Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You

Financial Abuse: Who's hiding money and why?

January 04, 2024 Attorney Billie Tarascio
Financial Abuse: Who's hiding money and why?
Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You
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Modern Divorce - The Do-Over For A Better You
Financial Abuse: Who's hiding money and why?
Jan 04, 2024
Attorney Billie Tarascio

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Is your Soon To Be Ex hiding money or keeping you from having access to it?

Look, we know domestic violence is abuse. But what about when one spouse keeps the other from having access to money, including some or all accounts, along with hiding statements, credit cards and bills.

It's called financial abuse, and it plays a part in many a divorce. In today's episode of the Modern Divorce Podcast, Arizona family law attorney and host Billie Tarascio, and New York attorney Lisa Zeiderman, talk about how to spot financial abuse, and what can be done about it.

Pro tip: for those who have not yet filed their divorce, the differences between how New York and Arizona (and many other states) treat financial calculations for child support and alimony, aka spousal support, is very different, and it can make a difference in the outcome of one spouse's financial status over the other at the end of a divorce. If you have your foot in two states, and not sure where to file for divorce, listen in to find out more.

To connect with Lisa, whose lawfirm specializes in the equitable distribution of marital assets, drop by her website at LisaZeiderman.com

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Is your Soon To Be Ex hiding money or keeping you from having access to it?

Look, we know domestic violence is abuse. But what about when one spouse keeps the other from having access to money, including some or all accounts, along with hiding statements, credit cards and bills.

It's called financial abuse, and it plays a part in many a divorce. In today's episode of the Modern Divorce Podcast, Arizona family law attorney and host Billie Tarascio, and New York attorney Lisa Zeiderman, talk about how to spot financial abuse, and what can be done about it.

Pro tip: for those who have not yet filed their divorce, the differences between how New York and Arizona (and many other states) treat financial calculations for child support and alimony, aka spousal support, is very different, and it can make a difference in the outcome of one spouse's financial status over the other at the end of a divorce. If you have your foot in two states, and not sure where to file for divorce, listen in to find out more.

To connect with Lisa, whose lawfirm specializes in the equitable distribution of marital assets, drop by her website at LisaZeiderman.com

Announcer: [00:00:00] We hope you enjoy this episode of the Modern Divorce podcast, but first, an important message for our listeners. 

Billie Tarascio:  Hi there, listeners. I'm Billie Tarascio, the owner of Modern Law, and I'm here to talk to you about something that I believe can truly make a difference in people's lives. At Modern Law, we're all about helping individuals navigate the complexities of family law, That involves dealing with alcohol related issues.

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Billie Tarascio: I am joined today by Lisa Ziderman, partner at Miller Ziderman LLP, New York attorney. And today we've got a fascinating topic that we're going to talk about financial abuse. Lisa, welcome to the show.

Lisa Zeiderman: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Billie. 

Billie Tarascio: Absolutely. I'm happy to have you here. So tell me a little bit about your background.

Lisa Zeiderman: Sure. So I actually started my firm 10 years ago. It's now 10 years plus, and we are a firm located in Manhattan and in Westchester, and we are 20 plus attorneys, 24 attorneys actually, [00:02:00] um, who focus on matrimonial and family law. Prior to being a matrimonial attorney, I had gone through my own divorce, and prior to that, I had been in the fashion business, believe it or not.

Lisa Zeiderman: So, um, a little bit of a wind-y road, but I, um, I'm here now, and very focused on helping people get through their divorces and custody, um, issues, etc. Awesome, awesome. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay, so talk to me about how you would define financial abuse. 

Lisa Zeiderman: Sure. So, uh, you know, we see financial abuse as literally, um, a person not having access to the finances.

Lisa Zeiderman: And that means not just being able to have access to the actual um, dollars, okay, but also not having transparency as to what there is in terms of resources. So not having access to financial statements or access to the credit card [00:03:00] statements or to the banking statements, retirement statements. It's not actually being able to understand or see the tax returns.

Lisa Zeiderman: They may be given a tax return to sign, but they are, um, maybe given only the signature page and not the entire tax return. So it is about access and transparency and frankly, the lack thereof and control. And the control being that, um, someone is trying to control you and they are doing that by controlling your access to.

Lisa Zeiderman: finances and to the information regarding your finances. Sure. So is that illegal? So it's not illegal. It may be abusive and as a result of being abusive, it may actually be something that in during a divorce is an issue and may be an issue in terms of how finances are divided, but it is not necessarily [00:04:00] illegal.

Lisa Zeiderman: Um, it could be something that could have been resolved legally if someone had actually entered into a prenup or a postnup or one of those types of agreements, but it isn't illegal for your spouse to be putting his or her income into his or her account. It isn't illegal for them to, um, be cutting credit cards off, et cetera, unless of course you're proceeding through a divorce.

Lisa Zeiderman: And then there may be, um, automatic orders, et cetera, that make it illegal for them to actually cut you off or to move assets or to do some of those things. Um, but. You know, this is why you need to be on the same page with your spouse and understand that this is a financial partnership. Because it's not necessarily whether it's legal or not, it's whether it's appropriate or not.

Lisa Zeiderman: And it's definitely not appropriate. Sure, right. 

Billie Tarascio: Um, but what if this is just how a couple does things? They just keep things separate. This is just how they 

Lisa Zeiderman: operate. [00:05:00] So it's not just about keeping them separate, right? It is, if you and your spouse have decided you're going to keep your finances separate, and you've made that decision consciously, and you have your accounts and your spouse has their accounts, well that's fine.

Lisa Zeiderman: And that's your decision of how you're going to run your household. The issue becomes, and remember we talked about control, when one spouse determines that this is how they're going to operate, and the other spouse is not on board. Then this can become an issue of abuse. Right, so if one spouse determines that I'm going to not only put my income into the account, but maybe I'm taking your income also, and then I'm going to give you what I deem to be the allowance, okay?

Lisa Zeiderman: If you don't find that acceptable, or even if perhaps you've come to the point where you're willing to go along with it because you feel you have no choice, that is when it becomes abusive. Mm hmm. Yeah, 

Billie Tarascio: so one of the things I love about having lawyers on from other jurisdictions is talking about how your [00:06:00] jurisdiction handles this issue versus how Arizona handles this issue.

Billie Tarascio: Because I'll tell you, in Arizona, if you don't like the way your spouse handles money, your option is to leave. 

Lisa Zeiderman: That's basically the option in New York too, okay? That's exactly right. And, and many times people come to us years later and they say this has gone on for so many years. And we say, well, Why didn't you leave?

Lisa Zeiderman: Right? So that may be the option. The problem with financial abuse is that somebody may not have that option to leave. Somebody may not be in that situation where they can leave because they just don't even have the financial wherewithal to actually walk out the door and or, or to go get an attorney or to, um, do any of those things.

Lisa Zeiderman: So it may be a situation where they are being physically or emotionally abused because they are in such a a situation where they are being financially abused and left with no choice but to, frankly, put up with that, with those other forms of abuse. So, it's not that [00:07:00] New York is any different than Arizona in the sense that, yes, your option is to leave.

Lisa Zeiderman: The problem is you may not be able to leave. Right. And 

Billie Tarascio: so, in Arizona, financial abuse might be considered by a judge Um, along with other forms of abuse, but I don't think in Arizona that a judge would even care. about financial abuse absent other evidence of abuse. Is that similar to what you've experienced?

Lisa Zeiderman: So it is similar to what we're, we have experienced. However, I believe that there is now much more information and there is starting to be legislation in New York about financial abuse. So, you know, it's not that many years ago, which is only a few years ago, actually, where, um, Support and equitable distribution and, and, and the issue of physical or emotional abuse, um, became linked together.

Lisa Zeiderman: And that, um, one of the considerations, one of the factors in equitable distribution and [00:08:00] spousal support is whether abuse has occurred. Wow. So I think that Um, you know, we are now on that, that particular road, and I think that the next, I believe this, that the next thing that people will look at is this issue of financial abuse.

Lisa Zeiderman: Look, you know, I have cases where people make millions and millions of dollars, and frankly, then they aren't helpful to their spouses who may be going through forms of cancer or, um, having to take care of the children or cutting them off, right? And yet, you know, what, what other kinds of, what worse kind of abuse can there be at that point?

Lisa Zeiderman: Um, yes, we are not talking about somebody who's taking a sledgehammer and, and hitting somebody over the head, which used to be, by the way, You know, even that might not have risen to the level of more spousal support or equitable distribution, but the courts have started to change that, and now it doesn't need to be the sledgehammer or something worse.

Lisa Zeiderman: And so I think financial abuse is, is now, um, much [00:09:00] more of a discussion point, and I also think it will be much more of a, um, discussion point in the courthouses as well, and likely will become a factor in the future. That is so interesting 

Billie Tarascio: and very, very different than how our jurisdiction treats these issues.

Billie Tarascio: So in Arizona, it's no fault. Property is divided without regards to fault per statute. So even if we can prove that someone created physical damage or caused damages, we are not able to get a different, um, division of property based on grounds of fault. So tell me, 

Lisa Zeiderman: go ahead. So it's not fault that actually we are looking at because we are in no fault state as well.

Lisa Zeiderman: However, it is, um, there is definitely something now in the statute where we are looking at abuse because that abuse may have actually caused someone not to be able to work or not to be able to, to, [00:10:00] um, you know, grow in terms of a career, etc. And so yes, that is now a factor that the court is looking at.

Lisa Zeiderman: Not so much as. as grounds for divorce, okay, which is false in my mind, right, but more as a very targeted um, way of looking at this particular issue, domestic violence. That's such an 

Billie Tarascio: interesting idea because in Arizona we've got the statute says properties divided without regards to fault or misconduct.

Billie Tarascio: Um, equitably. We're a community property state. You guys are not community, 

Lisa Zeiderman: right? We are not community property. Okay. But 

Billie Tarascio: nevertheless, the law still says that equitable is not always equal, and it might not be equal if you can show why. And it would be very interesting to present what are other jurisdictions doing with regards to equitability when there is abuse.

Lisa Zeiderman: Yep. And I, I, I agree. And, um, domestic [00:11:00] violence is definitely now being looked at as part of that in New York. Wow. 

Billie Tarascio: Okay. So tell me a little bit, give me some examples of what you're 

Lisa Zeiderman: seeing. Well, you know, this is the very beginning stages. Okay. And keep in mind that we went through COVID. So there was a lot of backlog in terms of the court system because of COVID.

Lisa Zeiderman: But I think generally the courts are starting to look at. What was the domestic violence? Was somebody unable to build a career, to go back to school, to, you know, to even, um, get out of the house, okay? What was the domestic violence that we're talking about? Was somebody really beaten up or? verbally abused to the point where there is post traumatic stress disorders, etc.

Lisa Zeiderman: And the court will look at that and they will perhaps adjust equitable distribution upward or downward, as the case may be, or give more spousal support because these are factors that the court must look at. Okay, so what 

Billie Tarascio: are the um, what is the specific factor? 

Lisa Zeiderman: So the specific factor would be actually [00:12:00] domestic violence.

Lisa Zeiderman: Got it. Got it. That is the factor. Okay, 

Billie Tarascio: very interesting. Now talk to me about spousal maintenance. How is spousal maintenance determined and do you call it spousal maintenance? We 

Lisa Zeiderman: do, we call it spousal maintenance, spousal support, um, we call it alimony still in New York too, um, but essentially it is determined based upon a series of factors, including the age, the health of the parties, um, you know, whether one party has, um, has basically, um, given up a career for, to, to support other people in the household, perhaps, um, you know, pair, elderly parents, et cetera, um, et cetera.

Lisa Zeiderman: key items such as the lifestyle. Lifestyle is very, very important in terms of determining um, spousal support. What were the party's lifestyles? What's the income and the earning potential for each of the parties? These are all the different factors and there's actually a series of factors. Um, these are all factors that the court looks at, um, in determining spousal support.

Lisa Zeiderman: The length of the marriage, that's very important, um, in determining the [00:13:00] duration of spousal support. So those are all important factors. Okay, 

Billie Tarascio: so one interesting thing is that we had the same thing up until about 

Lisa Zeiderman: a year ago. 

Billie Tarascio: And, what is, yeah, it was, it was roughly a year ago that our, our statute changed.

Billie Tarascio: And, um, the statute directed the courts to come up with guidelines. And we now have a calculator that is just like the child support calculator that only looks at Income of party one, income of party two, family size, and what's the principal payment on your house. That's it. And then it spits out this range.

Billie Tarascio: And in Arizona, we are now required to submit the spousal maintenance calculator with every single decree just like we would spousal support or child support. And the reason I think that this happened is because even though we had all these factors, the same factors that you're describing, we [00:14:00] found Judges were ordering smaller and smaller and fewer and fewer years of spousal maintenance.

Billie Tarascio: So tell me about what you're seeing judges do with spousal maintenance orders when they have that huge discretion. 

Lisa Zeiderman: So it's, so let me just be clear. We also have that calculator. Oh, and Yes, we do. Okay. So we have the calculator. However, and this is where, um, the lifestyle is so important. Um, we also, in addition to that, the court has the discretion to go above and beyond the, um, the, the calculator.

Lisa Zeiderman: And so do you have that ability? Does the court have that ability to go above and beyond? Only if they 

find 

Billie Tarascio: a deviation 

Lisa Zeiderman: is warranted. And isn't the deviation, um, warranted a great deal of the time? Well, it's brand new. Like, 

Billie Tarascio: it only went into effect, like, in June. So the legislature changed last September, you know, so 15 [00:15:00] months ago.

Billie Tarascio: And then we only just started using the calculator. But the calculator is so much more spousal maintenance than we ever saw judges give. 

Lisa Zeiderman: Oh, well, that's interesting. So the spousal for us, it's just the opposite. Wow. Okay. So the calculator is so less, so much less. So that's probably the difference here. So yes.

Lisa Zeiderman: Um, you know, remember it's New York. Right? And it's very expensive to live in New York, certainly in Manhattan, in Westchester County, and a lot of the other adjoining counties. And so, um, you know, given that, and given the lifestyle that people are, um, actually have had, some for many, many years, Um, the calculator would be way different and there would be really a windfall, frankly, um, in terms of the other spouse, the moneyed spouse, okay, would get a huge windfall if the calculator [00:16:00] was actually what was, what was used.

Lisa Zeiderman: And that's Wow. 

Billie Tarascio: That is so interesting. And the reason this is really important is because sometimes people have options on where to file. Sometimes. People get to choose. Do I file in this jurisdiction or this jurisdiction? I could qualify for either. And you really want to know how each of these states treats every issue that is relevant 

Lisa Zeiderman: to you.

Lisa Zeiderman: So that's true. Although I will say that we, you know, it's interesting. So sometimes even in New York, you have a different, um, jurisdiction. Maybe you have a house, for example, out in the Hamptons and then an apartment in Manhattan, and you're going to decide whether or not you're going to, um, where you're going to file.

Lisa Zeiderman: But the courts are very careful now, and there was a case that came down about this, just this particular issue, is, um, is what, um, where somebody actually resides. as opposed to what their [00:17:00] weekend home is, for example, and they've decided to go out to Suffolk County, where they may be living very high, frankly, um, in terms of having a Hamptons house, or something that's equivalent, a Montauk home, or something, and then filing out there, um, because they feel like they're going to get a better chance of paying less spousal support than they will in Manhattan.

Lisa Zeiderman: So the courts are very, um, aware of that, and I think that that's very important, actually. Mm hmm. 

Billie Tarascio: Yeah, that is so interesting. I know that this came up in Kelly Clarkson's divorce because she and her husband lived in Montana, but she ended up getting her divorce in California. And then I think she's paying something like 200, 000 a month in child support for dad who has limited parenting time in Montana, and had she done that planning in advance when she also used to live in Montana, it probably would have been a very different number.

Lisa Zeiderman: [00:18:00] Yep, that's correct. I want to go back because I want to read you the exact factor, actually, about the physical abuse. So, acts that have inhibited or continue to inhibit a spouse's earning capacity or ability to obtain meaningful employment, that's one of the factors that we use, and that could be such as acts that could include physical abuse.

Lisa Zeiderman: And so that's a place, for example, that people actually look at that. And then, as I said, the other, um, the other factors, are the income and property that each party would get. So maybe somebody has a lot of separate property or big inheritance. That could be a factor in determining spousal support for the other party.

Lisa Zeiderman: Um, the length of the marriage, the age and the health of the parties, the present and future earning capacity of both the parties, the need of one party to incur education or training expenses so that they could actually be able to work, um, the existence and the duration of a premarital cohabitation. or a pre divorce, separate habitation, acts that inhibited or [00:19:00] continue to inhibit a spouse's earning capacity or ability to obtain meaningful employment, the ability of the spouse seeking maintenance to become self supporting and how long any training would take, um, reduced or Um, lost lifetime earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance as a result of having forgone or delayed education, um, training, employment, or career opportunities during the marriage, um, where the children live, the need to care for other, for family members other the children, other than the children, such as, um, and I had talked about this, adult children, um, there may be children who have some, um, challenges, etc.

Lisa Zeiderman: Stepchildren, elderly parents or in laws, inability of a spouse to obtain meaningful employment due to age or absence from the workforce, um, a need to pay for exceptional additional expenses, tax consequences, um, the equitable distribution of the actual. Marital property, the contributions of each spouse, such as [00:20:00] homemaker, wage earner, wasteful dissipation of property, which is also kind of may go to that financial abuse type of area.

Lisa Zeiderman: If somebody was out gambling or, you know, drugs or other women or other men, etc. Um, that may be something that could be a consideration, um, loans that actually have to take, you know, that took place without fair consideration. Somebody moved, um, monies around, um, the loss of health insurance, and then any other factor that the court finds to be just and proper.

Lisa Zeiderman: And so that any other factor could be very broad. 

Billie Tarascio: So, can I just ask, in general, if you had to guess what percentage of someone's gross income they might be looking at for spousal maintenance, what might be a range that might happen? 

Lisa Zeiderman: So, when you say, ask me that question again, please, just so I can answer it.

Lisa Zeiderman: [00:21:00] So, 

Billie Tarascio: um, what percentage of gross income might be ordered for maintenance?

Lisa Zeiderman: Perhaps a third. Um, it depends, but perhaps a third. I mean, in that range, that's a possibility. Um, it depends. It's not so much a percentage of the income as it is the lifestyle, right? That's really the, the question. Did these people live a very high lifestyle? That is definitely one consideration. So, you know, as I said, New York is expensive.

Lisa Zeiderman: I have no idea what the lifestyle is in Arizona. But in Westchester County, for example, Um, houses in certain areas are going to be in the many millions of dollars, and for someone to be able to afford a home for their family, um, it's going to be expensive. Rents in New York City, they are expensive. Um, you know, try getting a three bedroom home in Manhattan.

Lisa Zeiderman: I mean, you are, you are going to be talking a great deal of [00:22:00] money, and you may be So the court has to look at all of that, including the other responsibilities of the parent, are they paying for private school, are they, what is the child support that's going to be ordered. Now, you know, after you figure out the spouse's support, remember, but now they are looking at that as income to the other spouse, so there may be an adjustment for child support based upon that too.

Billie Tarascio: Yes, absolutely. Um, very, very interesting. And so when you are doing, just to go to the property for a minute, so when you're doing an equitable distribution and you can prove some of these other factors, what type of a split might you expect the court to make? 

Lisa Zeiderman: So, I usually start with thinking that something is going to be 50 50.

Lisa Zeiderman: Um, because that is, you know, if you have a fairly long marriage and you have, um, children, that's likely going to be the split. That being said, there could be separate property, there may be business, um, business assets, and those are not [00:23:00] necessarily 50 50, those could be. anywhere from 25 percent to 50%, which would be very rare for the 50%.

Lisa Zeiderman: Um, you know, you're probably more like in the 25 to 35 percent for a person who is not titled to the business and it was not worked in the business. Um, you know, perhaps the business existed before. Perhaps we're only talking about the appreciation of the business. I mean, these are such, um, there are such variations, which is why you need legal counsel, frankly, that is, um, versed in all of this, because each and every case is really different.

Lisa Zeiderman: These are not cookie cutter situations, and you need to look at the various facts that are involved. Got it. 

Billie Tarascio: Wonderful. Well, Lisa, thank you so much for taking this time to talk with me and our listeners about financial abuse, spousal maintenance issues, property division issues. It's been fantastic. And we'll make sure that people have access to your information.

Billie Tarascio: [00:24:00] You are licensed to practice in 

Lisa Zeiderman: New York. Connecticut as well. Connecticut as well. Awesome. 

Billie Tarascio: Wonderful. Thank you so much for coming 

Lisa Zeiderman: on the show. 

Billie Tarascio: Thank you. Thanks so much for listening to the Modern Divorce Podcast. Remember, anything you've heard today or anything you read online is not the replacement for actual consultation with an 

Lisa Zeiderman: attorney 

Billie Tarascio: and does not create an attorney client relationship.

Billie Tarascio: Even if you called in and we spoke to you, 

Lisa Zeiderman: you are anonymous and we don't have your details and you have not 

Billie Tarascio: become a client of Modern Law. However, we would love to speak with you or you should seek out the advice of legal counsel or any other expert near you. And if you have an 

Lisa Zeiderman: idea for a show topic or you need to speak with an attorney in Arizona, 

Billie Tarascio: you can reach me at info, I N F O, at 

Lisa Zeiderman: mymodernlaw.

Lisa Zeiderman: com.