Rising use of cryptocurrency risks unfair divorce settlements

by | May 15, 2022

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The anonymity and security associated with cryptocurrency means it is more easily hidden than traditional investments, whilst its inherent volatility can jeopardise financial agreements between splitting couples. This, warn family lawyers, can lead to the less affluent half of a couple losing out.

Osbornes Law family lawyer Claire Andrews explains, “Most people are still pretty clueless about cryptocurrencies and many of those going through a divorce will have no idea whether their ex has been investing. It can be hard to trace due to the high levels of security and a lack of publicly accessible information, tempting some spouses to avoid disclosing their investments or to move them around to avoid detection.

“These are risky investments and values can fluctuate wildly, making it harder to account for cryptocurrency when dividing marital assets. If this volatility isn’t carefully handled and accounted for, there is a risk of either partner not getting their fair share.”

If you know your spouse has cryptocurrency it can be difficult to ascertain its value.

Claire explains, “Proof of cryptocurrency ownership differs depending on whether it is held in the user’s own wallet or with a custodian on an exchange, as is more common with less experienced investors.

“If the coins are stored on an exchange, you can ask your spouse to provide a proof of the account balance, a monthly statement, a tax statement or a trading statement. When a user has the coins in a wallet, then you should request a screenshot of the balance but it is difficult to determine the date and this could be easily faked using Photoshop or similar.”

Divorce disclosure rules mean you are required to provide 12 months’ worth of bank statements which can be reviewed to see if payments have been made that suggest cryptocurrency investment. It is also possible to go back further if you can convince a judge you have reason to believe your spouse has not disclosed crypto assets, or request disclosure of smart phone app transactions.

Where cryptocurrency is disclosed, it can cause problems where it forms a substantial part of a negotiated settlement between couples.

Claire says, “The value of cryptocurrency can crash or soar overnight so if it forms part of your financial settlement, it’s important to account for this. That might mean the spouse who does not own cryptocurrency negotiates a larger share of other, more stable assets, or the crypto assets are split by an agreed percentage. Either way, valuations should be continually reviewed and updated during negotiations.”

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