A basic primer for divorce attorneys.
It’s an unfortunate fact: Some spouses attempt to hide assets before or during a divorce in order to avoid splitting them with their soon-to-be ex-spouse. In fact, according to the University of Mississippi, 53% of married people are keeping money secrets from their partners. In California, a state that posts very little of this public information where it’s easy to find online, finding and identifying these hidden assets can be tricky if the couple decides to divorce.
As an experienced REALTOR® and Certified Divorce Real Estate Expert, I’ve provided links below that will help you navigate Santa Clara County, California’s public record system to look for hidden real estate records. If you’re a divorce attorney who would like a more detailed rundown of the other types of assets a spouse could be hiding—and where to find them—sign up for access to monthly CLEs taught by a team of experts who cover this and so much more. Each course is normally $55, but you can get in FREE through your relationship with me.
Where to Look for Hidden Real Estate Assets
When it comes to researching a spouse, your first stop will likely be Google. That’s fine for a cursory glance at the spouse in question, but for the purposes of a divorce case, attorneys will need to be more thorough than that. According to Philip Segal, Esq., managing member of Charles Griffin Intelligence, and author of The Art of Fact Investigation: Creative Thinking in the Age of Information Overload, less than 1% of what you need to know about a person can be found on Google (and you’ll probably find zero percent of their hidden assets). Think about it, when was the last time you Googled yourself and found accurate and complete information there? The same will be true of the spouse you’re researching—you simply won’t find enough to support your case.
Segal points to five key public sources that will help you uncover real estate a spouse may be hiding:
Attorneys can use these tools as jumping-off points but remember: the databases listed above aren’t connected to each other, and many (if not most) databases do contain errors and/or may be out-of-date. So use what you find to follow the resulting trail of breadcrumbs, but don’t take any single result as a matter of absolute fact until you’ve done the research to prove it.
And don’t forget to do these same searches in areas the spouse frequents. For instance, if the couple lives in San Francisco, but the spouse takes monthly business trips to New York, the traveling spouse may own hidden property and other assets in or near New York.
When you’re searching for a spouse’s hidden assets, don’t jeopardize your case or your client by obtaining the information illegally. There are laws in place to protect citizens from the unlawful disclosure of personal data, so never impersonate the spouse you’re researching, no matter how much easier it makes discovery.
There are many places a divorcing spouse can hide real estate assets from their soon-to-be ex; I hope these tools help you start looking.
There can also be hidden snags in known property records that can cause you to accidentally forfeit your clients’ hard-earned equity if they aren’t handled correctly. If you’d like clarification or want to know more about how a CDRE can help you resolve property matters in divorce, please reach out. I'm always happy to help.