Divorce involves an unwinding of two lives that have been entwined and grown together, perhaps for many years. Part of the process of making your two lives separate again involves distributing the marital property and debt. In Utah, you and your spouse may agree on a division of property, or you may present evidence to the divorce court so that it can decide how marital property should be spit up. Both of these scenarios assume that you and your spouse have honestly disclosed all assets and debt to each other. But what if your spouse hid assets in your divorce?
The answer to that question depends somewhat on when you discover, or suspect, that your spouse hid assets. If your divorce is not yet final, there are steps you and your attorney can take to make sure that all financial information is disclosed. If you discover after your divorce is final that your spouse concealed assets, getting justice is a little more challenging. But if you act promptly, you may be able to have your divorce judgment re-opened.
In Utah, divorcing couples need to complete documents called financial declarations or Initial Disclosures. These documents set the stage, as it were, for determining not only division of property, but alimony and child support. Spouses are supposed to be honest and transparent, not only for the sake of fairness, but to save themselves and each other the legal fees involved in trying to sniff out hidden financial information.
Just because they are supposed to be honest, of course, doesn’t mean everybody is. If you suspect that your spouse is not being totally honest about their assets, tell your lawyer immediately, including why you are suspicious.
Based on your suspicions, your attorney may be able to persuade the court to put an injunction in place preventing both you and your spouse from hiding, selling, giving away, destroying, or otherwise wasting marital assets. Your attorney may also be able to conduct more intensive discovery of your spouse’s assets.
If the court finds that your spouse is actively concealing assets, it may award you a greater proportion of marital assets than otherwise, as well as your extra attorney fees involved in uncovering what your spouse was trying to hide. In one Utah case, Goggin v. Goggin, the marriage lasted ten years; the divorce litigation lasted almost as long, and this was the outcome.
Concealment of assets may happen in cases involving a family business or other complex assets. Your attorney may recommend hiring a forensic accountant to be sure the financial information you are given regarding these assets makes sense and checks out.
Unfortunately, you may not always suspect that your spouse is concealing assets during the divorce, especially if they are taking care to cover their steps. What sometimes happens, though, is that after the divorce is final, and the divorce decree signed by the judge, people get careless. If that happens, if your ex-spouse starts making Facebook posts showing off wealth that they claimed not to have during your divorce, you may want to try to have your divorce case reopened.
A word of caution: it is difficult to set aside a judgment and reopen a closed court case in Utah (and in most other places). However, it may be possible on the grounds of “fraud, misrepresentation or other misconduct of the other party.” In other words, if your ex-spouse lied on their disclosure forms, in discovery, or at trial about their assets, you may be able to have the judgment set aside and get a different division of property.
Getting a divorce judgment set aside almost always requires the help of an experienced family law attorney. You can assist your attorney by giving her evidence, such as e-mails, texts, and social media postings. But your attorney will understand the legal steps needed to try to get your case reopened.
If there is cause for setting aside your divorce judgment, you need to take action as quickly as possible. Public policy favors certainty: in other words, when someone has an order from a court, they should be able to rely on it being final. Courts do not look favorably on litigants who delay seeking justice. So if you suspect your ex hid assets in your divorce, call your attorney immediately to see if anything can be done to set things right. If you are concerned about concealment of assets in your divorce, we invite you to contact our law office.