The course of action that you take if you suspect that your spouse is hiding, selling, depleting or transferring family assets (or has perhaps already started doing so) can have one of the most profound impacts on your family law case. This is because, once assets disappear, it can be very difficult to get them back – particularly if they are moved outside of British Columbia. If enough of them disappear, a spouse can end up in the unfortunate situation where he or she is in reality entitled to share in the family assets (and has maybe even obtained a court order confirming this) but practically speaking is unable to collect on this entitlement because those assets are now nowhere to be found. In short, in order to properly enforce a court order determining you are entitled to share in certain assets, those assets need to exist, and you need to be able to find them.
Quick action is critical whenever there are real concerns that a spouse is hiding assets. The Family Law Act has special provisions which allow for assets to be frozen or otherwise secured in order to prevent them from disappearing while the parties move through the court system or use some other form of dispute resolution process. In many circumstances those assets can be frozen without having to tell the other spouse in advance that you are going to court to ask for it – this allows you to take action without tipping off your spouse (which may only worsen the situation by alerting them that they need to start working more quickly and thoroughly on hiding the assets).
If you have a family home and/or other real estate in British Columbia you can also file a Certificate of Pending Litigation against the property, which will let any potential buyers or lenders know that the property is the subject of a family law dispute and cannot be transferred or remortgaged without your consent. This will prevent your spouse from selling or taking equity out of that property in an attempt to hide or deplete that asset.
Seek Professional Assistance
This is a situation where we would strongly encourage people seek legal assistance. A lawyer can help you get into court quickly to court and get an order that will protect your claim to family assets by freezing them (and perhaps even help you track down assets that you didn’t even know your spouse had). A lawyer can also help you obtain an order compelling your spouse or other third parties to provide you with bank statements or other documentation which can help you find hidden bank accounts or identify suspicious transactions which may confirm that money is being hidden.
Suspicion or awareness that your spouse is hiding assets can be a deeply disconcerting issue. It can be difficult to know how the assets are being hidden and whether or not they’re already gone. It’s also hard to predict how your spouse will react if you address the issue with them directly – it is possible that confronting them will just hasten the process. The safest route is to seek legal assistance immediately and resolve the matter in a timely fashion, so don’t hesitate to take action.