Every January, the depressing stories come back. Following the festive season, eating, drinking and family reunions come the reminders that January is “Divorce Month.”

This one at CNN is somewhat typical. But it turns out that January should be more accurately called “I’m Starting to Research My Options Month.”

Our frequent complaint when brought into a divorce is that we’re often called too late. Once a person files for divorce, the other side — who may have been ignorant that there was any problem in the marriage — suddenly begins to circle the wagons. From our perspective, that can mean hiding assets.

As soon as someone is thinking of filing for divorce and knows that she does not have a full grasp of what assets a spouse has, we argue that it makes sense to do a low-profile preliminary search. How does that work?

First of all, we ask all matrimonial clients to fill out a questionnaire about their spouse. We have argued consistently that spouses know much more than they think they do about their partner’s inclinations when it comes to money: what kinds of names could be preferred for secret companies? Names of favorite vacation places? Kids? Pets? Old addresses? Which friends or relatives could be asked to front businesses or real estate acquisitions to keep prying spouses away? Which unlisted cell phone numbers could be associated with businesses or secret real estate? Our writings about this topic can be accessed here and here (see Women Breadwinners and Hidden Assets).

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in an asset search is that you want to look not only for assets, but for things that will lead to assets. You want litigation, side companies and security agreements in addition to real and personal property registration. Maybe the spouse was sued personally along with two companies he runs — companies you knew nothing about.

It’s often there on the public record, and the sooner you look for it, the longer you have before the trail starts to go cold.