High asset divorce cases often entail unique legal issues which can be complicated. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon, recently announced he and his wife would be divorcing after a 25-year marriage.
Bezos, with a reported net worth of $137 billion, lives in Washington, which, like California, is a community property state – meaning all assets acquired and debts incurred during the marriage are to be divided equally unless the couple signed a pre or postnuptial agreement.
So at face value, a high asset divorce is not much different than other divorces – assets are evaluated and divided. Clean and simple, right? Wrong.
What makes a high asset divorce such as Bezos’ so complex is the labyrinth of financial intricacies involved – such as complicated property divisions, stock options, high-value possessions and intellectual property – and also the fact they often play out publicly.
While all divorces are challenging, those involving big assets can be even more daunting and acrimonious. When there is a lot of money on the table, tensions can run high, with frequent discrepancies and misunderstandings over financial issues. A successful resolution entails remaining organized and paying close attention to every detail.
Here are some key things to consider when undergoing a high asset divorce:
Review finances and organize assets.
Check trust agreements, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, tax records, bank statements, and more. Have accurate appraisals and valuations done. Take into account businesses; retirement/pension plans; stocks/stock options; investment real estate; executive compensation; homes and vacation property; cars, planes and other vehicles; artwork and jewelry and other valuables.
This is critical and can be complicated when businesses, real estate, high-value personal possessions, and intangible assets such as stock options and executive compensation are involved.
Everyone is used to a certain standard of living regardless of his or her income, but the bar is raised when the monetary stakes are higher. With this in mind, it is important to consider the future and what you might need – including potential spousal support, child support, and retirement plans.
Seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney early in the process.
Consulting with a seasoned family law attorney can save you money in the long run and help achieve the best financial outcome possible.
Consider additional expert advice.
Depending on the estate, there are other professionals you may need to consult. These can include real estate professionals, estate planning experts, a corporate attorney if you own a business, forensic accountants, etc.
Keep it private.
If the parties involved are smart, they keep the divorce proceedings private and keep all the information as far away from the public eye as possible. This means keeping a low profile and keeping the details of your high asset divorce off social media.
Close all joint accounts.
For protection when establishing a new financial identity, both parties need to establish new accounts in their names only. Immediately close all joint accounts and separate joint finances.
Consider alternatives to litigation.
Avoid the public record of the Family Court by considering Alternative Dispute Resolution (mediation or collaborative divorce) as opposed to litigation. Aside from being private, ADR at times is a faster and less costly process. It is also advantageous for all concerned if you can come to your own agreement rather than leaving critical decisions that will have an enduring impact in the hands of a judge.
Keep it civil.
If you cannot communicate with your ex in a positive, productive fashion, stick to written correspondence only. Ask your attorney and the professionals to help guide you.
Going through a divorce is an already emotional process, but if you have to add complicated financial decisions and substantial assets and investments to the equation, the process can be a lot more difficult to navigate. A team of experienced professionals in your corner during a high asset divorce will make sense of the details and help you come out with a fair settlement for everyone involved.
A Certified Family Law Specialist, Myra Chack Fleischer is lead counsel at San Diego-based Fleischer & Ravreby. She focuses on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, asset division, mediation, and family law appeals and has been practicing law since 1997. www.frfamilylaw.com