We’re Divorcing, We Have A Sizeable Estate But I Don’t Know The Details

It’s not unusual in a divorce for one spouse to realize they know little about the finances. More often it’s a wife. Sometimes, she manages household finances and pays bills, but the other spouse knows about the investments, retirements and business interests. Sometimes, one spouse manages all household finances, including paying bills, and the other knows nothing about income, expenses, retirement or investments.

People in that situation may assume they will get nothing and be left penniless. Often, this results from listening to the spouse’s threats and incorrect assertions about the law. It’s reinforced by an assumption by the spouse without financial knowledge that they are incapable of understanding the finances and the other spouse will out-negotiate them. The spouse may have been told for years he or she is incapable of understanding the finances and a poor negotiator.

Each problem can be addressed in divorce:

A court can issue a temporary order awarding exclusive use of the house, its contents, a car and other assets to a spouse while the divorce is pending. A court can also order a higher-earning spouse to give money to the other per paycheck or a one-time transfer of funds from an account to the lower-earning spouse to pay household bills and living expenses. Funds can also be allocated to the lower-earning spouse for attorney’s fees.

Since January 1, 2021, information and material about the estate must be exchanged shortly after a divorce is initiated without awaiting a request. Additional material may be requested in written questions requiring sworn written answers, called interrogatories, and requests for production, which require production of material like documents, recordings, photos, etc.. Financial statements, business records, investment records, and similar material can be requested and studied.

Depending on the estate, a financial expert can study the financial material to determine what comprises the estate and what needs further investigation. A business evaluator can determine the value of business interests, and an appraiser can opine about real estate and valuable items like antiques, jewelry, art, firearms, family heirlooms, etc.

A spouse may be questioned directly in a sworn deposition. A deposition typically happens in a lawyer’s office and each question and answer is recorded by a court reporter. This usually happens after receiving mandatory disclosures, answers to interrogatories and requested documents, but need not. Sometimes, an early deposition is best to determine where to look and what additional material to request.

Entities can be served a subpoena for information like bank and retirement statements, employment and income information, CPA & tax records, etc.

After information and material has been acquired, if no agreement is made, mediation is required before trial. Traditionally, if there was no agreement, a trial was the only option. Now, most judges require mediation before permitting a trial, and most mediations resolve everything. An agreement at mediation is binding and irrevocable. But, if everything is not settled, trial remains an option and, if discovery has been properly conducted through requests to the other party, subpoenas to third parties and using experts, it will be a fair trial and even match.