Unfortunately, not every marriage results in a happy-ever-after. Official records have shown that in the UK there were 111,934 opposite-sex divorces in 2021, which was a 9.3% increase compared to 2020. Overall, the cumulative percentage of marriages ending in divorce before reaching their 25th anniversary has steadily risen to 41%.
When marriages encounter challenges and ultimately break down, a multitude of legal complexities can arise, making the resolution of crucial matters, such as the fair division of assets, increasingly intricate. Consequently, these complexities often give rise to protracted and demanding matrimonial disputes, resulting in substantial costs in terms of both legal fees and time.
In such disputes, setting aside the involvement of children, it is crucial to prioritise fairness by ensuring an impartial distribution of assets and wealth between both partners in accordance with UK law and guidelines. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for assets to be covertly hidden, diverted, or concealed over time without the knowledge of the other spouse, making it exceedingly challenging for the affected party to receive their fair entitlement.
These concealed assets may encompass various forms, including properties, valuable commodities like gold and precious metals, vehicles, and more recently, even cryptocurrencies.
Given that locating and tracing assets can be a time consuming and costly process, lawyers will often employ investigators to assist in litigation on behalf of clients embroiled in these disputes.
What can be done?
The fundamental objective of any investigation is to seek justice, and this holds true in the context of matrimonial disputes. In family law, the act of concealing or failing to disclose assets is not only unethical but can have serious legal consequences.
Such actions represent a breach of the duty of full and frank disclosure, which is a legal requirement during divorce proceedings. If it is determined that either party has deliberately been untruthful, this may even lead to criminal proceedings being initiated against that individual under the Fraud Act 2006.
Asset tracing is a catch-all term used to describe the processes and techniques investigators use to locate assets belonging to an individual or entity. Most asset traces follow a two-step process:
- Remote desktop research - Investigators use open and closed source data to compile evidence of assets belonging to an individual or entry. This will include in depth research regarding linked properties and companies/businesses linked and owned by this individual. This will often be conducted in conjunction with an enhanced due-diligence investigation to build a comprehensive profile of the individual, their associates, online footprint, and their lifestyle.
- In-region enquiries - Investigators complete discreet enquiries, such as obtaining copies of corporate files, in the country or countries subject to the asset trace- this will often include cross border enquiries. Investigators may also meet with human sources, to assist in identifying where assets may be hidden. In some cases, and where proportionate and legal, covert investigation may be considered.
Asset tracing involves locating assets that are the subject of a dispute or legal action. This can also include tracing the flow of assets through complex financial transactions. To effectively navigate this intricate process, the expertise of forensic accountants is often enlisted due to their specialised knowledge and skills in uncovering hidden financial information.
With the growing mainstream adoption of cryptocurrency, individuals increasingly turn to it for diversifying their wealth or potentially concealing assets and funds. This trend extends beyond criminal activities and encompasses various legal scenarios, including litigation and matrimonial disputes. To address these situations effectively, it is crucial to engage expert investigators capable of tracing crypto assets and establishing connections with specific individuals.
In cases where clients are aware of their spouse storing funds in cryptocurrency, it is essential to determine whether these funds are stored in a custodial or non-custodial wallet. Custodial wallets involve a third party holding the private keys, such as an exchange, while non-custodial wallets entail the crypto owner retaining custody of the keys, either through warm or cold storage methods. This distinction influences the type of tracing that can be performed.
Notably, if the wallet in question is non-custodial, it is highly recommended that the client obtains the wallet address or any associated addresses to aid in the tracing process. This information allows investigators to accurately trace digital assets across the blockchain, identify linked addresses, locate hidden assets, and ascertain whether any assets have been transferred to an exchange, potentially for cashing out or converting to another cryptocurrency or NFT.
We provide our clients the ability to visualise the flow of funds, and make it easier for the courts to understand where digital assets have gone. We offer evidential packages in an easy-to-understand format to ensure that time-sensitive asset tracing exercises are conducted efficiently. Investigative strategies typically involve traditional evidence gathering, specialist analytical tools, and tracing transactions through the blockchain to identify wallets and assess cashing out activities. Active monitoring of wallets containing stolen or hidden funds is also important.
Lifestyle and Covert Surveillance
Employing a combination of open and closed source research platforms, along with credit and consented databases, offers a valuable means to construct an extensive profile of an individual, shedding light on their personal information and associated assets.
These assets encompass various aspects, including properties, businesses, and conspicuous displays of wealth, such as publicly advertised extravagant holidays, fine dining experiences, and ownership of luxury items like designer clothing, watches, and jewellery. Despite the comprehensive nature of these sources, there are instances where they fail to provide a complete understanding of the individual's financial situation.
In such cases, and where it is believed that the court may be being mislead, in liaison with the legal team, covert enquiries may be required to identify hidden assets that may not be evident through conventional means. By discreetly monitoring the individual's activities and interactions, investigators can gain valuable insights into undisclosed assets that may be intentionally concealed or omitted from public records.
Covert surveillance can also supplement the information gathered through research platforms and databases. It allows investigators to observe the individual's lifestyle and financial behaviour firsthand, unveiling any clandestine transactions, secret holdings, or undisclosed assets that may be crucial to the investigation. By utilising covert surveillance investigators can bridge the gap between the information obtained from public sources and the hidden aspects of an individual's financial profile.
Ensuring any covert investigation is conducted properly, legally and proportionally, is of utmost importance. Close liaison with the legal team will be vital prior to considering any covert investigation, to ensure this is solely focussed on assisting the court.
Counter Surveillance measures
Matrimonial disputes are not always just about discovering assets, they can also involve a far more sinister dimension where partners or ex partners fear that they are being recorded, monitored, or followed by their spouse and in turn breaching their privacy and right to a private life, or using information to leverage the case. In some cases, the client may be blackmailed or other demands made with the information obtained.
In this scenario certain other measures are required to counter concerns regarding breaches in data privacy and exposure concerns (and to be conducted properly, legally and proportionally, in close liaison with the legal team). Such tactics can include:
Technical Surveillance Counter measures (TSCM) Sweep - This involves checking for any compromises through a TSCM sweep of properties and vehicles along with an examination of a client’s devices or connectivity. This would be performed by investigators to identify any passive eaves dropping devices such any monitoring devices, trackers, video, or audio recording devices. Furthermore, personal devices would undergo scrutiny to assess information security (infosec) and access (e.g., Wi-Fi) for potential vulnerabilities, malware, or compromises.
Counter Surveillance - Whilst TSCM is designed to look for any technical surveillance or exposure a client may face from technical devices, this would not identify conventional surveillance (third party operatives or surveillance teams who would observe and follow the client). This process involves various tried and tested counter tactics such as:
- Covertly visiting the client address to identify any surveillance teams.
- When the client leaves the property, observing any potential surveillance operatives following them (key tells or techniques can be identified by previously trained operatives).
- Considering identifying vehicle trackers deployed on the client’s vehicles.
- Writing witness statements and producing imagery and other evidence to support the court.
Surveillance and counter-surveillance can be intricate and demanding. It is a fluid process that requires careful planning and patience. When carried out effectively, it can serve as crucial tool in bolstering litigation and resolving matrimonial disputes.
The goal of litigation in matrimonial disputes is to reach a fair settlement for all parties involved. However, if there are concerns about hidden assets or suspicious activities, it is crucial to seek the guidance and expertise of professionals. AnotherDay has a proven track record of effectively assisting numerous matrimonial cases, employing their specialised skills in asset and cryptocurrency tracing, as well as surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques.