trying to manipulate their financial disclosure. They may fail to disclose certain assets, undervalue them, or they may try to dispose of them so you can’t have a claim on them. Let’s take each of these in turn.
Failure to disclose (hiding money)
In this scenario you suspect your soon-to-be-ex has assets – whether they be savings, stocks, shares, capital investments, pensions, high value goods or other property – that they are simply not revealing to you or the court. They are hiding money so you don’t get a share of it.
Perhaps your soon-to-be-ex has disclosed their financial assets – but you suspect they have understated how much they are worth. This is especially likely to apply to business interests. Ultimately, both a failure to disclose assets and a deliberate attempt to undervalue them constitute a contempt of court and could result in a prison sentence.
Disposing of assets
A third scenario is that your soon-to-be-ex is disposing of assets to place them outside the reach of your financial claim. If you suspect this is likely to happen you can apply for a freezing injunction.
If you suspect your soon-to-be-ex is hiding money using any of these techniques, it’s important to take action – and fast.
Here are some important dos and don’ts:
Do: Gather evidence together
Gut instincts can be useful to get a sense of whether something seems above board or not. But, understandably, the court does not take gut instinct, or unsubstantiated suspicions, into account. So make sure you have legal access to as much financial paperwork as possible.
Think about business as well as personal assets. If you are involved in joint business ventures, or you are a director of any business, make sure you get hold of the latest accounts. Use an independent financial adviser to help you understand the figures and their implications.
Do: Tell your solicitor
Inform your legal team as soon as you suspect your soon-to-be-ex is hiding money, or is likely to. It’s important that you instruct solicitors who are experienced in the complexities of high net worth cases. They will be able to tell you what steps to take to protect yourself. Your solicitor will be able to apply for an injunction under s37 Matrimonial Causes Act 1975 if they can build a case that disposing of assets is likely. They may also be able to apply for a search order to discover hidden assets.
Do: Get professional support
Your legal team may well have expertise in asset tracing and dealing with cases in which marital assets are hidden, devalued or disposed of. If you need additional support it’s worth hiring a professional asset tracer.
Asset tracers are experts both in the legal means of tracking down hidden assets and in negotiating to get the best outcome for you. They will use a combination of forensic accounting, publicly accessible records, and private investigation to legally uncover hidden money. I sometimes advise this is done prior to instigating legal proceedings. Some clients have been able to inform themselves of hidden wealth before their spouse is aware that divorce is contemplated. It means you can fully appraise your solicitor from the get-go. Tracing should be done by professionals who work within the law and current case law precedents. Failing to do this legally can have devastating consequences for your settlement. Asset tracing isn’t necessary or proportionate for everyone. The company I recommend will give you an initial consultation without charge to assess whether such activity is worthwhile in your particular case.
Finding previously unknown assets can change the face of your divorce. You will be in a stronger position. Your legal team may be able to negotiate a fairer settlement outside of court. Or, if you do need a court order, the court will be able to rule based on full information.
Now let’s look at the don’ts…
Don’t: Hide anything yourself
It can be tempting to try to squirrel away assets for yourself, especially if you think your soon-to-be-ex isn’t playing fair. But don’t. Divorce requires full financial disclosure and anything less than that is considered contempt of court. You could end up with a financial penalty or prison sentence.
Focus your energy instead, on getting what you want and need. Get a specialist team you trust around you – that includes emotional and strategic support as well as financial and legal expertise.
Don’t: Go rogue detective!
I always tell clients they need to know their numbers before they agree to anything. And if you think your soon-to-be-ex is hiding money it can be hard to get to those numbers. Definitely be forthright in getting access to the financial records you are entitled to see. Definitely get experts on the case who can help you uncover and understand the full financial picture.
But don’t be tempted to turn PI yourself. Hacking into your ex-partner’s email or phone is illegal, as is breaking into their filing systems. The professionals will ensure any evidence they get of your soon-to-be-ex’s finances is admissible in court. Your own investigations might leave you open to criminal sanctions yourself. So step back and leave it to the asset tracers.
Don’t: Make unsubstantiated accusations
Don’t let your ego get in the driving seat when it comes to your divorce. If you’re hurt or angry you might want to cause as much trouble for your soon-to-be-ex as possible. I get that. But it’s not worth it.
When it comes down to it, your divorce is a legal process. There’s no place for emotions. It just ratchets up the time, money, and energy cost of the whole process. And even if you have the means to cover the escalating legal fees, do you really want to stay embroiled in a bitter fight for years?
And, of course, the court does not look kindly on misleading claims. You may have to pay costs if the court considers you have made unsubstantiated claims against your spouse.
What if the assets have already gone?
It’s important to act as quickly as possible if you suspect assets are being disposed of. But what if the deed has already been done? Don’t panic – there is still legal provision to support you.
Again, it’s important to work with a specialist solicitor who understands high net worth divorce cases. They may advise you to apply to the court for a Section 37 Avoidance of Disposition Order. If you can demonstrate that the asset was disposed of to ensure you couldn’t claim on it (when you had a legal right to), the order may be granted. Your financial settlement will then be decided as if the asset was still in place.
Alternatively, your legal team may be able to seek ‘add back’. If you can demonstrate that your ex-spouse wantonly and recklessly spent funds (for example if they went on extravagant shopping sprees that were not typical during your marriage), you may be able to argue that the funds are ‘added back’ into the pot when it comes to determining your financial settlement.
Need to get a game plan in place?
If you’re in a high net worth divorce and you suspect your soon-to-be-ex is hiding money, get support now. Getting the right legal team in place is crucial. Getting into the right headspace is crucial. Staying in the driving seat is crucial. I can help you with all of that.
I offer a range of private consultation and coaching options, from 1:1 strategy days to extended support for six months or more. Just book in a call to see how I can support you.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com