When you spent your life working hard to build up your business, you naturally want to protect your assets from an unfair distribution. Certainly, many legitimate ways exist to help you safeguard your wealth.

However, you should take care not to cross the line into potentially illegal behavior. Some people reason that hiding assets is the only way to prevent an unfair outcome or that there is nothing wrong with taking steps to protect what really belongs to them. Keep in mind that the court may see matters very differently. Consulting an experienced attorney is the best way to develop a proper strategy for defending what is yours.

Courts penalize hiding assets

In Minnesota, courts divide marital property following the principle of equitable distribution – based on fairness rather than a precise split. As part of the process, both spouses must submit a complete list of assets and debts to the court. If the court determines one party has intentionally left items off the list, it may deem this action fraud on the court and impose significant legal penalties.

Common tactics you should not try

Sometimes, one party tries to avoid including an item in the list by technical manipulations. Common strategies include transferring assets to friends or family they can rely on to later return the funds, putting funds in offshore accounts, secretly buying property and hiding it. The thinking goes, if the court does not know these assets are there, it will not give any part of them to the ex.

Generally, all attempts to hide marital property, including putting funds in someone else’s name, fall under the category of fraud. In addition to imposing legal penalties, courts may punish you by giving your ex a greater share of the assets than he or she would have otherwise received.

Ask your lawyer

Not all assets you possess may fall into the category of marital property. However, do not try to decide on your own whether an asset is separate or marital. This can be a complex question where a number of factors can affect the answer. Your attorney can answer your questions about the status of assets and how best to protect your property.