A frequent problem when taking in a new asset search in divorce is figuring out how far back to look.

Clients in divorce usually know a lot more about their spouse than anyone else, at least when it comes to daily habits, close friends, and other bits of information that can inform our asset search. What might a secretive husband name a secret company? Which lawyer would he have used to set it up? Who would be holding assets for him until the divorce is finalized? We’ve written about this in Your Client Knows More than She Thinks.

We’ve also written many times about the questionnaire we insist new clients fill in for us, such as in The Divorce Asset Hunter Questionnaire. It can provide invaluable leads, and save clients money by not having us research and report on something they already know about.

But one blind spot some spouses carry with them is the time when the secretive behavior may have started. Wife thinks everything was fine in the marriage until 2015, because that is when she noticed strange behavior, odd withdrawals, more “business trips” to Europe for unclear purposes.

What we urge clients to remember is that things could have gone bad a lot earlier than that, but they – for a variety of reasons – could have failed to notice. By restricting a search to 2015 forward, we could miss formation of the Delaware company in 2011 that could be a great lead. We could decide not to call the former employee of the husband’s company who left in 2013, and who could have had insight into what went on during business trips that may have been just like the ones the wife noticed two years later.

It’s a balancing act. Your client knows a lot, but after all, if your client knew everything there would be no need to hire out for help with an asset search.

Our firm works on large corporate issues in which hundreds of millions of dollars or more are a stake, but emotions never run higher than in family law matters.

In the case of how far back to look for assets, you are raising the prospect of an even larger, longer-lived betrayal than the client already suspects. They trusted someone when perhaps they should not have, and that is never a pleasant thought to introduce.