Divorce can a difficult and distressing time and for everyone involved.
One of the main aims is ensuring that each party receives a fair settlement, and that the same standard of living is maintained by all after separation.
In a high net worth divorce however, it is likely that there will be complex financial affairs, multiple businesses, investments, property, shares and other liquid and fixed assets.
It is a common scenario where one party has limited financial involvement in the marriage and has limited knowledge of what the marital assets are. This may provoke a spouse to misrepresent their financial situation in order to preserve their wealth, and may even be tempted to hide their assets.
A spouse hiding or understating assets can have significant effect on the other party as it could affect the distribution of wealth, alimony and child support awarded by the court. However this does not mean it is uncommon.
In most high value divorces, there is an international element and the use of offshore structures to hide property, shareholdings, trusts and bank is a frequent occurrence in the court room.
Other assets may be in the form of cash, real estate, vehicles, stocks, bonds, valuable art, jewellery and antiques, all of which may be in several different countries, with different banks or companies.
Taking this into account, it’s important to call upon experienced advisors during this process in order to locate these assets and ensure a fairer hearing and judgement for the other party.
One of the most effective solutions would be to retain an experienced investigative firm as they have experience in thoroughly reviewing public records and can connect the dots between corporate affiliations and structures, analyse tax havens and conduct beneficial ownership checks.
Often during a high value divorce, an asset search will need to be worldwide as a simple search in the United Kingdom will yield limited results.
A good divorce asset investigation should begin as early as possible, ideally once divorce proceedings have begun and there has been an initial disclosure on the Form E petition.
Both the parties are required to submit a Form E that summarises their financial situation – a declaration of all assets and incomes, details of income from all sources and possible expenses post-divorce, capital needs in the future to support themselves and children (if applicable), etc.
Upon review of this document each party should have a clear idea of any disparities and if assets are attempted to be hidden. Once this has been established, an investigative plan can be drawn up.
Using the Form E as the benchmark, the investigative team will examine the document to evaluate possible lines of enquiry. The investigative firm will conduct its own independent research by gathering data and making a comparison to discover any non-disclosure issues.
The process should look to identify an investigative plan by identifying any jurisdictions in which the partner has conducted business and where they have spent significant time. This should give the investigative team a map on which to base investigations and start their searches.
From then on they will work closely with the spouse and their legal team to structure the way the assets are introduced into the case and negotiate non-disclosure issues.
It is important that if you have concerns about hidden assets that you seek professional advice. Consider making contact with an investigative firm that have experience in tracing and locating hidden assets.
Locating assets in a divorce case is a time consuming process, but it can produce excellent results particularly if there is an international element. In my experience of working in this field on high level asset investigations, there is almost always an asset hidden.
Frank Morey is CEO of Virtus Risk Management and an experienced security risk management advisor with expertise in helping HNW individuals understand their exposure to risk and offering guidance on managing these risks effectively.
For the past six years, he has focused on better serving the security needs of the high net worth community through innovative service design and has developed a diverse base of expertise within various security disciplines that he integrates to deliver a holistic approach to security and risk
Frank has previously held senior management positions at Banham Security, acting as lead security advisor for their HNW client base and has managed a variety of security projects from planning through to implementation.
Prior to his career in the security industry, Frank served as a Royal Marine with 45 Commando where he was deployed on operational tours of Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Ireland. During this time he developed a comprehensive knowledge of global security operations in austere environments, high professional standards and a strong sense of integrity and confidentiality.