Going through a divorce is emotionally stressful for almost all couples, even if they both agree a divorce is the best option. When there are many assets involved, emotions can run even deeper as each party is inclined to fight over which assets they believe they are entitled to.
What Is a High Asset Divorce?A high-asset divorce involves one in which there are multiple high-value assets that must be valued separately. There are often ownership disputes of any property whether listed as martial property or one party’s separate property. Additionally, tax implications and even common issues such as spousal support and child support are often more complex in a high-asset divorce.
Though high-income divorces may become complicated due to the assets involved, the process works similarly to normal divorces, with two main differences.
First, there is a lot more at stake—often in terms of your marital investments. Second, all assets will need to be accurately identified as marital or premarital property, valued, and negotiated between the parties.
Examples of Assets to Consider
Ownership in businesses
Stock options and stock voting rights
Assets held in Trust
Real estate holdings
Savings and investment accounts
Retirement accounts and inheritances
How to Protect Assets During a High-Income Divorce
The first step to keeping your assets protected during the divorce process is to ensure you have a full inventory of all assets at play.
With your attorney, compile a list of all retirement and investment accounts, banking and credit card accounts, real estate holdings, and any other significant assets. You will also need to establish the value of each asset, which may require the help of a third-party financial advisor.
As we mentioned, you will need to determine if the assets were acquired prior to or during your marriage. This will help your attorney better establish how to handle the division of assets. Keep in mind that disputes over property can slow down the divorce process (and end up costing more in legal fees), so it is crucial that parties find common ground and agree on as many factors of the division as possible. Having the documents to support your position can be the most effective way to settle the dispute, presuming the other side remains reasonable.
Once you have a strong sense of your financial situation, meet with a financial advisor or tax professional to discuss the tax implications of your divorce and settlement. While your divorce attorney will be your go-to resource during the asset division process, your financial advisor is a key player as well. He or she will be responsible for ensuring that your savings are protected during the divorce and that tax fallout is minimal.
Arbitration and Mediation Options in a High Asset Divorce
Couples going through a high-income divorce should understand the benefits of mediation and of coming to their own settlement agreement without court intervention. Mediation is encouraged for all divorcing couples, but particularly for those with high assets.
Meeting with a third party to resolve conflicts in a high asset divorce may help the parties come to an agreement faster and more easily. These processes can also reduce the time it takes to complete a divorce and the overall costs of the process. For a high asset divorce, the costs may not be a factor, but there is still generally a goal of protecting those assets as much as possible. Couples who are unable to reach asset agreements on their own are usually required to attend mediation, per Georgia law. This requirement helps reduce back-ups in the court system and provides the opportunity for a more amicable divorce process.
Arbitration is similar to mediation in that the couple is sitting down with a neutral third party to address the different issues involved in their divorce. But there is a critical difference in that an arbitrator makes a binding decision, whereas a mediator helps the couple to come to an agreement on their own. The overall process is comparable, but the way a decision is reached may affect your assets and should be considered carefully. Particularly in a high asset divorce, it may be wise to allow a third party to make a binding decision because of the confidentiality of the process. If the matters are left to a judge in your divorce case, hearings are required to be held in a public forum.
Challenges During High Asset DivorcesOne of the biggest challenges with a high asset divorce is that the public can easily find the information. Georgia seals very few records, which means anyone from a neighbor to a family member could see the details of your divorce. By asking the court to seal the records, that concern can be reduced or avoided. However, there must be a compelling reason to have the records sealed or the request will not be granted. Just wanting to avoid nosy people is not enough of a reason to seal a divorce record.
Compelling reasons for sealing records in your divorce must be based on harm. Since there is no specific definition of what entails harm in this case, an argument for sealing the records must be made to the judge. A victim of a crime such as domestic abuse may have more chance of seeing sealed divorce records than someone who would suffer embarrassment over the details of their affair. But the decision to seal the records or deny the request is ultimately up to the judge in your high asset divorce case.