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'Panama Papers' case reveals asset hide-and-seek game in divorce

By this time, the so-called Panama Papers story may be something fading into the background of current events for many people in Houston. So much has happened since the story broke in April. It would take some pretty big news to grab headlines away from mass shootings and the presidential election campaign.

That being said, the story hasn't disappeared. In fact, The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times have both run major stories within the past couple of weeks revealing that as many as 2,400 Americans have used the services of a single Panama law firm to create shell entities to purportedly evade U.S. taxes.

As interesting as those stories are, the one that might be more compelling for readers of this blog is one that appeared back in April in the website of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. It observed how this firm, which does not practice family law appears to have been a major player in helping spouses shield wealth from potential property division in divorce.

Based on a review of more than 11 million of this one law firm documents dating back to 1977, the ICIJ says it has found a set of practices that it says, "Illuminate a dark alternate universe where some people go to play by different rules."

To be clear, the rule of law in Texas as it applies to divorce is that property of a marriage is community property. Under that standard, most property obtained during a couple's time married is subject to equal division.

It takes legal skill to set up the kinds of shell entities described in the ICIJ story. It takes similar legal skill and experience to properly uncover what has been hidden so that it can be fairly divided. If you are in a marriage that is ending in which high net worth with complex assets are involved, how will you be sure everything that is supposed to be in the portfolio is known and properly valued? Speaking with an attorney is the way to learn the answer.

Source: The Panama Papers, "How the One Percenters Divorce: Offshore Intrigue Plays Hide and Seek with Millions," Will Fitzgibbon, accessed June 14, 2016

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