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Cyber technology provides new tools for finding hidden assets

When a couple has decided to end their marriage, one or both spouses may try to attempt to hide assets from the other spouse. For example, a person facing a divorce may try to hide marital assets from California's community property laws by creating a secret bank account or stock market account. Recent advances in computer technology have greatly increased the difficulty of successfully hiding assets that must be disclosed during the property division process.

A suspicious spouse could, for example, install software on a home computer to record keystrokes that might reveal the use of a secret stock market account or undisclosed bank account. The installation of such "key logger" software is illegal in California if it is used to collect information on password-protected accounts of the other spouse. Nevertheless, most computer hard drives will retain evidence of files and programs used to hide money or investments. Electronic discovery rules in California make the obtaining of computers for forensic analysis very easy. Smart phones and portable electronic devices are also targets of electronic searches.

People who attempt to hide money or secret credit card accounts forget that the "delete" command rarely removes all evidence of the account. A knowledgeable forensic expert can use a number of procedures to reconstruct information that was originally stored on the hard drive. Sometimes, "hidden" assets can be found in public view, such as pension plans offered by publicly-held companies. The web sites of such companies often contain detailed information on the company's retirement plans even though one spouse may believe that the plan has been successfully concealed.

Anyone who has questions about concealing or discovering assets that may be at issue in a divorce may wish to consult a divorce lawyer who is knowledgeable about electronic discovery and who can retain competent forensic experts to assist in the discovery process.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Why Hiding Money From Your Spouse Has Gotten a Lot Harder," Veronica Dagher, April 30, 2012, accessed on Oct. 16, 2017

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