What Should I Do If My Spouse Claims They Don't Really Own Something (When I Know They Do)?
In Michigan, when a divorce court divides property, it first must determine whether the property is marital property, which should be divided equally between the spouses (hereinafter referred to as "the parties" or "a party") or separate. which should remain the property of only the owner party. The legal definition of marital property is very broad and it encompasses generally anything that is earned or otherwise comes into the hands of either party during the marriage. Separate property is limited by statute to property inherited by one party and kept separate, gifts to one party kept separate and property owned by one party before the marriage (premarital property) that has been kept separate,
However, occasionally, one party attempts to claim that he or she does not even own the property but rather the party has conveyed the interest in the property (given away, sold, traded, or transferred by land contract for example) to someone else (often a friend or relative). Another such typical tactic is to claim that the party never really owned the property in the first place like a parent or a claim the parent gave it to other siblings but not the party. The type of person who does this unfortunately suffers from the "smartest person in the room" issue as he or she is more clever than anyone who has ever been divorced since people first started marrying and divorcing. It virtually always ends in disaster for those who engage in such actions prior to or during a divorce.
When something such as this occurs, the court has very broad powers to properly deal with such shenanigans. First, the court may look at all of the facts to determine whether the property is marital and how the property is titled (in both names, in the name of one of the parties or someone else) is irrelevant. Second, a attorney that is well-versed in general civil procedure as well as family law knows that by filing a simple motion to join the alleged "owner" of the property, to the divorce case, the court gains jurisdiction over that property and the alleged "owner". Now this person will have to hire an attorney, appear in court and attempt to defend what is often a ludicrous claim that this person is actually the owner despite all of the facts pointing to the opposite conclusions. The most likely outcome is that the court will award the innocent spouse a greater portion of the asset than the court would have awarded to the innocent spouse up to an including one hundred percent (100%) of the asset but for the attempt at deception. The court will likely also award the innocent spouse all attorney fees and costs relating to proving the farce was a farce.
When something like this occurs there are at least three very important things to remember: (1) the aggrieved party should immediately contact a good divorce lawyer as soon as she or he suspects that the other spouse may be transferring property as described above, (2) the party should be prepared for a protracted litigation and (3) while the process may be slow, if you fight with the right attorney you will win in the end. If you have any questions regarding divorce, property division or other family law issues, please do not hesitate to call my assistant, Cathy, at (248) 608-4132 to schedule a consultation or schedule a consultation through my web site.