Examining a Balance Sheet for Hidden Assets During a Divorce

What procedures does a divorce lawyer or investigator use to examine balance sheets for hidden assets?

As part of the divorce process, once the parties’ balance sheets have been obtained, several standard procedures are used to evaluate the balance sheets for hidden assets. First, the statements are compared to themselves. That is, the balance sheets are summarized in columns; one column for each year. Next, the assets are traced from year to year. If an asset disappears, it could be an indication that the asset is being hidden, or that it has been sold or traded. In any case, the divorce lawyer or investigator will seek an explanation for the missing asset. The equity of each year is then reviewed. That is, the net worth of the subject (the husband or wife) is traced from year to year. A decrease in net worth over time may be a symptom of missing assets or debt incurred in an attempt to reduce the value of the marital estate. A sudden decrease in equity, especially after the date of first indication, is an obvious red flag that should be pursued. The third step is to compare the balance sheet, typically the most current, to the marital disclosures. The divorce lawyer or investigator will note any discrepancies in the presence of assets and liabilities and their values, and seek an explanation.