Lying Husbands + Bigger Divorce Payouts = Asset Protection Trusts

divorce court cartoon humor: Outside the Divorce Court.


London re-staked its claim to be the divorce capital of the world as the U.K.’s highest court ruled two ex-wives are entitled to larger divorce settlements because their husbands hid their true wealth.Asset Protection Trusts are the answer before and after divorce settlements.

Alison Sharland, whose husband Charles Sharland co-founded software company AppSense Ltd., originally received 10.3 million pounds ($15.8 million) as part of a settlement. She later found he had been having discussions with investment bankers about an initial share sale, valuing it much higher than originally claimed.

“By the husband’s fraud and the judge’s order, she had been deprived of her right to a full and fair hearing,” Judge Brenda Hale said handing down the ruling in London Wednesday. The U.K. Supreme Court said the lawsuit should be re-opened at a lower court. The decision could “open the floodgates for many previous divorce agreements to be revisited,” Joanna Farrands, a lawyer at Barlow Robbins, said in an e-mail.

Cook Islands, a Paradise of Untouchable Assets ( New York Times)

Picture a paradise where you can be lawsuit-proof. A place to hide your hard-earned assets far from the grasp of former or soon-to-be-former spouses, angry business partners or, if you happen to be a doctor, patients who might sue you.

Lawyers drumming up business say they have found just the place: the Cook Islands. And, thanks to a recently released trove of documents, it’s become clear that hundreds of wealthy people have stashed their money there, including a felon who ran a $7 billionPonzi scheme and the doctor who lost his license in the Octomom case.

These flyspeck islands in the middle of the Pacific would be nothing more than lovely coral atolls, nice for fish and pearls, except for one thing: The Cooks are a global pioneer in offshore asset-protection trusts, with laws devised to protect foreigners’ assets from legal claims in their home countries.

The Cayman Islands, Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands capture headlines for laws and tax rates that allow multinational corporations and the rich to shelter income from the American government. The Cook Islands offer a different form of secrecy. The long arm of United States law does not reach there. The Cooks generally disregard foreign court orders, making it easier to keep assets from creditors, or anyone else.

Win a malpractice suit against your doctor? To collect, you will have to go to the other side of the globe to plead your case again before a Cooks court and under Cooks law. That is a big selling point for those who market Cook trusts to a broad swath of wealthy Americans fearful of getting sued, and some who have been.

“You can have your cake and eat it too”, says Jack Bass. a tax strategist in Vancouver, Canada.. Anyone with more than $1 million in assets, his firm’s  ( ) site suggests, should consider Cook trusts for self-preservation, but especially real estate developers, health care providers, accountants, architects, corporate directors and parents of teenage drivers.

International regulators have become more aggressive in efforts to clamp down on tax haven countries, offshore banks and their customers, but they have paid scant attention to the Cooks. Yet Americans are the biggest customers of the trusts, which may be held only by foreigners, not Cook Islanders. The islands’ official website calls the Cooks a “prime choice” for “discerning wealthy clients.” There are 2,619 trusts, according to the Cooks’Financial Supervisory Commission, offering anonymity as well as legal protections. The value of the assets is not disclosed and it is against the law in the Cooks to identify who owns the trusts or to provide any information about them.

A close study of the Cook Islands documents by The New York Times and the international consortium shows that these trusts are popular with the wealthy in Palm Beach, Fla., New York and Hollywood.

Cook trusts provide security along with secrecy, officials say. “Asset protection is to provide a layer of insurance for something that cannot be insured — the unforeseeable,” said Bass.

There is nothing illegal about setting up a Cook trust, and putting assets into one does not eliminate the requirement to pay taxes on those assets’ earnings. But the trusts have a following among those who suspect they could be sued: doctors facing malpractice suits, businessmen avoiding creditors and some who have been sued by the federal government.

Even the United States government has had a hard time going up against a Cook trust. In a lawsuit that has dragged on for years, Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored lender, is still waiting to collect on a $10 million judgment against an Oklahoma developer who defaulted on his loans. In legal filings, Fannie Mae says it has collected only $12,000 — and “that is not for lack of trying.” The “clear purpose” of the trust, Fannie Mae’s complaint said, “is to avoid payment of the judgments obtained by Fannie Mae,” efforts that the agency called “brazen.”

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