This blog is a continuation of a previous blog regarding damaging, destroying, or selling marital assets. Some spouses move everything out of the house before they file for divorce. Alternatively, if a spouse moves out and leaves things behind, the remaining spouse takes the time to make everything that has been left in the house disappear.
This may feel great at the time but will make your spouse angry and generally leads to a more expensive divorce. Additionally, it can give your spouse reimbursement claims for the personal property you took. This may mean you end up with things you do not want and have less cash.
If you are the spouse that is a victim of this dirty trick, you may feel powerless while it is going on. You will probably be angry with your spouse, mad with your divorce attorney, and frustrated with the legal system because you feel like your spouse is getting away with it.
This blog will discuss a few examples of this trick in action and suggest how to avoid the problem so, hopefully, you will not fall victim to this trick.
Example #1 -Stripping the House Before Moving Out
In a recent case that I was part of, the wife sat down with her husband and explained that she wanted a divorce and it was time for him to move out. The wife felt that the husband took the information remarkably well.
She was scheduled to be out of town for a few days on a business trip and had made arrangements for her parents to watch their daughter while she was gone. The moment her plane touched down, and she turned on her phone, she got a text message from her husband that he had:
- Hired an attorney
- He had full custody of their daughter
The wife understandably was distraught and immediately made arrangements to come back. Her husband refused to take her calls other than to tell her to call his attorney.
When she made it to the house, she found that much had been stripped of furniture and personal items. One of the hardest-hit rooms was the daughter's bedroom; nothing was left in that room.
Talking to the husband's attorney did not help. His attorney called her names and got her to sign some documents that the wife should not have. The attorney used the wife's desperation to see her daughter against her.
The wife also learned that the husband had been badmouthing her to the child. He would tell the child she was a terrible parent and that he would get custody of her, so she needed to get used to how things were.
Moral of the Story
Clients sometimes ask me whether they should talk with their soon-to-be ex-spouse before filing for divorce. In an ideal world, I believe this makes sense. In some of the smoothest divorces I have handled, this has happened. However, those cases are the exception to the rule.
I believe a much more prudent course is to file first, get the spouse served, and then try and have a conversation. Had the wife in the above scenario done this, she would have had the protection of a standing order that has a section regarding not disrupting the children by:
- Changing the residence of the child
- Pulling the child out of school or daycare
- Hiding the child
- Making disparaging remarks regarding the other parent
- Discussing the litigation with the child
The standing order also covers property as to:
- Destroying, removing, concealing, encumbering, transferring, or otherwise harming or reducing the estate value of one or both parties.
Example #2 - Stripping the House Including Taking the Pets
An unpleasant realization that families facing divorce have to come to is that their sweet little dog, cat, or other pet is not the member of the family that we sometimes believe they are. Despite the emotional attachments we have with our animals, the fact remains that they are property owned by the family.
So, your pet would fall under the same general category as your bank accounts, lawnmower, and silverware. If this sounds harsh, it is not intended to be, but I mean to make a point of sorts.
In a recent divorce we handled, one of the most critical issues for the wife was her two dogs. Before either party hired a divorce lawyer, the couple split up and separated. When the husband left their apartment, he took both of the wife's dogs with him, along with the wife's passport, social security card, and some of her other personal items.
The wife tried to arrange an exchange on her own in a parking lot. She had some items of the husband's that were important to him. She thought he might be willing to give her back her dogs in exchange for his laptop. Unfortunately for her, he was not.
Moral of the Story
As with the previous example, if the wife had planned or gotten the assistance of an attorney early on, she might have saved herself a lot of aggravation. In her case, the same standing order that could have helped in the first example also covers pets.
The standing order says that "All parties are to refrain from harming, threatening, interfering with the case, custody or control of a pet or companion animal that is possessed by a person protected by this order or a member of the family or household of a person protected by this order."
A divorce court generally will be willing to deal with pet issues. Pets in Texas are considered marital property, and a court may award pet custody in a divorce. However, if you care for your pet, it's a good idea to protect your animal ahead of time by talking to a divorce lawyer before there is a problem.
Example #3 Not Taking Everything You Care About with You
In most circumstances, it is not recommended that you leave the marital home for a variety of reasons, including:
- Limited access to your children if they remain behind
- Limited access to financial records
- Limited control over what happens to personal property left behind
One of my most significant recommendations is to leave the house, take everything you care about with you or move it to a safe location. This is not done to be sneaky but to protect those essential items from you. Create a list of these items that we will disclose to the other side when the time comes.
In one case where we represented a husband, he had moved out of the home but had not taken some items he cared about. At the time, there was no order in place saying he could not be in the marital home or take certain items out of the house. I suggested that you get these personal items.
However, he was afraid of what his wife would do if he showed up. I suggested that he did it when he knew she would not be the home. He again declined for various reasons.
Unfortunately for him, it would take six months before he could get back home. Several of the items he wanted were missing, including his guns. It took another six months to get him his guns back. When they finally returned to him, the wife had gotten her dad to disassemble the guns, all of which were mixed up and in pieces.
Moral of the Story
Yes, the wife's behavior can be used against her in court. However, with a proactive action on the husband's part, he could have protected his personal property and saved himself a lot of aggravation.
Example #4 Not Securing or Safeguarding Valuable Property
One of my most memorable examples of the importance comes from a consult I did with a gentleman. Before leaving the consult, he asked me for some suggestions and tips. I brought up how important it was to protect things in his home that were important to him and to move them to a safe location.
Later that week, the gentleman came back. He told me that everything I told him had come to pass and how he should have followed my advice. He said he had left the consult thinking I was paranoid, and his wife would never do any of the things I said.
However, over the next few days, his wife had emptied their bank account and removed everything valuable from the house. She had also changed the lock on the safe.
The man had called a locksmith to help him get into the safe because there was about $100,000 worth of gold and cash in the safe. When the locksmith got there, it was the same locksmith his wife had called to change the combination. When they got into the safe, there was nothing inside.
Documenting Everything in the Home
I have discussed previously if you do not remove or cannot remove the items to a safe location; you can at least:
- Inventory your valuables and create a list,
- Photograph the property and date the photographs,
- Locate any proof you may have of what was given to you, inherited, or owned before the marriage.
At least in this way, you have documented the property's condition, and you can prevent your spouse from saying the item never existed. In another case I have handled, we have helped our clients do all of the above.
It is customary to exchange inventories and proposed property division at some point in the case when trying to settle a case. So, what we did for our client was speed up the inventory process. A couple of our paralegals showed up with him at home, photographed all the rooms, and helped him create an inventory of everything in the house.
In cases where clients have taken us up on taking these preventive measures, we have not experienced any of the problems regarding house stripping, missing personal property, or missing valuables.
If you want to know more about what you can do, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: "16 Steps to Help You Plan & Prepare for Your Texas Divorce"
If you want to know more about how to prepare, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: "13 Dirty Tricks to Watch Out For in Your Texas Divorce, and How to Counter Them" Today!"
Other Articles you may be interested in:
- The Dirty Trick of Using the Same Divorce Lawyer
- The Dirty Trick of the Common Law Marriage
- The Dirty Trick of Getting Your Spouse to Leave the Marital Home
- The Dirty Trick of Fake Emails and Electronic Evidence
- The Dirty Trick of the Unenforceable Visitation Order
- Dirty Divorce Trick - Turning into a Temporary "Helicopter" Parent
- The Dirty Trick of Spousal Spying in a Texas Divorce
- The Dirty Trick of Moving Out of State with the Kids
- The Dirty Trick of Hiding Assets During Your Texas Divorce
- The Dirty Trick of Wasting Marital Assets or Going on a Spending Spree During Your Texas Divorce
- The Dirty Trick of Engaging in Spousal Starving During a Texas Divorce
- Beware of Common Tricks and Pitfalls in Texas Divorce Cases
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Spring Divorce Lawyer
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