What should you be focusing on when your spouse suddenly announces that they “need space” or they don’t love you anymore and checked out two years ago. As a divorce attorney, I often see the tricks used by spouses to cheat and hide money.
Here are ten tips for those with spouses that are untrustworthy.
1. Uncover Hidden Assets & Improper Spending
Be alert to hidden assets or unusual spending. Spouses who are having affairs often hide their spending on the relationship. You need only to look at Jeff Bezos to see how much spending takes place with affairs—private jets, luxury resorts, and even hotels that had been recently used by his own wife and children. Scrutinize the use of frequent flier accounts and hotel award programs as well as bank statements and credit cards. Cheating spouses find time to take secret trips away to luxury spa resorts etc. The spending can be shocking. Look for undisclosed bank accounts and credit cards. Sometimes business accounts and credit cards are used to hide the costs. Affairs, cheating, and lying all go together.
2. Gather Your Documents
Once you recover from the initial shock, get your documents and information organized because you are going to need proof. Gather your past tax returns, bank statements, check registers, investment statements, retirement account statements, employee benefits handbooks, life insurance policies, mortgage documents, financial statements, credit card statements, family trusts, stock grants, and automobile titles, etc. If your spouse is self-employed, it is crucial to gather as much information as possible about the finances of his or her business. Make copies of any useful financial information stored on your home computer or lying around the house. This information can be critical information that you can only acquire before the divorce. Once everything gets going, your spouse may be more secretive about their financial affairs.
3. Be Aware
Although Colorado is a no-fault state, if you or your spouse use marital funds for your affair, a court can add back that spending and your spouse may get equal credit for the amount “dissipated.” Never think that your credit cards or bank statements are private. Attorneys can subpoena every credit card, wire transfer, deposit, and withdrawal for 7–10 years. Attorneys can find hidden assets on tax returns, bank statements, and credit cards as well as from documents that simply don’t add up. If Jeff Bezos had divorced in Colorado, we would have totaled up the significant spending and added it back into his column, and then his wife would have received an equivalent asset.
4. Collaborate Regarding Parenting
Going into a divorce, think about your children and how best to reduce the impact of the divorce on their lives. If you remain solid and stable, it will help them to do so as well. If you fall apart, they will too. Plan on how you want to divide parenting time going forward. Do not pull the children into the conflict or ask them to take sides. It is not fair and will simply create emotional problems for them. I am always shocked at spouses who proudly tell their children that they have met another person and the mother or father of the children is a bad person.
5. Be Financially Prepared
Make sure that you have enough money to pay for your expenses and attorney fees for at least 3 months, mainly if you are the spouse with limited access to financial resources. Many spouses—particularly ones who are cheating—become spiteful when the divorce starts and may cut you off financially. Although the court can assist you if this happens, such assistance can take time. To be prepared, ensure that you have enough resources while your attorneys are advocating to get you additional money and assets temporarily.
6. Get an Attorney
When you are getting divorced, get advice from a respected attorney who is knowledgeable about divorce and families. Research whether your lawyer can properly represent you in the divorce. This is an area of life where you get exactly what you pay for. I cannot begin to list the number of clients that have hired inexperienced attorneys only to regret that decision after mistakes are made.
It is critical to have outstanding representation during this difficult time in your life. Check potential attorneys ratings on websites such as Superlawyers.com, AVVO.com, Best Lawyers in America or 5280.com. Even better, ask your friends which attorney is best. Often, friends will refer someone to the attorney who represented his or her ex-spouse because the other attorney had outperformed the attorney that they had hired.
Finally, beware of a sophisticated financial spouse who suggests that you should not be represented because lawyers are too expensive, and a nice joint mediator will do just as well.
7. Build Credit & Obtain Credit Cards
Make sure you have access to more than enough credit. Apply for your credit card, because your spouse may cut access to your credit card when you file for divorce. Obtaining credit can be simple before a divorce but can be very difficult during or afterward. It is best to obtain credit at a time when is it much easier to do so.
8. Obtaining Information
What do you do if every document is locked away and inaccessible? That frequently happens with controlling spouses, and we can generally find that in a legal process called “discovery.” During this process, your spouse must fully disclose all of his or her assets, debts, and income. If assets are omitted, you may have a five-year look-back period to reopen the divorce and reallocate the assets and liabilities that were left out. Do not accept any suggestion by your spouse that you need not waste time going through documents because it will cost too much money—you have one chance to do this, and you should not forgo that chance.
9. Protect Yourself from Any Physical Violence
Have a comprehensive plan if you sense that there is a risk of domestic violence. Understand that domestic violence can escalate when you leave your spouse. Make sure you have an action plan as to exactly what you would or could do if a physical altercation occurs upon telling your spouse that you want to divorce. Ensure that you have access to money for a hotel or have a place to go if things escalate to a physical or emotionally damaging level.
10. Do Not Make Hasty or Angry Statements
Avoid making statements in anger or haste. Never send emails when you are angry, upset, or tired. These communications have a way of appearing before the court very quickly in your divorce case. Do not use foul, contemptuous, or condescending language as these communications will be front and center in any dispute over parenting, particularly disputes over decision making.
This will be the hardest time of your life, but you will get through it if you focus on what matters. Refrain from sending any inflammatory or offensive messages via text, e-mail, or other forms of written communication.
Suzanne Griffiths is President, CEO, and Managing Shareholder at Griffiths Law P.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-858-8090.