For every divorcing couple that commits to making the process of ending their marriage as fair and friendly as possible, there are those vindictive spouses who just can’t resist playing dirty tricks during divorce. What kinds of traps should you be on the lookout for? Here are some underhanded schemes and deceptions that are unfortunately all too common:
Divorce Dirty Trick: “Conflicting Out” Attorneys
Here’s a little know legal ethics rule that you may not be aware of: if one spouse consults with an attorney concerning the couple’s divorce, but does not hire the attorney, it is against the rules for the attorney to then represent the other spouse should he/she come looking for legal representation. To “conflict out” attorneys, all the spouse needs to do during the consultation is share information concerning the particulars of the case. Once he/she does, the attorney will be prohibited from representing the other spouse.
As you can imagine, some resentful spouses make appointments with all the top attorneys in town (or consult with attorneys conveniently located to the other spouse) to make sure the spouse has a difficult time finding representation.
Helpful Tip: Once you know divorce is inevitable, don’t delay in making contact with an attorney you feel is best qualified to help you.
Divorce Dirty Trick: Emptying Bank Accounts & Maxing Out Credit Cards
It’s common in many relationships for one spouse to take more of an active role in managing the couple’s finances. However, in the event of a divorce, an angry spouse may decide to hit the other spouse where it hurts — in the wallet — by wreaking financial havoc. This can come in the form of draining jointly held bank accounts, opening home equity lines of credit, maxing out joint credit cards, and/or taking out new joint cards with large cash advance options — all without the other spouse knowing.
Helpful Tip: Even if your spouse is in charge of banking and paying bills, it is always in your best interest — divorce or not — to have access to your financial records. In the event of a divorce, do yourself a financial favor by running your credit report and signing up for credit monitoring to catch any unusual activity or new accounts. Freezing bank and credit cards is another option when there’s concern an angry spouse may be plotting revenge.
Divorce Dirty Trick: Destroying Property
One spouse leaves the family home to move in with a new love interest. The spouse left behind takes out feelings of rage and betrayal by destroying the house they still own together (punching holes in the wall, allowing the basement to flood, etc.). The rationale? A cheating spouse shouldn’t be rewarded in divorce with half of the proceeds from the sale of a pristine home. It doesn’t matter that the other spouse will take a hit too. For these bitter spouses, it’s all about the principle of the matter.
Helpful Hint: If you are the spouse who moves out of a home you jointly own, come to an agreement on how the home will be cared for (get it in writing), and try to maintain access to the home to check on routine maintenance and care. Also, if you both know it’s a foregone conclusion that selling the house will be part of your divorce, think about putting the house on the market sooner rather than later.
Divorce Dirty Trick: Hiding Assets
It’s sneaky, illegal, and highly unethical, but a surprising number of spouses still take a gamble and attempt to hide assets during divorce. There are common places spouses try to hide assets (he or she could be stashing money in a safe deposit box, underreporting income on tax returns and/or financial statements, overpaying the IRS or creditors to get a refund after the divorce is settled, deferring salary, delaying new contracts and/or holding commissions or bonuses . . . the list of where spouses try to stash cash and assets is unfortunately a long one.
Helpful Hint: Make a list of any unusual financial behavior or purchases your spouse has made recently. Is there a painting over the couch that your spouse claimed a few months ago to have picked up at a yard sale for pennies? Look it over carefully (or have it appraised) to make sure it isn’t a masterpiece purchased as a convenient way to hide millions. Look for unusual transactions in your bank accounts. In some cases where suspicion of hiding assets is very high, it may be best to initiate a lifestyle analysis, a formal way of uncovering hidden assets.
Divorce Dirty Trick: Rushing
If it feels like one day you’re being served with divorce papers and the next, your spouse’s attorney is sending over a settlement offer, beware the trick of trying to rush a spouse into divorce as a way to hide negative terms or hide assets. Consider it a big red flag if the extra-speedy settlement offer is accompanied by verbal or written pressure by your spouse or spouse’s attorney on why you need to sign ASAP.
Helpful Hint: Some divorces can be settled quickly, but if you haven’t had the time to receive (nor comb through) all the discovery documents requested after a complaint for divorce is filed, you won’t have complete knowledge about key financial matters involving your marital assets, income sources, expenses, debts, etc. Not only does this make you more likely to fall for a dirty trick (if one is being played), but it also puts you at risk for making mistakes or overlooking other terms that would be more favorable. No one wants divorce to take a long time, but the trick to getting the never feel rushed.
What divorce tricks have you run into? Leave us a comment to let us know!