Equitable Distribution of Hidden Assets

June 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

What do you do when one party hides assets she claims are separate, and refuses to divulge their whereabouts? You divide them anyway. At least that is what happened in Wilson v. Wilson, decided June 11, 2013, by the COA.

Penny and Gregory Wilson had the kind of financial arrangement that one sees from time to time in a divorce case. Penny made most of the income, apparently, and the parties maintained completely separate banking and finances. Gregory paid Penny a sum that they agreed was one-half of the household expenses, and some extra money when he worked odd jobs or when Penny wanted to go on vacation. One might say that Gregory was renting his marriage.

Penny was quite the financial wizard. She had managed to accumulate more than $200,000 in a credit union account, but she withdrew the money before trial and, according to the COA opinion, she ” … declined to reveal where she had placed the funds from that account” (¶ 4). She also managed to squirrel away some cash in several CD’s, but she cashed those in also, and when asked where the cash was, she ” … refused to reveal its location to the chancery court” (¶ 6).

Now, let’s stop right there.

What exactly is any self-respecting chancellor to do when confronted with a party who blatantly and wantonly refuses to comply with the express dictates of UCCR 8.05?

Rule 8.05(a) requires these disclosures:

A detailed written statement of actual income and expenses and assets and liabilities, such statement to be on the forms attached hereto as Exhibit “A”, copies of the preceding year’s Federal and State Income Tax returns, in full form as filed, or copies of W-2s if the return has not yet been filed; and, a general statement of the providing party describing employment history and earnings from the inception of the marriage or from the date of divorce, whichever is applicable …

There is no exception for separate property, or what one claims to be separate, or any other financial information. The rule specifically requires disclosure of actual income and expenses, as well as assets and liabilities, without exception.

The rule also states that:

The failure to observe this rule, without just cause, shall constitute contempt of Court for which the Court shall impose appropriate sanctions and penalties.

What the chancellor chose to do here was to divide the assets between Penny and Gregory, over Penny’s protestation that Gregory had not contributed to their accumulation, and that they were separate. In affirming the chancellor’s ruling, the COA pointed out that the burden was on Penny to prove the non-marital character of the assets (¶ 14), which she failed to do.

I guess that the chancellor decided that Penny had, in fact, disclosed the assets as required in UCCR 8.05, to the extent that she subjected them to adjudication, and her attempt to conceal them would not shield them from execution. Still, I find it troubling that a party could take the stand and expressly refuse to be candid and forthright about her assets, for a couple of reasons:

  • There already exists a “fudge factor” in most financial statements. It’s not uncommon for parties to overestimate their expenses, overlook overtime and bonuses, and minimize self-employment income. When a party takes the stand and professes to be hiding assets, that kicks it up to an entirely different level.
  • When one hides assets, no one knows for sure exactly how much money or value we are dealing with. Penny disclosed that there was $217,000 in the credit union account, but if she divulged the institution and account number, discovery might have found the real balance to be more like $300,000. And there is nothing in the COA opinion to show that Penny ever told the balance that had been in the CD’s.

I can’t say that I would have overlooked Penny’s intransigence.

I also don’t understand how Gregory’s lawyer did not raise cane before trial over the secretion of more than $200,000 in cash and CD’s. Gregory had a substantial stake in establishing their true value. The chancellor awarded him 40% of the credit union money. There is a big difference between 40% of 200,000 and 40% of $300,000.

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