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Lessons from the Panama Papers

In all of the recent press surrounding the Panama Papers, the unique issues of high-asset divorce have once again come into the public spotlight. The data leak highlights the issue of hidden assets, a significant concern for anyone going through a divorce, but particularly those who have considerable assets to divide in a marital property settlement.

When getting divorced in Florida, spouses must disclose all assets they own separately or jointly, and get them properly valued so the assets can be divided equitably. Sometimes, spouses attempt to use offshore tax havens and other methods to avoid this requirement and thus shield their wealth from their partner.

As the Panama Papers indicate, however, spouses should never assume the information they're keeping offshore will remain private. In a technologically advanced world, a data breach can occur at any point, and increasingly family lawyers have relied on forensic accountants and sophisticated technologies to track down hidden assets.

Furthermore, the discovery of hidden assets could lead to more than just having to share your fortune - it could lead to civil or even criminal charges for fraud. It could also lead to charges against the company who set up the accounts or funds if it knew the funds would be used to hide marital assets. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, "Offshore service providers that knowingly place a [spouse's] assets beyond [the other spouse's] reach can be sued."

'Equal opportunities'

The Panama Papers also revealed the equality between the sexes when it comes to hiding assets during divorce. Traditionally, cases involving hidden assets follow a similar narrative: A wealthy businessman uses shell corporations and offshore accounts to hide or move assets out of the marital estate to prevent their being divided equitably in a divorce. The estranged wife, meanwhile, suspects wrongdoing and hires professionals to locate the missing funds once divorce proceedings get underway.

However, the papers indicate that both men and women use such tactics to protect their individual interests during a marital breakdown. This in turn means that spouses of either gender could end up spending thousands if not millions of dollars to track down if there are, in fact, marital assets being hidden in offshore accounts.

The key takeaway

All of these issues highlight the importance of working with a lawyer who has demonstrated experience and skill handling the unique concerns of high asset divorce. He or she can use sophisticated software and forensic professionals to track down the various financial records and transactional histories - wherever they are located - to ensure the full disclosure and division of all marital assets during divorce.

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