How Does Divorce Change for Couples with a High Net Worth?

While no divorce case is alike and each one presents its own unique legal challenges, cases involving couples with a high net worth may bring some distinct complications to the table. The following elements are some of the most common challenges that may arise when a couple with high-value assets decide to end their marriage.

Because our team has over 35 combined years of exclusive family law experience, we can help you through any difficulties you may have during the divorce process. Our dedicated team of attorneys can provide further guidance on how a divorce may change for couples with a high net worth.

Dividing High-Value Property During a Divorce

One of the most obvious factors that is unique to high net worth divorces is that they involve much more substantial marital property between the couple. Marital property includes any of the assets acquired by each party during the marriage. High net worth individuals may have a range of domestic and international assets to figure out how to divide equitably within a divorce; everything ranging from cars, jewelry, houses, and artwork to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, offshore accounts, and more.

Because Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state, the entirety of the couple’s assets and debts are subject to division. As a result, all of the couple’s marital property must be disclosed and valuated properly before the Judge decides how to most fairly divide the couple’s assets between them when the couple is not able to come to those types of decisions through negotiation. A fair division could mean an equal 50/50 split right down the middle or it could be some other variation. A high net worth divorce can cause the discovery and valuation process to be more time-consuming and costly than it would for couples who do not possess the same substantial net worth.

Hiring a Valuation Expert During a High Net Worth Divorce

Another prime example of how a high net worth may affect the divorce process is the necessity for a valuation expert. In some situations, an appraiser must track down certain assets to determine the actual value of a couple’s property. If one party suspects that the other is trying to shield assets from discovery, a forensic accountant may be needed. A forensic accountant also can be beneficial to identify any discrepancies in finding assets and ensure that the couple’s finances are appropriately quantified.

Especially where one of the spouses does not understand the couple’s financial picture, it becomes very important to get a clear understanding of where money or potential money is being held.

In some complex estate plans, people hold stocks in companies within multiple trusts so that there are various layers of protection of the asset.  Although there is supposed to be transparency within the financial disclosure, not everyone actually discloses everything.

For example, let’s say there is a high-net worth couple where the Husband has started a company, named the XYZ Company.  He divides his interest in the company in five ways: one 20% remains his own interest in XYZ Company, but then he creates four different trusts with different names and makes them each 20% shareholders while he is the trustee and beneficiary of each trust. At the time of the divorce, the Husband is still the CEO of the company but the company has not yet sold.  The Wife enters into an agreement that she believes is fair by receiving 20% of the Husband’s interest in his “XYZ Company” since there is no sale pending and, in theory, the more work the Husband does after the divorce, the greater the value of the company will be at the time it does sell.  However, because the Wife did not undergo extensive discovery, she did not realize that she had actually agreed to essentially only getting 4% of the company rather than the 20% she thought she was agreeing to.

You do not want to be on the wrong end of that deal because you do not do proper discovery; no matter how honest you think your spouse is.  If the company sells for $20,000,000.00, getting only an $800,000.00 payment when it should have been a $4,000,000.00 payout is not the mistake you want to make.

Calculating Support Can Be More Challenging

When dealing with a divorce involving a high net worth couple, another primary challenge that may arise is determining the appropriate support amount.  The support that is at issue within a high net worth divorce often involves both alimony and child support, sometimes which is labeled “unallocated support.” While these are issues at play in many divorces, a high net worth divorce can bring additional challenges into the mix because the calculations that most people can simply run when the cumulative household income is no more than $250,000.00 no longer necessarily apply and judicial discretion weighs heavily. This leaves a lot of room for arguments and creativity.

Additionally, there are generally child-related expenses that may not be relevant in other lower-income divorces. For instance, these children are often enrolled in private or boarding school or are participating in competitive sports training. The children also may have trusts already set up in their names.

Often, trusts are utilized to pass down family inheritances.  Sometimes trusts are used simply to protect private property.  A trust can cause additional complexity within a divorce because they are treated differently whether they are a revocable or irrevocable trust.

A skilled attorney from O’Connor Family Law can provide invaluable legal assistance in divorces involving high net worth couples. Our lawyers can help draft an agreement tailored to the financial circumstances that are applicable to higher-income spouses.

Retain an Attorney to Discuss the Changes that May Occur During a Divorce Between a High Net Worth Couple

Many specific factors determine how divorce changes for couples with a high net worth. If you are facing the end of your marriage and have valuable assets to protect, retain an attorney who can fight for your best interests during this process. At O’Connor Family Law, we can develop a creative solution to the challenges you may be facing to protect you and your future. To get started on your case, call today.

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