During marriage, assigning different roles and responsibilities to each spouse makes sense. Sometimes there is an obvious reason for deciding which spouse handles certain matters, but other times spouses naturally fall into a rhythm for managing household responsibilities and more.
Managing financial assets
One of the primary responsibilities in a marriage is managing financial matters and shared assets, which may include:
- Bank accounts and cash
- Bills and obligations
- Investment management
- Life insurance
- Retirement accounts
- Tax planning and preparation
- Beneficiary planning
- Loans and credit
- Family businesses
Assigning one spouse to oversee their shared finances may work well for many couples. However, when a couple heads for divorce, the spouse without an understanding of the complete financial picture can be at a disadvantage, especially if their divorce is highly-contentious or if the other spouse hid or squandered assets. Finding a knowledgeable divorce attorney with experience investigating and tracing assets can be critically important in ensuring both spouses get their fair share during the asset division process.
Bringing in experts
The spouse who did not handle finances may not understand the extent of their marital assets. For instance, the other spouse may have made investments without their knowledge, incurred major debt or used marital funds to pay off their personal, nonmarital debts. In the worst-case scenario, the spouse in charge of the couple’s finances could have engaged in illegal activity like tax fraud.
Whatever the scenario, a knowledgeable lawyer will be able to bring financial experts — such as forensic accountants — to the negotiating table to begin the investigation of what assets exist, what they are worth and what is owed to each spouse. Once the entire picture becomes clear, assets and debts can be classified as marital or nonmarital and receive proper appraisals and valuation. The parties can then begin negotiations to equitably divide all marital property.
Should divorcing spouses be unable to reach a settlement, a judge will need to make the final decisions regarding property and debt division. After extensive investigation and discovery, the spouse without the financial management role will be in a better position to submit solid evidence to the court of the extent and nature of the marital estate.