Addressing Assets Omitted from Your Original Divorce
Once a Colorado divorce case is filed, the law requires that both spouses make full and honest disclosure of all of their assets and debts to the other. If one spouse suspects that the other is hiding information, there are a variety of tools available to obtain the information during the divorce process. The system is designed to ensure that all such information is brought forth during the original divorce, so that all financial issues may be fully and finally resolved at that time.
However, despite all of the protections in place, divorces are sometime finalized based on incomplete and/or inaccurate financial information. This can occur when an unscrupulous spouse was successful in hiding assets while the case was in progress. Other times, both parties had good intentions, but simply neglected to consider all of their financial issues. (Unfortunately, this is especially common when parties represent themselves during their divorce, without the assistance of an attorney.)
If you believe that your divorce was finalized without addressing all of the financial circumstances in existence at that time, you may wish to consult with an attorney about the possibility of reopening your case.
You should be aware, though, that reopening a final divorce decree can be complicated, for several reasons:
First, the Court recognizes that finality is important in the divorce process, so that both spouses can have peace of mind and move forward with their lives. Therefore, the Court will be reluctant to revisit your final orders without a compelling reason.
There are also rules restricting when a request to reopen a case can be made. In general, the Court can retain jurisdiction over the division of assets and debts for 5 years to address significant omissions and/or misrepresentations of financial information. However, there are other legal tools that may be useful in your situation that have much shorter deadlines. (The sooner the issue is addressed, the more options you may have!)
Finally, if you and your spouse entered into a Separation Agreement at the time of your divorce, it must scrutinized carefully before you proceed. It is possible that it includes language that affects your ability to return to Court and make such a request.
However, if the Court does reopen your divorce, it will attempt to rectify the previously incomplete or incorrect financial orders. Oftentimes, this means that the Court will grant the disadvantaged spouse a portion of the asset that the other spouse failed to disclose. (For example, if your ex-spouse had an investment account he or she kept secret at the time of the divorce, the Court may decide that it is fair to now award you 50% of value that account.) Furthermore, if the Court finds that your ex-spouse acted fraudulently to intentionally conceal assets during the divorce, you may be entitled to an additional award of attorney fees, or the Court may impose other sanctions on him or her.
Despite the complexities inherent in this type of legal action, you should not be discouraged. Harris attorneys are routinely successful in reopening final divorce orders when appropriate, and such action can be well worthwhile, particularly where significant assets are at stake.