This is the 23rd post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money” series:
What can you do if your spouse employs a lawyer in the U.S. to hide cash or other marital assets from you? To help your spouse hide cash from you, some lawyers will place the cash in a financial account where you &/or your spouse’s identity is never given to the financial institution. Besides maintaining this kind of secret bank account for your spouse, some lawyers may hide marital assets by titling the assets in the name of a shell company; transferring the assets offshore; etc. “Bearer Shares & An Asset Search” reveals how a Panamanian lawyer helped a divorcing husband conceal millions of dollars from a divorcing wife.¹ The October 2013 article “Lawyer disbarred for helping client hide funds from wife in divorce, then spent the money” is about a New Jersey lawyer accused of conspiring with a divorcing husband to hide $11,000 dollars from a divorcing wife. The Court’s 45-page decision disbarring the New Jersey lawyer is available here.
If a spouse hires a lawyer to conceal marital assets from you, during your divorce you could pursue an asset search by serving this lawyer with a subpoena duces tecum. As a consequence of the subpoena, the lawyer may provide you with documents that have clues leading you to the hidden marital assets. The subpoena should request copies of legal bills the lawyer sent to your spouse. See e.g Colonial Gas Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 144 F.R.D. 600, 607 (D.Mass.1992) (billing records subject to discovery/nature of services not disclosed). Although documents revealing the nature of the legal services provided are generally subject to the attorney-client privilege, some of these documents are not privileged.
To cite just one example, if a lawyer was involved in real estate deals for your spouse, many documents underlying the deals may be disclosable. See In re Grand Jury Subpoena (Mr. S.), 662 F.3d 65, 71-72 (1st Cir. 2011) (closing statements, sales contracts, records of payment revealing source of funds, etc. are all subject to discovery). If your spouse is using relatives, friends or other intermediaries to transfer marital assets out of your reach, your subpoena might also seek documents reflecting the source of legal fees paid to the lawyer and the identities of the attorney’s clients. Cf. Hanover Ins. Co. v. Rapo & Jepsen Ins. Servs., Inc., 449 Mass. 609, 619, 870 N.E.2d 1105, 1113-4 (2007) (legal fees paid & the identities of lawyer’s clients not protected by attorney-client privilege).
¹The fact pattern supplied by “Bearer Shares & An Asset Search” was sanitized & changed for privacy reasons.
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Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams