Fraud is a very real concern for many people going through a divorce in Texas. Fraud typically refers to when a spouse hides or secrets assets from you or otherwise does things against your interests without your knowledge. Fraud is illegal and can have significant consequences for the spouse who acts fraudulently. However, fraud has potential implications for an innocent spouse like yourself in both the long and short terms. In yesterday’s blog post we introduced this topic and in today’s we will continue to discuss its importance to divorce cases in Texas.
If you suspect that your spouse is engaging in fraudulent behavior, you should examine their behavior more closely. First, I would look to see if you can pick up on any changes in their behavior. Acting secretly, having changes to their habits/lifestyle and any increases or decreases in income can all be signs that fraudulent activity is going on behind the scenes of your marriage. While these are not necessarily direct pieces of evidence for fraud, they certainly beg the question of what is going on in your spouse’s life to justify the changes in behavior.
You may have been in doubt or even denial about whether or not fraud has been occurring in your marriage. Some people will see the best possible motivations in their spouse until it is too late. I have worked with clients who have looked past suspicious behavior that could have informed them of the fraudulent activity sooner rather than later. Sometimes it is easier for us to ignore or look past a problem rather than dealing with it head-on. I can tell you that if you choose not to address a problem relating to fraud it can come back and harm you in the future.
What do you need to be aware of in relation to your spouse and fraud?
Sometimes fraud can occur in your marriage and you will have no reason to suspect it. You and your spouse may lead fairly separate lives from one another. Sharing meals, evenings together or even brief moments of conversation may not occur as much as others would think due to work schedules and other commitments. If you find yourself in a marriage that sees you and your spouse having a great deal of independent time, it may be cause for you to consider what your spouse is doing with all their free time.
Communication is key- if it’s lacking you may be missing something
For instance, if your spouse and you used to share all sorts of information with one another and no longer do, that may be a sign that your spouse is engaging in fraudulent activity. If your spouse lands a new job and doesn’t consult with you on that change this alone could be the sign of fraud. You will want to verify that your spouse’s income goes into a bank account that you share rather than one that he operates out of independent of you. When your spouse no longer feels comfortable sharing changes in employment an income it is time to ask questions.
Check the mail to see if your spouse is hiding anything from you
If your spouse has always received their mail at your home address but suddenly opens up a post office box or another location where he or she can get their mail separate from the home address I think this is a huge red flag. There shouldn’t be any secrets in a marriage. If your spouse feels the need to hide something from you I would address that immediately. Diverting mail to a separate box or not opening mail in front you are two signs that there may be fraudulent activity going on.
Take a look at your spouse’s habits to determine if fraud is occurring
One of the things that I look at with clients is whether nor their spouse has changed long standing habits in recent weeks or months. If your spouse always goes to the gym after work for half an hour but is now gone for two hours at a time this can be worrying. Putting passwords on email accounts on a home computer, changing passwords to accounts that you used to have access to or not being willing to share information about investments and banking accounts are all signs that fraud may be occurring. If your spouse is a creature of habit and you notice that their habits are changing then it is time to start asking tough questions.
Is your spouse showing signs of a growing addiction?
One of the toughest parts of being married is admitting when your spouse has an addiction that is harmful to him or herself, as well as to your relationship. In the event that your spouse is displaying traits of an addict then you need to work to get him or her help. Gambling, alcohol, drugs, prescription medicine, etc. are all well known problems that people can develop. If your spouse’s addiction has become a problem to the extent that your relationship is suffering or your child’s relationship with him or her is suffering, you need to work to get help.
That addiction could be a side effect of the fraud that is going on in their life. Sometimes people enjoy the sensation of being out of control. Like they are driving a car going 100 miles per hour down the highway. Getting away with bad behavior may be feeding into this, as well. If you can nip this behavior in the bud you may be able to save your spouse’s life, your marriage and your finances.
Keep an eye on computer time
Usually when we talk about monitoring computer usage it is in relation to your children. There is no telling how much trouble a kid can get into on the internet these days. However, if your spouse is engaging in fraudulent behavior you should be keeping an eye on their computer usage as well.
If your spouse moves the home computer to a different location or if you notice that he or she is deleting recent website usage, then you are likely dealing with fraud. You should consider installing software on the computer that tracks where your spouse goes online. If you happen to see the names of financial websites where your spouse is browsing then take notes on the name so that you can provide it to your attorney when the time comes.
Keep an eye on your bank account and ask your spouse about any withdrawals
If your spouse has withdrawn money from your jointly held bank account then you should ask him or her where the money has gone. Do not assume that it was withdrawn for a legitimate reason. It’s sad that I am recommending to you that you assume that their behavior is not benign, but it would be foolish to continue to do that in the face of mounting evidence that your spouse is engaging in fraudulent behavior.
The next time you are accessing your bank account online it would make sense for you to ask your spouse about the whereabouts of money that has been withdrawn or deposited. Listen to their response and see if it passes the “makes sense” test. If their response jumps around from subject to subject and from explanation to explanation then he or she is not being honest with you.
Do not ignore any of the above behaviors
The simple truth is that most people are not good at hiding fraudulent behavior. You come into contact too much with your spouse for him or her to hide all signs of fraud. You may have to look closely at their habits or change in habits but you should not disregard what you notice. It is better to have an uncomfortable conversation early on and know how to act in response, than to live in self-imposed doubt due to your unwillingness to ask questions.
What conditions need to be in place for your spouse to commit fraud against you and your household?
It’s doubtful that your spouse is a life-long criminal. Usually when people commit crimes related to finances, he or she picks up on an opportunity to do so and attempts to take advantage of that opportunity. There is rarely an intent to do so again and again. But, one act of fraud is enough to destroy a marriage and harm your financial future in years to come. The following are my list of conditions that are usually in place when a person begins to act in a fraudulent manner:
Opportunity- if your spouse thinks that he or she can get away with whatever fraudulent behavior that they have planned, the odds of them following through increases. If you do not have financial conversations with your spouse, do not know any of the places where you have money, have no online access to bank, savings or investment accounts and are generally uninvolved with finances then your spouse has abundant opportunity to act badly.
Nobody wants to get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. If your mom would leave the house for days at a time when you were younger, odds are that you would succumb to temptation and grab a cookie if you had the inclination to do so already. Fraud within your marriage is not much different. If your spouse already had the inclination to act fraudulent, any opportunity that you present to him or her may be taken advantage of. If he or she travels for work then this only increases the chances in my opinion.
Is your spouse under pressure to be a financial “success?”
Society’s pressure on all of us is greater now than at any other time in modern history. Social media and the internet in general has brought our friends’ and families’ living rooms right into our fingertips. We can see just how everyone else lives in terms of their lifestyle. If someone buys a car, a house or goes on a fancy trip we see it. At least in the past we could just assume someone is doing well financially. Now we have pretty good proof everyday that someone is doing well from a money perspective.
If your spouse is talking more and more about other people and their financial successes then you should keep an eye out for their own behaviors surrounding fraud. Unless your spouse starts taking on double shifts or overtime at work, you should question where he or she is getting the money to buy items that you see in passing but never stay in the house for too long. He or she may be pressured by their own insecurities to do whatever it takes to keep up with the Jonses.
The irony to all of this is that it has never been easier to give someone the impression that you are doing well financially when in reality that is not the case at all. Credit cards, mortgages and car loans have never been easier to apply and be approved for. Your spouse is only human if he experiences jealousy or envy regarding the perceived successes of friends and family. However, acting upon those emotions in a fraudulent manner is illegal and can destroy your marriage.
If the ends justify the means to your spouse then fraud may not be too far behind
Your spouse may have gone over the scenarios in his mind a thousand times before deciding to hide assets from you or to apply for a credit card in your name. If he or she can justify their bad behavior then you can expect that they will follow through with their plans to take advantage of you and your family. There isn’t much you can to do influence their inner thought processes but I think it is helpful to discuss this nonetheless.
Questions about the impact of fraud on a divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your specific circumstances.