Taxes: Tax Deadline Offers Spouses Way to Catch Partner Hiding Money

April 16 is National Divorce Day, according to Beverly Pekala, a Chicago divorce attorney who specializes in family law. She maintains that more people file for divorce the day after the federal tax deadline than any other day of the year.
“Money”, she said, “is at the heart of the problem.”

“That’s because on April 15, the deadline for federal tax returns to be filed, many spouses learn about a partner’s financial worth by latching onto his or her tax returns”, she said. “What I’ve learned, along with everyone else in this business, is that people wait until their taxes are filed to get a divorce,” Pekala said.

“Lots of times what happens, people who want a divorce come in right after the first of the year and ask their lawyer what they should be doing? Their lawyer tells them they need financial information and suggest they wait until their taxes are filed. Once their taxes are filed that gives us a starting place. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but it still a good place to start,” she said.

The tax information gives women, in particular, helpful information.”Even in this day an age I had a woman the other day that came in to see me about getting a divorce who told me, ‘I have no clue what my husband makes,'” Pekala said. “That’s not so strange because there are still women who take care of the house and kids and their husbands take care of the bills.”

“The problem today is that, with direct deposit, online checking, and payments and other paperless methods of hiding money, there is no longer a paper trail for the spouse who doesn’t pay attention to the financials,” she said.”I had a client who came in yesterday to see me with a joint tax return. I took a look at it and told her, ‘You didn’t tell me you owned property in Florida?’ Her reply was, ‘I don’t.’ ‘Yes you do,’ I told her, ‘according to your joint tax return.'”

Then there was the woman who was seeking a divorce and learned for the first time her husband was a high roller in Vegas. “On tax returns today, gambling winnings are shown. Casinos are required by law to report an individual’s winning to the IRS,” Pekala explained. “This client’s tax return showed that her husband had won substantial sums of money in Los Vegas. I said to the wife, ‘You must have enjoyed going to Vegas?’ ‘I’ve never gone to Vegas. I didn’t know anything about my husband having been there before,’ she told me.”

Ginita Wall, director of the Women’s Institute for Financial Education in San Diego, Calif., said Pekala’scomments ring true with her. “Oftentimes I’d find that people who were trying to hid financial information would get an extension and delay filing their tax returns until Oct. 15 to avoid having to produce the damning evidence.”

When an I.R.S. media relations spokesman in Washington, D.C., was asked about the divorce rate increasingthe day after the tax deadline, he was clueless. “It’s not something we track,” he said.

He wasn’t the only one flummoxed by Pekala’s opinions. Elizabeth Lehane, a divorce financial planner and tax consultant from Oakdale, N.Y., said, “I’ve been in the financial planning and tax business for 28 years, and April 16, the day after taxes are due, means nothing to me as far as an influx in divorces are concerned.”

Asked whether she felt, after 25 years as a divorce lawyer she had seen it all when it came to marital relations, Pekala said, “I woke up today and looked on Youtube and discovered someone had made a movie about their divorce. I knew then I hadn’t seen it all.”

About the authorDon Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald. He can be reached at