Sadly, the answer is usually, “Longer than you’re willing to give me. You should have called me sooner.”

We get inquiries from time to time from divorcing parties who are going to trial within the next month or even just a few weeks. They want to know whether we can look for offshore assets in time for trial.

My answer is usually something like, “I would be wasting your money to start now.”

Asset searches – even without an offshore component — take time. Not years, but certainly weeks and to get to a usable outcome, often more than a month. This is how they work:

  1. You give us the other person’s name and any information you have about (let’s say for this example) him. You may do this using our divorce asset questionnaire.
  1. We turn over every public piece of information we can get on him. All of his companies (private and public), securities filings, mentions in regulatory records, and court cases involving him and his companies. We look at media, social media, dark web dumps, and more. Some of this information is on line, but court records especially are often still on paper and not available remotely. We have to send people to those places and have the papers scanned.

For overseas records, it all usually takes longer. It’s one thing to look up company records in England or France, but try doing a remote search on the United Arab Emirates or searching Cayman Islands corporate records for all the but the least useful stuff. You have to have someone there and it doesn’t get turned around overnight.

  1. The results from the first phase of an asset search may not turn up a killer finding that reveals $450,000 of cash sitting in a bank account. In fact, if you have access to bank accounts already, you should have been able to grab the low-hanging fruit by seeing where money was sent. If you are going to need to subpoena bank accounts (or anything else), that doesn’t get done in a week or two.

Oftentimes, our asset searches will discover a new company a person controls. While that moves the ball forward, it’s sometimes just the beginning of another phase of the litigation.

None of the above take into account the interviews that you sometimes need to do: Litigation opponents, disaffected former employees and others can reveal all kinds of good information. But first you have to do your research, find out who they are, where they are, and what to ask them about. Not a one-week proposition

All of this to say that it’s never too early to talk about an asset search, and it’s rarely too early to get going on one.

But being too late – that’s what can cost thousands or millions of dollars.