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Ask the Hammer: What's Some Advice for Uncovering Marital Assets in a Divorce?

Jeffrey "The Buckinghammer" Levine of Buckingham Wealth Partners answers a Retirement Daily reader's question about marital assets in divorce.

In this episode of Ask the Hammer, the Retirement Daily reader's question is:

I'm about to go through a divorce. What advice do you have around discovering marital assets in a divorce proceeding?

Our expert, Jeffrey "The Buckinghammer" Levine of Buckingham Wealth Partners, said that, in some cases, divorce proceedings can go smoothly, but in a lot of cases, they can be excruciating... often precisely because of marital assets and the troubles that may come along with uncovering them. 

Levine stated that the first thing you need to consider while going through a divorce is whether or not you need professional help. If assets are hidden, you may need to enlist the help of a forensic accountant — a professional at uncovering assets. 

Beyond considering if you need professional help, Levine suggested that you should look for verifiable documents such as tax returns and IRA transcripts. 

You should then move onto determining if something is a marital asset or not. This can depend on a plethora of factors such as the timing of the purchase and how it was acquired. 

While going through your divorce, it is also important to be aware of equitable distribution, which is common in many courts. Levine asserts that "equitable" does not always mean "equal"; the court has the discretion to determine how marital assets should be split up in a way that they see as "equitable." Levine explains that, if, for example, Partner 1 has $2 million laying around (and Partner 2 does not), Partner 2 may be given a bigger share of the marital assets — not because it is "equal," but because it is equitable

Retirement Daily's Robert Powell had a couple follow-up questions for "The Hammer" that are listed below:

What happens if you're dealing with an executive who may have stock options, a non-qualified deferred compensation plan, or other employee benefits? 

Levine says an expert would likely be beneficial in this situation. You should have a good team of people consisting of a finance advisor, divorce attorney, etc. that can help you.

How is it different if community property is involved?

Levine started off by explaining that community property is property that belongs to both partners equally. Each partner owns 100% — not 50% — of community property during a marriage. Because of this, community property often tends to get split pretty equally between partners during a divorce. 

Does this all suggest that a prenuptial agreement is best?

Jeffrey Levine admitted that he personally did not sign a prenuptial agreement in his own marriage, but that he definitely sees the value in a prenup for couples. They're becoming more and more common today and have the power to make divorces go more smoothly.

Stay tuned for more Ask the Hammer!

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