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Can My Spouse Take Everything

& Leave Me With Nothing?

This is a common threat. The right answers should be “no.” When trust is gone and good will is no more, the course of events will likely not be gracious and smooth. The unfortunate reality is that he/she may certainly try to take everything, or at least an unfair share.


The rule is that the community property must be divided 50/50, according to “no fault” principles.  Each spouse has a fiduciary duty to disclose all assets (and income, expenses and debts).  In the divorce, each is required to submit schedules of assets and debts, and income and expenses, and each must sign declarations under penalty of perjury that his/her disclosures are true and complete.  To be sure, it is illegal to hide assets and the penalties for doing so can be severe.


That said – this is a time when it is imperative not to be naïve and to be very proactive in knowing what and where the marital assets are. Even when times are good, accounts get moved, assets transferred, and titles changed –  often with good and innocent intentions, but without any understanding of the legal consequences.  When times are not so good, when trust and good will ebb, that is the time to be smart, to gather the documents, get advice, and plan.


A spouse who has not been significantly involved in the family finances, or has been “hands off” in regard to the financial matters, is at a great disadvantage.   He/she may not have access to account statements, records, or even know what the income is, where it is coming from, or where it is going.   He/she may not be in a position to recognize the true values of the assets, or even to know where to start.  This is a definite disadvantage. If one has been a “hands off” spouse, he/she should know that the court will not offer special consideration to one who finds him/herself in this position. Without experienced representation, he/she may find that he/she is powerless to defend against this.


The Law Office of Lisa Staight has extensive experience in complex and high asset cases.  We have the experience and resources to address the complex issues of tracing and asset valuation – particularly of those who are self-employed or involved in complex businesses, including those with other business partners who have ample opportunity to control the flow of information as well as money. The Law Office of Lisa Staight works with a team of well respected accountants and financial experts who are familiar with all accounting practices, to evaluate businesses, uncover hidden assets, and trace funds.   Our office is prepared to aggressively do everything necessary to locate, preserve, and accurately evaluate the martial assets.


Contrary to what some may think – the court does not employ a team of deputies to make sure everyone is following the rules outside of court. And the court does not send out a team to verify that all the assets are listed. It will be up to each party to protect his/her own interest, and to bring a motion to enforce the rules if that is necessary.  It will be up to each party to undertake discovery, ask the right questions, file motions to compel responses when necessary. Our legal system is an adversarial one and  – fiduciary duties notwithstanding –  that means that each party will be responsible for fully presenting his/her case and for defending against the other's claims.


Thus, while the law provides that the court must divide the marital property 50/50, one should keep in mind that the court can only divide the property of which it is aware or what is left of it.  Each party must assemble its own “team,” discover assets, gather evidence, and prepare its case.  When it comes time to go to court, each party must present competent evidence, according to the rules of evidence,  know and follow all the court rules and procedures, and carry his/her burden of proof on each issue.  The court will hear the evidence; then decide.


If you have reason to suspect that your spouse may attempt to hide or dispose of assets, or has already done so, it is imperative to obtain competent advice from a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, at the earliest possible moment.  It is imperative to have a plan to protect the assets and prevent the other spouse from hiding them, and then to devise a case strategy to aggressively pursue your interests through to the end of the case.


With more than 30 years of experience, and as a certified family law specialist, the Law Offices of Lisa Staight is familiar with the many financial shenanigans that spouses may try to pull to hide assets.  Short of bold untruths, it is not uncommon for one spouse to understate or undervalue certain assets, overstate debts, report lower than actual income, and/or report higher than actual expenses. An experienced family law specialist will be able to spot these issues early on and get them corrected.


In short, if your spouse even hints that he/she will try to leave you with nothing, it is time to assemble your “team” and to plan and protect your rights and your assets.



Material presented on The Law Office of Lisa Staight, APLC, website is provided for general information purposes only.  It is not intended to constitute  a complete or definitive statement of the law.  It may not apply to one's own factual and legal situation. It is not intended as professional advice and may not be relied upon as such.


One's use of this website will not in any way establish an attorney-client relationship with The Law Office of Lisa Staight, APLC. Receipt or transmission of information through this website is not privileged or protected and does not constitute an attorney-client communication nor establish an attorney-client relationship. No one may provide any confidential information and/or communication to the Law Office of Lisa Staight, APLC, through this site.


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The Law Office of Lisa Staight, APLC, is located in Irvine, California, and practices law in Orange County, California.  Its attorneys are licensed to practice law in the State of California.  The Law Office of Lisa Staight, APLC, does not solicit legal business from clients located in other states.  One must seek professional assistance from a licensed lawyer in one's own state/jurisdiction.


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The Law Offices of Lisa Staight, A.P.L.C., practices law in Orange County, California and is located in Irvine, California. Attorney's of the Law Offices of Lisa Staight are licensed to practice law in the State of California