by Kelly A. Bennett, Esq.
In California divorce law, you’re required to produce documents showing complete disclosures of all your assets and your debts. This includes everything you know about, even if it’s your stuff from before marriage, and stuff you’ve accumulated after you’ve separated. It also includes stuff that your spouse had before and after marriage (if you know about it). Disclose, disclose, disclose – that’s the cardinal rule.
When it’s time for our clients to start the financial disclosure process, we’ve noticed an alarming trend: About 40% have no clue what their true financial picture looks like. That’s right – 40%! Holy guacamole, how can that be?
Even more alarming, when we dig in and help our clients discover that true financial picture, we often find their spouse has been leading a double financial life. That’s not a great place to be, so here’s some tips on how to spot the warnings signs of a spouse’s financial infidelity:
1. Check the Obvious
Okay, so I’m going to state the most obvious sleuthing technique here. It may be “obvious” but for sure, so many people fail to do it! What is it?
Read. Your. Bank. Statements.
Read. Your. Credit. Card. Statements.
If your spouse is leading a less-than-truthful financial life, the bank and credit card statements often give you the biggest clues. Look for regular cash withdrawals of significant chunks of dough. Like $200 to $1,000 at a time. When cash pulls like that show up with some regularity, it’s a common sign of a gambling habit. It’s also a common sign of a spouse cheating (I know, that’s the elephant in the room – but you’ve got to know). Cash pulls can also signal a spouse who’s squirreling away money in preparation of divorce.
Credit card statements often show interesting charges you should question. A regular retailer we see is Victoria’s Secret. That’s right VS shows up all the time! If you’re seeing charges at stores like that, and you haven’t been the recipient of some frilly little fancies lately, it’s time to start asking questions.
How about charges at hotels, gas stations way out of town, restaurants you’ve never been to, and of course, florists? You might also see money transfers on your bank statements to accounts that you’re unfamiliar with; if so, it’s time to start asking questions.
2. Give Yourself Some Credit (Reports)
When was the last time you ran credit reports for you and your spouse? Running the credit reports for both you and your spouse can be eye opening. Our clients are frequently surprised to learn, for the first time, about financial accounts and credit cards that appear on their credit reports and their spouse’s report. See some debts/accounts you didn’t know you or your spouse had? Notice late payments you didn’t have a clue about? It’s time to start asking questions and take charge! These are all signs of a spouse leading a double financial life.
Running credit reports is easy and not very expensive (in fact, free on many websites). We like Experian’s freecreditreport.com. It provides free reports and loads of information and articles on credit and credit scores. Another great resource is creditkarma.com which offers free credit reports, free credit monitoring and advice on understanding your report and how to improve your credit scores.
3. Be Your Own Best Auditor
Audit. Now there’s a word with loads of negativity attached to it. Everyone’s afraid they’ll be “audited” by the IRS. We don’t like hearing “they are auditing your account” because it feels like we’re being accused of wrong-doing. But when you become the auditor, you may be surprised at what you find.
Like our favorite television psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw says, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” Can I get an “Amen”!? It’s time to audit your personal finances. If there’s been financial infidelity there, you want to know it so you can make changes and build a secure financial future for yourself.
Do you know how title is held on your home, your cars, your investments? Get the title documents (deeds, car registration, investment account statements).
How about the big loans (mortgage, auto loans, personal loans, business loans, home equity loans)? Get the statements. If you can’t get them because they aren’t in your name, you’ve just had a big wake-up call!
How about the tax returns – are you an active participant in the filing process? Many people hand over the financial aspects of their relationship to the other spouse because it’s the path of least resistance. Have you ever signed loan or refinancing documents without reading or participating in the transaction? This is the “danger zone”!
Be sure you check the title on all the bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, investment accounts. Audit the accounts, know where the money is being spent. If you have a family business, be sure you review the books regularly and the bank accounts – even if your spouse runs it and you do other things. Audit, audit, audit!
4. Become an Active Participant in Your Finances (and Change Your Destiny)
Has your spouse “handled” all the finances during your marriage?
Personal finance guru Suze Orman warns, “Don’t hand over finances to your (spouse) or partner!” She says people (especially women) often hand over their family’s financial matters to their partner either because they are scared, lazy, or following an old-fashioned role. Suze says that being in control of your financial destiny requires that you be an active participant, not just by paying bills, but in overseeing your investments too: “Take this step and I think you will be surprised how this helps your relationship.” *
Of course, taking an active role may reveal that double life so many sneaky spouses are living. If so, better to know now so you can take immediate action (and your matrimonial lawyer can get you the help you need).
* Source: “Women & Money” by Suze Orman
GET THE EMPOWERMENT CHECKLIST AND TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR FINANCES.
Ready to take care of (financial) business? Then we’ve got a great checklist for you. This list is a super-powerful guide to help you discover your true financial picture. Use this checklist to gather all the financial information you’ll need to take control of your financial future. Oh, and yes…it will be of great value if you are getting ready for divorce.
Ready to get financially “in the know”? Click here to get the free Financial Checklist now.
Do you need to take further action? Click here to meet with a Bennett & Bennett Family Law Attorney.