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Electronic Discovery Makes Following the Money Easier in a Divorce

"Follow the money" has become a popular expression in American life. It can, of course, apply in many different contexts.

One of those is division of marital property in a divorce case.

A common problem in making that division is spouses who hide assets. Such concealment of marital money doesn't have to be in an exotic Swiss bank account. It could be a perfectly ordinary fund with a brokerage or other financial entity.

A spouse who handles the family money may be especially tempted to make a surreptitious stash - particularly if trust has eroded and the marital breakup has turned bitter.

Now, however, electronic tools are making improper hiding of assets easier to detect. To be sure, forensic accountants and investigators have long had tools and methods to ferret out illicitly kept funds.

But the new electronic toolbox is considerably more comprehensive. Electronic discovery can discover remarkable information from smartphone phones and other digital devices.

A few years ago, no one would have had a GPS-equipped phone with them when making an unauthorized withdrawal from an ATM. Today, though, that is increasingly the case. And the GPS information could lead to the withdrawal becoming known during discovery in a divorce case.

In short, the old paper trail formerly used to follow the money has gone digital. And the result is much more transparency - and far less ability to get away with hiding assets or funneling payments to a new mistress or paramour.

Many issues of personal privacy remain unresolved, however, as soon-to-be-ex-spouses turn new electronic tools against each other. For example, just because both spouses use the same family computer doesn't mean it's okay to use a spouse's password to get into his or her e-mail.

Source: "Why Hiding Money From Your Spouse Has Gotten a Lot Harder," Veronica Dagher, Wall Street Journal, 4-30-12

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