Getting divorced is hard enough, but when you and/or your spouse have significant assets and high net worth, the stakes are even higher. You need to act quickly to protect your interests and make sure you come out of the divorce with what’s rightfully yours, even when your spouse may be determined to walk away with more than their fair share. Here are three strategies to employ (that your spouse doesn’t want you to know about) as soon as you know that you’re facing a divorce situation:
Hire the best lawyer you can afford – before your spouse does, if possible.
This may seem like the most obvious piece of advice, but it’s worth emphasizing. When you’re dealing with a high-asset financial and property division, you need an experienced lawyer who knows the ins and outs of the laws of your state. This attorney will also have an extensive network of financial experts who may be needed to help identify and properly value the marital estate, as depending on the size and overall value of the estate to be divided, you may need more than just your divorce lawyer to help navigate the complex landscape of your high-net-worth divorce.
This is not the time to hire a newly minted lawyer who is still learning how to practice law and is building their network of professional contacts. You will want to hire the most credentialed family court attorney in your area who exclusively handles high-net-worth cases in your state. Look for attorneys who have been practicing exclusively family law for at least fifteen or twenty years, are Fellows in organizations like the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and are board certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. These credentials are hard to earn and indicate the highest level of professionalism and expertise.
Gather evidence of your ownership of assets.
If you have proof that an asset was all or partially yours before the marriage, such as a bank statement or tax return showing that you paid for it or established the asset pre-maritally, this will go a long way in helping you keep that asset following a divorce, especially if you can also prove the asset was not “transmuted” or used to support the marriage financially.
The more information you can gather early in the process to prove which assets are marital and which are not, the better. However, if you have a long-term marriage (i.e., over ten or twenty years), it may be difficult to trace every asset back to who owned what prior to marriage and what was obtained during the marriage. Focus on high-value items such as retirement accounts, investment accounts, real estate, and big-ticket purchases like vehicles, fine art, or expensive jewelry. These are typically things that are more easily tracked through purchase paperwork and/or insurance policy addendums.
Also, be sure to identify clearly for your attorney and/or financial experts which assets are gifts or inheritances from parents or grandparents and/or other assets held within a family trust. These items typically will not be considered part of the marital estate for property division purposes, so you’ll want to make sure the Court and your spouse’s attorney are put on notice that these assets will not be constrained by the normal limitations on using assets during the divorce process, meaning you can typically still use these assets to begin setting up your new life post-separation.
Put as much distance as possible between you and your spouse.
Once it’s clear that a separation or divorce is imminent, the best strategy from both a mental health and financial standpoint is to put as much distance as possible between you and your soon-to-be ex. This will give you some breathing room in terms of making decisions with the help and guidance of your legal team and your financial experts – and not based on the emotional “guilt trips” that your spouse may be trying to subject you to. You need to have a clear head to ensure all your assets are properly identified and accounted for in the marital estate, which means keeping all decisions strictly business-oriented and devoid of emotion as much as possible.
I’ve written before that it’s often a good idea to try to settle a high-asset divorce case out of court whenever possible (see here and here), and I still believe that is still good advice to follow. While it may seem that goal might be impossible if you put too much distance between you and your spouse, the distance can always be reduced and the lines of communication can be re-opened – but only after everyone has had the opportunity to get advice from their legal counsel, the marital estate and all non-marital assets have been properly identified, and everyone is comfortable with how the case will proceed.
Divorce is difficult no matter what, but when high assets are involved, it’s even more complicated on several levels. You need to be strategic in how you approach your case beginning with the property division, so that you don’t end up losing more than what’s appropriate under the law. By following these three tips above, you can help ensure that you come out of your high-asset divorce with all that you rightfully deserve.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Your divorce and any settlement you create will be subject to your state’s divorce laws. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, your agreement may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over a quarter of a century, handling all matters of family law, such as divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. Our firm is well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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