Complex Property Division in High Conflict Divorce Cases
Divorce almost always has one unanswered issue in which both parties have a vested interest. Child custody/support is likely the most frequently contested issue, but property division can be even more contentious, especially if a couple collectively holds a large variety of valuable assets. Property division in the average divorce is typically limited to the marital home and retirement accounts. However, for high net worth couples with considerable assets, property division can quickly become a complicated and hotly-disputed matter if there is no prenuptial agreement controlling the outcome. Because of the potential for the substantial gain or loss of financial resources, as well as the involvement of many different types of property that are valued under separate methods, a much more detailed and nuanced approach is needed to effectively negotiate a settlement or argue the issue in court. One common sticking point is determining the fair market value of a particular asset, as different experts can offer widely-varying estimates. A Palm Beach couple married almost seventy years, and with hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate holdings, is currently in the midst of an extremely contentious divorce, as each party has leveled accusations of bad conduct. A team of financial experts will be needed to sort out the values for each asset, but the judge will ultimately decide the appropriate division of assets if the couple is unable to settle privately. A discussion of the special considerations high net worth couples have when divorcing will follow below.
Separating Marital and Non-Marital Property
Property division in Florida divorces is made under the principle of equity, or what is most fair under the circumstances. Fairness may call for an equal split, but it may not, which means each case is individually evaluated on this issue. The first step in settling property division is separating marital from non-marital assets, as only marital assets are subject to division. This seemingly straightforward process can quickly become complicated if one spouse received an inheritance during the course of the marriage that was used for both marital and non-marital purposes. Further, if one spouse was wholly in charge of the couple’s finances, it will be harder for the other spouse to know if all assets are in fact disclosed, as is required, or if any assets are being withheld to avoid their potential loss. The expertise of forensic accountants may be needed to assess whether all assets are listed and to locate those that are missing.
As noted above, asset valuation is an area that is rife with disagreement in high net worth divorce, and requires the services of professionals to examine what the fair market value would be to an interested buyer. Making such a determination with real estate is difficult enough, but if a closely-held family business is involved, additional intangible factors, such as customer good will, must be examined and made part of the valuation process. Since one spouse is usually more involved in and has a greater interest in retaining the business, determining a fair buyout value for the other spouse is a point of particular concern.
These issues are but a few of many complications that arise in high net worth divorces, and the services of an experienced attorney is necessary to properly customize the structure and approach that will adequately protect a party’s interest. Many moving parts are involved in high net worth divorces, and having the right attorney to lead the process can make a considerable difference in the outcome.
Speak with a Florida Divorce Attorney
Regardless of the circumstances, divorce is never easy, but when a couple has significant financial resources at stake, motivation to get a fair and correct result is of high importance. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. has years of experience helping their clients work through the divorce process, as well as having an established business law practice, which could greatly assist divorcing high net worth spouses. If you have questions about divorce or its associated issues, contact the firm today to schedule a consultation.