No one likes giving up their stuff. So it's not surprising that people will hide assets during divorce to avoid giving them to or sharing them with soon-to-be ex-spouses. Sometimes people hide assets so well, the cheated spouses don't find out about them until after the divorce has been settled. Luckily, there are two avenues of recourse for recovering the value of those hidden assets.
Reopen the Divorce Case
Once a divorce case is finalized, the matter is closed forever. Even if your ex-spouse hits the lottery the day after you sign the settlement papers, you can't go back and ask the court for a do over. You can ask for an adjustment in spousal and child support payments, but these are typically the only changes you can make to your settlement and they don't require the court to reopen your case.
Having said that, there are circumstances where the court will resurrect a closed divorce case. One of those is when someone commits fraud, misrepresents facts, or engages in other misconduct that fundamentally affects how the divorce is settled.
For example, your spouse signs a house over to a family member intending to prevent the court from giving you a share in it. The court will reopen the divorce case and force your spouse to turn over the asset so it can be divided between you. Alternatively, the court may order your ex-spouse to pay you the value of your interest in the asset.
Even if your spouse didn't intentionally hide the asset, the court may allow the case to be opened again if the person discovers at a later date he or she forgot to list some assets. This is a common occurrence, particularly with assets that won't be acquired until a later date such as pensions and similar retirement benefits.
Though the exact procedures vary from state to state, you will generally file a motion with the court to reopen the divorce case and provide a reason for the request. If the reason is compelling enough, the court will set a hearing date where you can produce evidence supporting your argument.
However, most states limit the amount of time you have to file such a request. For example, you have one year from the date of the judgment to file a motion to reopen the case in New Jersey. Some states, like Florida, don't put a time limit on reopening a divorce case if fraud is involved. It's important to seek out a divorce attorney to determine what the statute of limitations is in your area.
File a Civil Lawsuit
If the statute of limitations has expired or the court declines to reopen your case, your other option is to sue your ex-spouse in court for the value of the hidden asset. Depending on the specifics of the case, there are a couple of different torts you can use as grounds to file a lawsuit. However, the most likely one to use would be fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation.
To successfully sue on these grounds, you would need to show:
- The person represented a fact he or she knew was false
- The person made this representation to another person
- The person intended to deceive the other party
- The victim suffered losses as a result of this deceit
Typically when a person submits paperwork and testimony to the court, he or she must attest that the information provided is true to the best of his or her knowledge. Knowingly omitting assets or making false statements about the sale or gifting of money and property can provide the basis for a claim for fraud and allow you to recover damages.
There is also a statute of limitations for filing civil fraud cases that varies by state. For instance, you have up to 3 years to file a lawsuit against your spouse to get the value of the hidden assets. The time limit may be higher or lower in your area.
For assistance with locating hidden assets or holding your ex-spouse accountable for attempting to hide money or property, contact a divorce attorney.
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