If you have a high net worth, you didn’t accumulate significant assets by accident. But you can certainly lose them that way, including in a contentious divorce. Just as you hire professionals to manage the aspects of your wealth in which you may lack expertise, you need an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate through the perilous territory of high net worth divorce.
The emotional stakes are high with most divorces, but the legal and financial stakes are higher when the parties have amassed wealth before or during the marriage. High net worth divorces, like most divorces, are much more likely to end in settlement than in trial (nationwide, well over 90% of divorces are settled rather than tried). That said, high net worth divorces are somewhat more likely to go to trial, simply because there is more at stake financially.
It is important to have an attorney who is accustomed to trying cases (which many divorce attorneys are not, simply because most divorces settle). It’s also important to have an attorney who is not only an experienced negotiator, but who understands the financial and tax consequences of settlement terms, to avoid unintended—and costly—outcomes.
What is at Stake in a High Net Worth Divorce?
Couples with high net worth tend to have not only more assets, but more complex ones. If there are family business interests involved, for instance, there may be disputes over business valuation or distribution of business assets. There may be one-of-a-kind assets that are difficult to value, such as art, jewelry, and collectibles. There is likely to be a question of which of the couple’s accumulated property is considered marital, and which is separate. The answer to this question is important, because only marital property is subject to division in a divorce.
Then, of course, there is the question of support: both child support and alimony are likely to be issues in a high net worth divorce. Child support is determined by statutory guidelines, but what is considered “income” for purposes of support calculations may be disputed.
As for alimony, that can be one area of divorce in which an experienced Florida divorce attorney really earns his or her fee. There are no statutory charts for calculating alimony as there are for child support, only a list of guidelines a judge is to consider. The skill of your attorney can “move the needle” thousands of dollars per month in your favor, either in negotiations or at trial if it comes to that.
What’s more, laws affecting alimony are undergoing significant change. Recent federal tax law changes have made alimony taxable to the person paying it, rather than the recipient. And there have been recent developments in Florida alimony law as well, so your attorney should be well-versed in this evolving area of family law to represent you effectively.
Couples with a high net worth are more likely than others to have a prenuptial agreement. A prenup can simplify your divorce, but if there are questions as to its enforceability, litigation over that issue can increase the duration and the expense of the divorce process.
How Your Attorney’s Experience Makes a Difference
You already know there’s a lot on the line with your divorce. Your choice of attorney affects the outcome of your divorce in a number of ways.
An attorney experienced in high-asset divorces will be able to guide you in making the financial disclosures required by Florida law in a divorce. That will help ensure that you do not inadvertently omit assets, setting yourself up to be penalized later. On the other hand, if you suspect that your spouse is concealing or misrepresenting assets, an attorney who regularly handles high net worth divorces will have relationships with forensic accountants and other financial professionals who are skilled in investigating financial misconduct and presenting evidence to a court.
Even couples with more modest assets need to be aware of the tax consequences of their divorce settlements, but for couples with a high net worth, this awareness is critical. An otherwise favorable divorce settlement could have devastating tax consequences, especially given the recent changes in tax law. Retaining an attorney who is attuned to the tax implications of various settlement options should be viewed as an investment, not an expense. A mistake in this area when the marital estate is large could easily cost you much more than you paid in attorney fees.
A skilled attorney can save you money in one more way, as well. An attorney who understands when to settle and when to press on for trial can save you tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees and litigation costs. In other words, you need an attorney who is capable of fighting for you in a courtroom if necessary, but who is able to prevent your dispute from going that far.If you are faced with the possibility of divorce and are concerned about preserving your assets, contact Miami divorce attorney Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation to explore your options.