By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire
It is unfortunate, but it happens: a spouse anticipates a divorce and begins to shift or hide assets to try avoid sharing them during property distribution. If you suspect you are the victim of this fraudulent and improper behavior, then your case will require some detective work. There are a variety of tools available to your attorney to identify and locate “missing assets.”
Stage 1: Discovery
Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 4001(d) authorizes the following methods:
Interrogatories. Interrogatories are formal sets of written questions which can be served on the other spouse. Once served, the other spouse has 30 days to answer the interrogatories. Interrogatories are valuable because they easily be tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of your case and the other spouse is automatically required to update and supplement his/her answers as the case progresses.
Requests for Production of Documents. Requests demand the production of documents relevant to the divorce. Once served, the other spouse has 30 days to provide the documents. Examples of documents typically requested include W-2 and other income tax forms to track income, deeds to property, documentation related to 401ks, IRAs, and pension funds, and information related to stocks and mutual funds. Requests can also be served on non-parties, such as your spouse’s employer.
Depositions. A deposition is oral testimony of a witness taken out of court, reduced to writing, and then later useable in court. The deposition will be taken under oath and subject to charges of perjury. Your attorney will be able to elicit testimony from your spouse and then his/her attorney will be able to cross-examine their client. This method is effective because, unlike the other methods of discovery, your can attorney can promptly follow-up on your spouse’s answers. Depositions are usually used to fill-out the framework developed through the other means of discovery.
Other Tools: Requests for Entry and Inspection, Requests for Physical and/or Mental Examinations, and Requests for Admissions.
Stage 2: Expert Consultation
Once your attorney obtains gathers as much as information as possible, he/she can begin to assess the marital estate and identify any missing assets, cash or otherwise. To assist with this task, your attorney can employ an expert, such as a forensic accountant or pension evaluator, to track down the missing assets. Depending on the tenor of your case, the expert will then be required to either testify before the Court as to his/her findings or issue a formal report, which will be presented to the court. If your spouse is indeed hiding assets, then the Court has broad powers to rectify the situation and protect your interests, including freezing the accounts or forcing the sale of property.
If you believe your spouse is hiding assets, then I strongly recommend that you seek a consultation with an attorney. Also, we love to hear from our readers, so if you have questions or comments, please let us know below!