When professionals, athletes or celebrities divorce, there can be a lot at stake, especially after a long-term marriage. These divorces are referred to as "high asset divorces" and having the right team in place to protect the assets which will create the foundation for your future is essential regardless of whether you are primary earner in the family or the supported spouse married to the primary earner.
Whether you've worked your whole life to secure your solid financial status or you've inherited family money which has established your family's lifestyle, when a separation or divorce is imminent, your financial security may be put in jeopardy. The following tips are also helpful as you prepare for your case:
There is a difference between a "regular" divorce attorney and one who is experienced in "high asset" divorces.
When researching which attorney is the right fit for your case, do your due diligence. You have worked a lifetime to accumulate your wealth and you wouldn't turn the management of that wealth over to a financial planner who hasn't earned a proven track record of success. The same rule should apply for which attorney you hire to handle your high asset divorce. The same wealth is at stake during a divorce and only an attorney experienced in such matter will understand the intricacies in tracing which assets are marital, which are not, and which assets are under the jurisdiction of the family court. You also may need to hire experts to assist the Family Court in determing the value of assets. You will want an attorney who has a good working relationship with the financial experts in your area. It is true that an attorney experienced in these areas may be more "expensive" to hire than the "run-of-the-mill" neighborhood divorce attorney, but think of your attorney as an insurance policy. You get what you pay for.
When you interview attorneys, ask questions about the professional organizations they belong to which enhance their skills in these cases. For example, Mr. Stevens, our Senior Partner, is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and the International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL). He has also been certified in Family Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA). All of these distinctions required Mr. Stevens to document his experience, both in trial and negotiations in complex family law litigation, and receive the recommendations of his peers. He is the only attorney in the Upstate of South Carolina to hold all three distinctions and only one of four in the state. Further, both the AAML and IAFL offer specialized legal education seminars throughout the year, which Mr. Stevens attends (and presents) regularly to keep abreast of the latest legal trends affecting his high asset and complex litigation clients.
Also, during your attorney interviews, don't be afraid to ask your attorney about the outcomes of recent cases he or she has handled which resemble your case facts. While the attorney can not break privilege and reveal any identifying information about other clients, they should be able to talk to you about their experiences with such cases and how the laws of South Carolina will affect your facts. If their answers leave you with more questions than not, consider interviewing more attorneys until you find one who leaves you feeling confident in their knowledge of the law.
The ability to document or "trace" assets will be critical to your case.
As stated previously, tracing assets back to their origination is a critical stage of planning for a high asset divorce. Even if you have the most experienced attorney on your side, they will not be able to do their job without some homework from you. Be willing to work with your legal team to document all the assets (accounts, property, jewelry, vehicles, insurance policies, safe deposit boxes, etc.) and all the liabilities (debts) which are owned by anyone in the family at the time of the separation. Once you have a comprehensive list of all that is at stake, your legal team can start the process of "tracing" whether certain assets are marital or non-marital and whether or not an expert will be necessary to help value those assets. You may be asked to update this list periodically, but it is necessary to continually track the values in order to protect your interests as values fluctuate over time.
Expert witnesses are usually the "star" witnesses for mediations and trials about money, assets, and support calculations.
When the Family Court must decide how to divide things like real estate, businesses, stocks, investments, retirement accounts and other valuables, the testimony of valuation experts and forensic accountants can become vitally important to your case at mediation or trial. One of the most important values presented to the Court is the fair market value of these items at the time of the separation.
If you are the spouse who has spent the entire or the majority of the marriage at home raising your children, a vocational expert may be crucial to hire to explain to the Family Court what your true "earning capacity" will be after the separation in order to secure the proper amount of support necessary to maintain the lifestyle you enjoyed prior to the separation, especially if you were not at fault for the end of the marriage.
And finally, your attorney may advise you to talk with a certified divorce planner or a tax advisor during the negotiation stage. Don't ignore this advice. When dividing assets in a high asset divorce, it's important to understand the tax benefits and consequences to accepting ownership of certain assets. They will also offer advice about future values for these assets, as well. For example, if a particular asset is forecasted to lose its value before you would be able to liquidate it, that may affect your decision to ask for a different combination of assets in order to equalize the future values for each party. These decisions are made much easier for all involved when the right professional are at the negotiation table with you.
The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and complex, high asset divorces. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us at (864) 598-9172 to schedule an initial consultation with Ben Stevens.