What have you got?

The first step in dividing up your marital property is to figure out exactly what it is that you own. This is more formally called “identifying the assets.” You may be thinking, “Of course I know what I own,” but think back to the last time you moved. Remember all those boxes of stuff you unpacked? Can you make an itemized list – from memory – of every individual thing in each one of those boxes, and exactly where it is currently located?

In nearly all divorce cases, both spouses must prepare a sworn inventory and appraisement, on which they are to list under oath all property, debts, opinions on the value of assets, and any claims (such as a separate property claim). Even though you are both essentially swearing to the court that the contents of your form is the sum total of everything you owned as a married couple, it is inevitable that yours and your spouse’s forms will differ from each other. This is especially true with regard to the opinions on how much an asset (or several assets) is worth.

Does this mean one or both of you are lying to the court? Not necessarily. In most cases it simply means you resolved any uncertainties in your own favor. However, not everyone in this world is 100% truthful. In some divorces, one or both spouses will hide assets from each other.

So, what can be done about this? First of all, don’t be the one hiding assets. People who have never done a dishonest thing in their lives will take an “all’s fair in love and war” attitude during their divorce. The compulsion to do so is natural, but there can be serious consequences.

I’ll assume you are taking the high road, but aren’t sure your soon-to-be-ex is. There are many places you can look. Bank account records, county tax rolls, credit card statements, data on your home computer and, in particular income tax returns can give you clues as to whether there is something out there you don’t know about. If you think there are enough assets to justify the expense, you may also consider hiring a professional service to locate assets for you.

The bottom line at this point is to figure out what you and your spouse have, where it is located, and what debts or liabilities are connected with it. Then the fun really begins.

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