The process of divorce or legal separation is designed to be as fair to both sides as possible. In California, this means that each person should receive one half of their community property, that is, property acquired during the marriage. However, the rules only work so long as both spouses are fair, which means that they are honest and open about what they own and owe.

Sadly, whether out of fear of financial insecurity or because of anger, many people choose instead to try to hide some of their assets that they would otherwise need to share with their spouses. A spouse who is not aware of the family finances or is not familiar with the legal and financial system is particularly prone to falling victim to these tricks. The best thing Modesto residents can do to protect themselves is to familiarize themselves with the family’s property, debts and income. Even well before a divorce or separation, they should also be closely involved in all significant financial decisions.

Also, they should be aware of certain warnings signs that the other person is trying to hide assets or get them out of reach in a divorce. Warning signs can include things like a sudden gift to a family member or friend, or even a mysterious promissory note showing that the spouse owes money to a relative or acquaintance.

However, once a divorce or separation begins, it may be important to “discover,” that is, formally request, a copy of all tax returns, especially if one’s spouse owns a business. These documents frequently have useful information about the whereabouts of hidden assets, as people tend to be less likely to lie to the federal government than to their spouses.