Divorce Marital Property

An Unusual Claim of Hidden Assets in a Divorce

Fridays are always a good time for blog posts with a bit of humor.  I previously discussed the importance of having an inventory in a Texas divorce in order to catalog assets, and some of the techniques Texas attorneys may use to find hidden assets when they aren’t voluntarily disclosed.  I’m not sure I would be prepared for this particular omission from an inventory, however.

A wealthy hedge-fund boss is suing his poker-pro ex-wife for a reason that would be like a stiletto to the heart of any pump-crazy New York gal — her shoe collection.

Daniel Shak claims Beth Shak never told him about her stockpile of 1,200 pairs of designer shoes when they divorced three years ago.

The finance titan, who had shared a Fifth Avenue pad with Beth, claims that she hid the collection from him — possibly in a “secret room” — and that its value may entitle him to hundreds of thousands of dollars more in their divorce settlement.

While it may seem petty to argue over a bunch of shoes, the husband in this odd scenario estimates the shoe collection to be worth approximately $1 million.  That’s a lot of very expensive shoes.

No matter whether we’re talking about designer shoes or stock in a designer shoe company, it is important to protect yourself as much as possible from such omissions.  An inventory gives you a great starting point in a Texas divorce in order to ensure that both spouses are making a full disclosure as to all of their assets.  In the event a spouse fails to disclose certain assets in an inventory, Texas law allows the innocent spouse to ask for a division of that asset.  In some cases, a Texas court can determine whether the failure to disclose the asset was willful, thereby allowing the court to award a disproportionate share of that asset to the innocent spouse.  Without an inventory, however, it becomes much more difficult to prove a failure to disclose, much less a willful failure to disclose.

If you’re concerned about whether you have full disclosure of assets in your divorce, contact our Houston divorce attorney, Bobby L. Warren, at 713-579-9702.


Cost Saving Tips for Your Texas Divorce

Preparing to file for divorce in Texas, but concerned about the cost?  Based on our firm’s experience in dealing with divorces over the years, we have noticed a trend in steps that clients can take in order to substantially reduce their costs in a Texas divorce.

  • Sit down and have a mature, thoughtful conversation with your spouse about dividing assets, access and possession of the kids, and child support – For many, this can be a very difficult task.  For others, this is a natural step that must be taken before visiting with their Texas divorce attorney.  In either case, the more issues upon which you and your spouse agree upon when you file for divorce, the less costly that divorce is likely to become.  The stark reality is that the attorneys involved in a divorce generally do not dictate the total cost of the divorce – the spouses involved in the divorce ultimately decide how costly the divorce will become.  When a client comes to our office and provides us with a complete picture of what they and their spouse have agreed upon, they usually spend less than a few thousand dollars.  This is true even when their assets are complex and of high value.  On the other hand, those who come to our office with no agreement and no prospects for an agreement can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a divorce with a relatively modest community estate at stake.
  • As soon as possible, begin collecting important documents which evidence the assets each of you own and when those assets were acquired.  Such documents will include the file you received when closing on your home, titles to vehicles, motorcycles, or boats, and certificates for stocks and bonds.  For bank accounts, ensure you have statements going back at least a year.  Most banks provide access to such statements for free online.  As soon as possible, go online and download each of those statements in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).  The same should be done for quarterly statements for any retirement funds you own, including 401(k), 403(b), IRA’s or pensions.  You should be prepared to turn these documents over to your attorney as early in the process as possible.  Attorneys in Texas divorces often need to refer to these documents in order to assist you in determining whether the assets are separate property or community property.  In addition, the value of the assets are often at issue, and these documents can assist in determining the value of each.  Finally, you should also ensure you have income tax returns for the last five years and paycheck stubs for at least the last six pay periods.  These documents can become important in divorces in Texas when child support or spousal maintenance are at issue.
  • When you speak with your attorney, determine what technology that attorney utilizes to communicate with clients and manage their cases.  For example, in our office e-mail is a very cost effective means of communicating with clients.  Although it may take you quite some time to type out an e-mail, it may only take your attorney minutes to read it and comprehend the information you need to provide to him or her.  Yet, you may have saved money by not taking that attorney’s time on the phone to explain the situation.  Also, our office uses an online case management system in order to communicate with clients, share documents and keep track of hearings, meetings and other events.  By taking full advantage of these systems while in the midst of a divorce in Texas, you will likely save money by saving time for your attorney.  For example, we encourage clients to scan and upload documents to our secure online case management system.  If the clients simply handed us hard copies of the documents, we would need to scan and upload those documents ourselves.  Find out from your attorney how you can save them time by utilizing these resources.

By following these tips and reducing the amount of time your attorney must focus on your case, you can dramatically reduce your costs in a Texas divorce. For more information on how our office can help you obtain a divorce in a cost effective manner, call our Houston divorce attorney, Bobby L. Warren, at 713-579-9702.

Divorce Health Insurance

The Impact on Health Insurance of Texas Divorces

Whether you are in the middle of a highly contentious divorce or about to initiate an uncontested divorce, it is important to weigh the impacts that the divorce may have on insurance coverage for you, your spouse and your children.

A frequent question clients pose concerns whether their spouse can cancel health insurance before the divorce is filed or while it is pending.  While health insurance policies vary between employers, there is nothing under Texas law which automatically protects you from such actions.  Instead, the best step which you can take to prevent any possible cancellation of health insurance benefits is to obtain a temporary restraining order from the court in which you’re filing your divorce.  Such temporary restraining orders (TRO’s) are a common part of the divorce process in Texas.  In fact, some courts (such as the 387th Judicial District Court of Fort Bend County, Texas) have standing restraining orders which prohibit such cancellations by spouses involved in divorces in their courts.

Ultimately, however, if you rely upon your spouse for health insurance, you will eventually need to look into options available to you after the divorce is finalized.  One such option are your rights to continue coverage under the Consolidates Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (commonly known as “COBRA”).  Yes, this is the same law you commonly invoke to keep your health insurance benefits when you switch jobs or become unemployed.  Such rights vary depending on whether state law applies to your policy or the federal law concerning health insurance, but you should be able to keep your spouse’s health insurance coverage for yourself for anywhere from 18 to 36 months.  Keep in mind, however, that this can be costly in some circumstances, so you may want to compare this coverage against what is available from an independent health insurance agent.

As for health insurance coverage for children, the party who is ordered to pay child support will also be the person financially responsible for health insurance for the children.  If that parent has coverage available through work, that may be the best option.  Otherwise, the other parent can carry health insurance and the non-carrying parent will be required to pay the actual cost of the monthly premium as additional child support.

In any event, health insurance coverage is one of the most important elements of planning for a post-divorce world.  If you have any questions or concerns about your particular situation, contact our Houston divorce attorney, Bobby L. Warren, at 713-579-9702.

Attorney-Client Relations Divorce

The Baby Boomer Divorce Boom

A recent article on the Huffington Post raises a very interesting question regarding the cause of the sudden rise in the divorce rates among the “baby boomer” generation:

It’s hard to navigate what authors David and Claudia Arp call “the second half of marriage” — the years after the kids leave. The growing divorce rate among baby boomers has jumped by more than 50 percent over the past 20 years.

But instead of wringing our hands about so-called gray divorces and seeing those long-term marriages as failures, perhaps we should consider marriage as more “till the kids part” than “till death do us part.” The partner we need in our 20s and 30s, when many of us are looking to settle down and raise kids, may not be the partner we need in our 50s, 60s and beyond, when we’re free to explore new passions or reinvigorate the ones we gave up when the kids came along.

Each client that comes to our office in Houston has a different motivation for seeking a divorce.  For some, they have been married for only a year or two and find that they simply are not compatible with their spouse.  Others may be trying to escape an issue with substance abuse or financial troubles.  In the case of the rising numbers of baby boomers seeking a divorce, it certainly has been my experience that many of these clients are waiting for their children to start their own lives before making major changes.

As divorce attorneys, we have to be sensitive to the needs and motivations of our clients.  The more we know about what brought them to us in the first place, the more we will be likely to develop a better attorney-client relationship and, therefore, do a better job for our clients.

Divorce Marital Property

Using Electronic Evidence to Find Hidden Assets in a Divorce

In various areas of law, the use of electronic data in court has grown by leaps and bounds.  Certainly the same can be said for divorce litigation.  The Wall Street Journal recently published an article discussing the use of technology to find hidden assets, particularly money being socked away:

Sometimes, uncovering mischief just takes some basic electronic detective work. Thomas Burrage, an Albuquerque, N.M., forensic accountant, had a client who asked her husband, from whom she was getting divorced, if he’d get a pension from his company. The husband said that he wasn’t sure. Mr. Burrage did a quick search on the company website and discovered the husband was in fact eligible for a large pension—something he had hidden from his spouse for more than 14 years.

Scott Maier, a forensic accountant in East Hanover, N.J., recently searched a free public database and discovered that his client’s husband owned real estate in another state. Another simple Google search discovered a client’s husband had sold his company for millions of dollars when he had told his wife it had no value.

Spouses are also doing basic detective work themselves. Gordon Cruse, a San Diego-based family lawyer, has seen spouses discover hidden assets by looking through the browsing history of the family computer and finding things like visits to bank websites where the couple doesn’t have an account.

The article also warns against the perils of attempting to use illegal or less than honorable means of collecting evidence, such as using keystroke logging programs or hacking into a spouse’s e-mail or Facebook account.  There are more than enough legitimate means of uncovering hidden assets in a divorce without resorting to these tactics.  Moreover, in Texas, the rules for discovery allow litigants in a divorce to request electronically stored data from the other party.  There’s no need to hack into someone’s account to obtain information when all you need to do is demand it from them through formal discovery requests.

Our office is prepared to use any ethical and legal means of discovering hidden assets in order to ensure that our clients receive all marital assets to which they are entitled.

Divorce Odd News

When Divorce Meets Performance Art

To close our our first week with the blog, we bring you a more humorous perspective on family law – a “protest” marriage undone in a ceremonious divorce.  I’m not sure I can do the entire specticle any justice, so I’ll provide you an excerpt and encourage you to read the rest for yourself:

Amongst a small group of supporters, the couple officially dissolved the marriage vows taken in protest against the Menil Collection’s planting of a tree from The Art Guys Marry a Plant performance piece, which became the focal point of a row in the Houston arts community about marriage rights and the role of public art.

The tree planting was the second part of The Art Guy’s performance piece in which the artist duo of Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing wed a live oak in a public ceremony in 2009. Britt-Darby felt the work devalued gay marriage, hence the protest marriage and now . . . legal divorce.

To each their own.  I hope everyone has a good weekend, and we’ll see you again with fresh blog posts on Monday morning!

Divorce Marital Property

The Importance of an Inventory in a Divorce

One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of uncontested divorces is the importance of a sworn inventory and appraisement.  Often times, my clients are seeking a quick and easy way to dissolve their marriage and move on with their lives.

I am always quick to ask a set of very simple questions, “Are you fully aware of all assets and liabilities belonging to your spouse?  How can you be certain?”

Most people are caught off guard.  They readily assume that their spouse disclosed all of their assets during the marriage.  Unfortunately, some people discover well after their divorce that their spouse was, in fact, hiding assets.  Sometimes this discovery is far too late.

Although it will not completely prevent the concealment of marital assets, insisting on an exchange of sworn inventories and appraisements can provide some form of safety net against this sort of situation.  It is an essential part of any Texas divorce lawyer’s toolkit.  Put simply, a sworn inventory and appraisement is a document completed by each spouse in which they list, in great detail, all assets and liabilities owned by either party.  In this document, they also provide an opinion as to the value of the asset or the amount of the liability, as well as an opinion as to whether it is community property or separate property.  Finally, the document is accompanied by a sworn verification in which the person completing the document swears, under oath, that the inventory is a complete and accurate summary of all assets of which the person is aware, to the best of that person’s abilities.

Another benefit of a sworn inventory and appraisement is that it helps each party sort through their assets and ensure that they do not forget to list the most important assets in their divorce decree.  Also, if there is any question as to whether a particular division of the community estate is fair and equitable, the values provided in the inventory can be of assistance to the attorneys to calculate the net value of each party’s share of the community estate and compare those values.

If you have further questions about obtaining a divorce or how an inventory may help you to prepare to divide your assets with your spouse, give our office a call at 713-579-9702.  We’d love to be your Houston family lawyer.