You’re going through a divorce – one of the most difficult times of your life. Assets and debts that used to be “ours” must now be divided between “mine” and “yours”. Negotiating who gets what is never easy, but to reach a fair settlement, full financial disclosure is key.
That’s why bank statements can play a surprisingly big role in many divorces.
What Assets Must Be Disclosed?
In community property states like California, Texas, and Washington, most assets acquired during marriage must be split 50/50. The same goes for the majority of marital property in equitable distribution states.
So what exactly must you disclose?
As a rule of thumb, any marital property subject to division must be accounted for, including:
- Retirement funds. Those 401(k)s, IRAs, and pensions built up over the years.
- Investment accounts. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds – gains, losses and all.
- Real estate. The house, rental properties, vacation homes. Time to dig out those deeds and titles.
- Vehicles. Don’t forget the classic car locked away in storage all these years.
- Life insurance policies with cash value. Term life insurance is generally exempt.
- Businesses like sole proprietorships and partnerships. Corps and LLCs can get complicated.
Of course scopes vary state to state, but divorce lawyers want to see documentation for the big stuff like these assets. Without it, reaching fair agreements on who walks away with what becomes nearly impossible.
Required Documentation and Statements
So beyond simply listing things like “3 bedroom house” or “Fidelity 401k”, what paper trail must you provide to back these assets up in divorce disclosure?
Get your filing cabinets ready, because lawyers may ask for:
- Tax returns from the past 2-3 years. Brutal, but important in determining incomes and shared assets.
- Bank and investment statements going back 12+ months from all accounts. Savings, checking, retirement funds, college funds for the kids – lawyers want to see transaction flows for possible hidden assets.
- Mortgage statements. Home equity is often one of the biggest pots of wealth. Documents should show current mortgage balances and monthly payments.
- Credit card statements. Not just balances owed, but detailed looks at spending habits and lifestyles.
- Titles and deeds to homes, vehicles, and other valuables. Documents confirming ownership.
- Documentation of debts. Student loans, personal debts – everything owed, and the monthly nut needed to keep creditors at bay.
Without documentation substantiating things, the courts can’t fairly divvy up property. And stalling the process by hiding assets? Big no-no.
Failing to Disclose Assets
What happens when spouses hide money in undisclosed offshore accounts? “Loan” funds to relatives until the proceedings blow over? Forget to mention entire 401(k)s?
To put it mildly, the courts don’t take kindly to this behavior.
Punishments for incomplete or fraudulent disclosure often include:
- The hiding spouse paying lawyers fees for both sides. Hourly divorce lawyers aren’t cheap!
- The court awarding the other spouse a larger chunk of assets as compensation. Imbalances must be addressed.
- Contempt charges. Things getting illegal enough for fines or even jail time in extreme cases.
- Perjury charges. Lying under sworn oath leads down an ugly path.
Even without flat-out fraud, backing up disclosures with documentation keeps things civil and ensures divides end up equitable.
Using Bank Statements to Uncover Hidden Assets
Say you suspect or know a soon-to-be ex is stashing away assets. What can bank statements reveal?
More than you might first expect:
Strange transfers – Money flowing into accounts never disclosed? Could signal entire hidden income streams.
Big unexplained deposits – Lumps of cash from unnamed sources are definitely suspicious.
Lavish spending – Big credit card statements poorly aligning with claimed incomes? Things may not quite add up.
Conveniently missing pages – Gaps when damning activity occurred? Lawyers dig deeper.
Like unfaithful spouses creeping behind their partner’s backs, bank statements don’t lie and tell no tales. They speak truths when given the chance.
The Role of Divorce Lawyers
Speaking of truths, where do divorce lawyers fit into navigating the rocky waters of financial disclosure?
Their responsibilities around the process include:
Ensuring fully accurate, exhaustive disclosure. No overlooked assets or debts slipping through the cracks.
Reviewing all documentation closely for red flags like unexplained lump sums. Anything seeming off or fraudulent must be addressed.
Asking clarifying questions to clear up inconsistencies. Vague business loans from relatives won’t fly.
Protecting the client’s interests when done wrong. Incomplete disclosure leading to unfair divisions? Grounds for legal action.
Advocating for fair property settlements aligned to proof provided. No hiding assets and claiming inability to split.
Getting Help with Financial Disclosure
Going through proper disclosure in divorce is a complicated process with much at stake. Getting legal advice early is crucial to doing so fairly and minimizing headaches.
Will hiring a divorce lawyer be expensive? Perhaps, but not as expensive as losing half your hard earned assets because of botched paperwork.
Beyond enlisting legal help, spouses open to less adversarial proceedings should also consider mediation. Here, neutral third parties aim to broker equitable divorce agreements addressing finances, child custody, and other critical issues outside the courtroom.
While less confrontational, the need for thorough disclosure remains equally important in mediation. Any assets or debts you try slipping by the mediator unfairly jeopardize the entire proceeding.
Regardless of which path taken, credible financial disclosure lays the foundation. Don’t leave it as an afterthought. Get informed, talk to professionals, and disclose properly from the outset. Lacking transparency rarely ends well for anybody.