When going through a divorce, there are many questions that will keep you up at night. Can I make a life for myself and my children? How will this affect me financially? What is the best course of action? One question that may not cross your mind is how can I keep myself from getting scammed?
One of the most painful aspects of divorce is how emotionally vulnerable you are, and how much more easily someone with ill will towards you can use that to their advantage. Here are the top two ways that you can get scammed during a divorce, and our recommendations to keep this from happening.
Illegitimate legal sites
A very common scam in the legal field is one where scammers create a website that offers illegitimate legal support. This could include advertising “lawyers” or providing legal advice from people who have not actually graduated law school or passed the bar exam. It could be an offer to download DIY divorce paperwork, or a form to fill out personal information so that divorce papers can be served on your behalf. The catch here is that these “services” will always come with an upfront cost. And that cost may seem like a steal compared to quotes you may have heard from established legal practices. But in the end, these illegitimate sites are going to be stealing from you.
It may be tempting to try your luck on a site that offers full-service divorce representation and legal counsel for one low fee. But not only could you lose that money, depending on how much information you provide, you may also fall victim to additional scams that will use your personal information against you. Don’t get caught up in the idea that a DIY document is going to resolve your case satisfactorily, or a lawyer that charges a fraction of the standard costs is going to be legitimate. If a website has a name like makeyourdivorceeasydotcom, it’s probably not going to offer you legitimate legal counsel. And if an offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Your best course of action is to remain very critical of websites that offer any kind of DIY legal forms for a fee, or advertise “lawyers” who don’t have a record with the Washington State bar. That information is in public record so it is very easy to verify whether someone has a legitimate license and practice.
The best way to protect yourself from this type of fraud is to hire a lawyer from an established firm, preferably one that has experience in handling divorces and a good record with their clients. When you hire an excellent lawyer, you are making an investment, not just in the resolution of your case, but in your future wellbeing.
Financial fraud by your ex
Another common type of scam involves a contentious ex concealing assets or misrepresenting their income. If left uncovered, this can lead to them retaining a disproportionate share of your assets, essentially scamming you out of finances that are rightfully yours.
Assets can be concealed in a variety of ways. They can be hidden within the workings of a small business. They may take the form of extravagant “gifts” or loans to family members who are on your spouse’s side. Your ex may “forget” to declare assets such as life insurance policies, trusts, or stock options and other employee benefits.
Dissipation of assets can also occur during a divorce, which is when an ex wastes assets without your knowledge or consent. This can take the form of excessive gambling, sudden extravagant purchases or vacations, or failing to maintain marital property or residences. If you aren’t already in the habit of reviewing joint spending, it’s time to start. Pay close attention if large amounts of money go missing from shared accounts. This type of behavior can harm you financially in both the short and long term. If you notice your ex’s behavior around money becoming more secretive, they are unwilling to discuss sudden financial decisions, or can’t explain disappearing money, it’s time to get a divorce attorney on your side!
Your ex may also try to convince you they will manage everything in the divorce fairly and then coerce you into signing an agreement that cuts you out of benefits you deserve. While this is not necessarily fraud, this is still manipulating you and scamming you out of benefits that a judge may rule as fairly yours. How your ex treated finances within your marriage is a clue to how they’ll treat them in your divorce. If they maintained tight control over family finances while you were married, they may try to continue this behavior to harm or manipulate you. Again, your best course of action is to engage a lawyer on your own and have them review all legal documents before you sign them. Your lawyer is better equipped to pick up on details that may go unnoticed by you but have a negative financial impact on your future.
Other forms of financial fraud that can affect your divorce are frauds involving taxes, loans, and insurance. If you discover proof of fraud or debt racking up, notice joint bank accounts being emptied, or find that legal paperwork for your home or business goes missing, then you may need to get a forensic accounting professional involved to support your case. Even if you just have a hunch, involving an expert trained in uncovering financial fraud is a smart move.
Even if you have an amicable relationship with your ex, you can best protect yourself by hiring an established divorce attorney and working closely with them to determine all shared assets that will need to be split during the divorce.
Torrone Law has been serving families and fighting for their needs for ten years. We are on your side and will work with you to represent your case and fight for a fair resolution. Schedule a free consultation and learn more about how investing in us is an investment in your financial future.