The divorce is over and the assets have been divided. You provided your attorney with all information concerning yours and your former spouse’s assets. What happens when you find hidden assets after the divorce decree is entered with the court?
In a recent unpublished opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered the issue of finding hidden assets after the conclusion of a divorce. In Zuba v. Zuba, No. A-1949-13T3 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Apr. 14, 2015), Patricia Hughes (formerly Patricia Zuba) discovered that her ex-husband had not been forthcoming with information concerning his assets. Unbeknownst to Patricia, Bernard Zuba was stashing money away in a Belize bank account. Bernard also became a landowner in Costa Rica during the course of his marriage to Patricia. Neither asset was revealed during the divorce proceedings.
The Zuba divorce concluded in January of 2011, after eleven years of marriage. The couple signed a Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”), based on the assets divulged by both parties. One of the conditions stated in the PSA was that both parties provided true information. Sometime later, Bernard Zuba confided to someone that his former wife was not aware of the Belize bank account or the Costa Rican property. It was never a part of the divorce negotiations.
In November 2012, Patricia learned of the hidden assets from Bernard’s confidant. Months later, Patricia filed a post-judgment motion seeking to set aside the original PSA. She cited the fact that she was not aware of the fact that her former husband had hidden assets from her. The lower court judge denied Patricia’s motion, finding that she “failed to establish a prima facie case of fraud.” This decision was based on the conflicting testimony of the “informant” and Bernard, himself.
When the New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed this matter, they determined that the facts of the case met a necessary threshold entitling her to open discovery and receive a plenary hearing. Discovery is a catchall phrase that merely means an exchange of information.
Importance of Finding Assets
It is often difficult to reopen a case subsequent to a divorce decree, particularly as it comes to equitable distribution. We encourage our clients to become knowledgeable of the fiduciary aspects of their marital household. In some instances, it may be necessary to secure investigative services when there is a potential for hidden assets.