In divorce, it’s not half of everything – it’s ‘half of what you can find’

In divorce, it’s not half of everything – it’s ‘half of what you can find’
In divorce, it’s not half of everything – it’s ‘half of what you can find’

Marriage is a partnership, in England and Wales. There’s no discrimination between breadwinner and home-maker; it doesn’t matter who brought home the bacon. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the house deeds, who owns the car, or anything else.

One of the hardest things for husbands to get their heads around – and it’s still usually men who have the money – is that when they look at all that cash they slogged away for over the years, the appropriate reaction is not to squeal “It’s mine, mine, my precious”, but to say, graciously: “Here, partner, you earned your half-share, now go and enjoy it without me”.

This does not come easily to most.

And yet that’s the deal, if your divorce goes through in England. It’s a 50-50 split of what you made during your time together, without any real investigation of who did what because judges don’t like to “rummage around in the attic of the marriage”.

It doesn’t really matter if the wife had an army of help and spent all day shopping, lunching, having tennis lessons and ultimately running off with her hot instructor, while the husband worked all the hours God sends – it’s still almost always a straight 50-50 split.

And that’s because, in so many cases, both partners really do contribute equally, if differently – one being frontline with the children, making career sacrifices, and creating a platform from which the other can go off and do their more lucrative thing. They do this with the sense that they’re a team, both working for the common good of the family. But when it comes to redistributing the fruits of that partnership that feeling often disappears.

The big question, though, is always – 50pc of what? You could be splitting 50pc of a house that’s mortgaged to the hilt, a few Isas and a giant overdraft, or half of tens or hundreds of millions.

The stakes are so high that the temptation for husbands to hide money can be overwhelming. It means that what’s really on the table is, so often – you can have half of what you can find.

You might be wondering what they do to hide it.

Complex offshore structures are the top choice. Trusts, foundations, charities and companies based in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Mauritius, Nigeria, China, you name it. These structures are often put together for tax planning, but can come in very handy to bamboozle the divorcing spouse.

Cracking these is what we divorce lawyers love best. It’s like a cryptic crossword with Sudoku on speed.

I’ve seen one of our forensic experts literally cover a wall with papers on which he’d drawn a network of hundreds of companies and other structures. He virtually passed out with excitement when he found the hidden door the husband had embedded in the structure to get the money out.

We have found hundreds of millions of hidden assets, time after time. This is what we do. But it’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, so that level of skill is only worth it for cases where there’s a lot at stake.

Putting money with friends, relatives, girlfriends, etc, is another way to hide it. If you can see the transaction, and can prove it was done to get out of paying the wife, you can undo these. But you have to find them.

Often, it’s about asking the right questions: “You made a sale here – where did that money go?”.

We analyse bank statements, we use tech, we look for tiny leads, we use private detectives to catch people getting into their jets and yachts, or going to their secret meetings. We follow the money trail.

One woman – in this case it was the wife with the money – had told her husband something about investing in art, though later she denied it. We searched art trading websites and found our way through to millions in valuable pieces she’d bought during the marriage, which were then available to share.

We had a husband on the other side who, when we’d busted his precious wine collection worth hundreds of thousands, wrote to us stating simply: “I’ve drunk it”. But where there are other assets that doesn’t really matter – once you can prove it was there you can get it added back into the husband’s share, so it counts as part of his half.

We did the same with vast quantities of diamonds and other jewellery that a husband had bought for a sex worker – every penny he had spent on her was counted back to increase the wife’s share of the wealth.

The courts aren’t strong on punishing non-disclosers. In some American states you have to hand over your own half share of the asset you failed to disclose if you’re busted. There can even be jail time. But in England and Wales you’re not likely to get hit with much more than paying some of your spouse’s costs, so there’s a real disincentive to ‘fessing up’.

That means more work for divorce lawyers, more cost, more cases dragging on through court. Until there are real penalties for dishonesty in court, the “divorce detectives” will remain a routine part of the break-up process.

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