Unfortunately, I don't have to imagine. As a divorce financial planner who often works with the "out spouse" –- the term for the partner in a marriage who was never plugged in to the finances, managed the cash flow, paid the bills or had relationships with the CPA, financial adviser, or attorney. I've seen financial deception firsthand as the more savvy and informed "in spouse" tries to cover up cash, hide investments and fabricate expenses and debts.
If you are considering a divorce or in the middle of one –- especially if you are the out spouse -– you need to look for for financial deception because it can dramatically affect the assets you obtain and the marital and child support you receive. Although failing to fully and truthfully disclose all assets and liabilities is a crime, don't count on that to deter your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
The best way to catch a criminal is to think like a criminal. So, to help you get into the mind of a soon-to-be ex with their mind on taking you to the cleaners, here are 10 ways I could hide assets and income from my spouse in a divorce:
1. Transfer assets to a separate account. This is simple and common. Here I would take money from our joint bank and brokerage accounts and transfer them to an account only in my name. Fraudulent? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.
2. Transfer assets to a friend. In a joint bank or brokerage account, both parties have full control over the assets.
3. Overpay the Internal Revenue Service. With a little planning, this is a terrific way to shield assets; and if caught, it's easy to play the "aw shucks, I totally forgot about this" card. If I knew I was going to file for divorce next year, I could instruct the IRS to use this year's refund for next year's tax. Once the divorce is final, I'd have a fat overpayment with the IRS that I could use against future tax.
4. Take cash withdrawals on debit cards. This one starts with "Honey, I'm going to the store" and ends with "Yes, I would" when asked if I want cash back. Although I probably won't get rich, given enough time I could amass a decent stockpile of cash by taking $60 or $80 every time I am at the grocery. The beauty is that the cash goes under the radar because the total charge shows as groceries.
5. Turn down promotions and raises. If I am friendly with the boss, I would tell him or of my forthcoming divorce and ask that they delay any promotions and set any raises/bonuses aside until after it was finalized.
6. Accrue commissions. If I closed a big deal and was anticipating a large commission payment, I would let my employer know that I wanted to delay receipt for ... tax purposes.
7. Forget about employer retirement accounts or stock options. Memory is the first thing to go with age. How could I be blamed for forgetting about a defined benefit plan, ESOP or stock options I own through my employer? I mean, they hardly ever send statements.
The above tactics are child's play compared to strategies available when you own your own business.
8. Not invoice clients. It wouldn't be difficult to delay invoicing clients until after the divorce. Although accounts receivables would be accrued assets, this is easier to hide than cold hard cash.
9. Create fake expenses. "Yes dear, I'd love to give you more money but my business is struggling ..." thanks to the fact that I've created fake expenses, pre-paid vendors, added my cousins to payroll and started paying friends for their "consulting" expertise.
10. Go on a shopping spree. Have you seen the new $100,000 piece of art in my office? Well you would. I'd buy all kinds of personal items and charge exotic vacations to my company, which would quickly soak up any profit that could be divided in the divorce.
I need a shower after dreaming up this list. People hiding assets in a divorce is a real and pervasive problem, but those who do it can only get away with it if their spouse stays in the dark. So if you are the out spouse, it's time to get more plugged into your finances. If you are going through a divorce, don't accept your soon-to-be ex's financial disclosures at face value. Do some digging, and get your attorney and divorce financial adviser involved. If there are significant assets or a company, hire a forensic accountant.
One last thing: If you are disgusted by my criminal ideas and worried for my spouse, don't be. She's a certified fraud examiner. If I surreptitiously tossed a coin in a fountain, she'd discover it before it hit the water.