Q&A: I Believe My Spouse Hid Assets During Our Divorce. Can I Get Her Tax Returns Post-Judgment?

“My wife was a high paying executive and I think she hid money when we divorced. Can I get her tax returns post-judgment? If so, how? And what am I looking for exactly? And where do I look for it?”

This is a very good question. I am not a tax expert by any means. But this article on Forbes is very good because it really gives you indepth information about using the 1040 as a tool in your divorce. According to the author You want to check Schedules B (foreign bank accounts and foreign trusts), Schedule D (proceeds – capital gains and losses – from the sales of stocks and bonds and other assets) and schedule E (rental real estate, royalties, and partnership income).

My understanding is that post-judgment it will be difficult to get your hands on your ex’s tax returns going back or forward, say, more than 7 years, but there are circumstances where the court by motion could order the disclosure. For example, if you have minor children and child support is an issue (for example you want an upward modification) clearly you would need to see the tax returns post-judgment and the court is likely to grant any motion you file to that extent. If you show there was fraud and concealment with the judgment itself, you could also probably get the court to re-open the case after a divorce judgment has been entered.
Now. If none of those reasons for re-opening apply to your case, you may still be able to obtain the tax returns if you simply suspect hidden assets exist. According to Julian Block who is the author of the piece referenced above, tax preparers are required to keep copies of past tax returns for 3 years so you can start there if that time deadline has not expired to get a copy of the tax return. Otherwise for a small fee you can get a copy of your 1040 (up to seven years after filing) directly from the IRS and/or transcripts of jointly filed returns.

Getting tax returns filed after the judgment of divorce can get complicated too, especially if your spouse is remarried because if your spouse is filing jointly with their new spouse, that new spouse is entitled to some privacy from your prying eyes – although their right is not absolute. Push comes to shove, you can agree that the new spouse’s income will be redacted.
As a note of caution, do not focus solely on the tax return to unearth hidden assets. It is a great tool but there are other things to look at. This New York Law Journal article entitled Detecting Hidden Assets During Divorce is very useful. They discuss the use of technology, social media, and other means of finding hidden assets, and some of the pittfalls to avoid as well.

A person whose spouse successfully hides assets may be able to sue their divorce attorney for malpractice if a reasonable search during the divorce would have unearthed the hidden assets. So if all else fails, maybe the attorney’s insurer will be able to compensate you for the money you lost in their divorce – assuming that the tax return turns out to be a dead end for whatever the reason.