High asset divorces often have unique legal challenges and financial components. From complex property and business-related issues to high-income earners with multiple income streams, clients are best served by attorneys with extensive experience handling divorces with diverse asset and income-related issues. Some examples of individuals who may have a high asset divorce include business owners, families who own multiple properties, or parties with professional degrees (i.e., lawyers, doctors, accountants, and more). Generally, any divorce case that involves a million dollars and above in assets or income is considered a “high asset divorce.”
Tips to Achieving the Best Outcome in Your High Asset Divorce
There are many ways a high asset divorce attorney can assist you in reaching an optimal outcome in a high asset divorce. After many years of experience representing clients going through a high asset divorce in Chicago, three tips make a difference.
1. Hire your team of experts.
In a situation where there are significant assets, there are often unique valuation issues. Perhaps the investment account statements are unique and complex to read. Or, a marital business needs to have a value assigned to it for settlement purposes. Sometimes the person running the business may be allowed to deduct personal expenses on the federal tax level, and it thus is unclear what their actual income is. In any of these scenarios, divorce clients should consider whether it would be appropriate to retain a business evaluator, a forensic income examiner, or event a certified fraud examiner in the event that they believe there has been fraud committed. Involving a Certified Public Accountant can also be helpful when there are complicated tax issues.
Additionally, someone who has not been the primary income earner may want to invoke the advice of a wealth advisor, who can assist them in planning for their future based upon different financial scenarios. This can make it easier for someone who doesn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of their finances decide if certain settlement offers would be in their best interests. The issue that many clients find is that not all of these experts are created equal. One of the best things about hiring an attorney with high asset divorce experience is that they have tried and true experts in their contact Rolodex who understand these issues and are quality advisors. And trust me, not all experts are created equal.
2. Realistically set your financial goals.
Closely related to hiring a team of experts, it is essential in high asset divorce cases that both parties have a clear understanding and realistic expectations of where they are going in the divorce process. If a couple has operated a business together their entire marriage, will they continue to do so when the divorce is finalized? Or is one spouse going to buy the other one out? Will a spouse plan to go back to school or start a new career after staying home? Or, perhaps they are older and closer to retirement age. Do they know what they need per month to live the lifestyle they are accustomed to?
The parties’ age, employment history, health, and education all can plan an important role in determining where they will go next. Having an idea as to whether or not they will run a business, return to school, or plan to live off of spousal support is all going to be integral in reaching the finish line. Post-divorce is the “next chapter,” an opportunity to start anew. The parties need to know where they are going in order to get there.
3. Participate in a collaborative process to save money on attorney’s fees and costs.
Let’s face it – wealthy individuals are usually wealthy because they understand that it takes money to make money, which means they cannot be frivolously spending it. Clients with the most money are usually careful about spending it because preserving assets is a priority. A collaborative approach is often the optimal way to resolve their case. The case does not necessarily have to be done as a “collaborative case” for it to be a collaborative process.
Some parties choose to involve mediators, such as former judges, to assist in the process and work alongside their attorneys at attorney-assisted mediation. This is highly successful. A retired judge is in the unique position of understanding the case from the judge’s perspective, and given their years of experience on the bench; they often understand the more complex financial issues better than your average mediator. If the case is incredibly amicable, a settlement conference between the parties and counsel may be enough to resolve the case without even involving a mediator. The cost of mediation or working together to settle a case is oftentimes a fraction of what it would be to take the case to trial.
Additionally, just because the parties are trying to resolve a case does not mean they shouldn’t involve experts. If there is a business, for example, and there will need to be a buyout, some parties are not sure what a fair value would be for purposes of dividing property. The parties can agree to involve an expert in the negotiation process to try and calculate fair numbers. Experts are not just reserved for cases that go to trial. In fact, they can be an integral part of resolving a case before trial. All in all, being of a collaborative mindset is nearly always less expensive than litigating. The more money the parties save on attorney’s fees, the more money they hold in their pockets at the end of the case.