Navigating High Asset Divorce: A Comprehensive Guide

Navigating High Asset Divorce: A Comprehensive Guide

For married couples in New Jersey, going through a divorce is rarely easy. However, the process can be more difficult when the spouses have accumulated substantial wealth during their marriage. Dividing assets in a high-net-worth divorce can be complex and require the help of multiple experts, including forensic accountants, valuation experts, and others. Determining which assets should be deemed the separate property of one spouse and which should be included in the marital estate can also be a source of conflict.

Because of the complexities involved in a high-asset divorce, it's best to work with a divorce lawyer with significant experience in handling complex property division matters. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Ziegler Law Group, LLC have years of experience and understand the various issues that might arise.

What Is a High-Asset Divorce?

A high-asset divorce occurs when one or both spouses have assets valued at $1 million or more. One or both spouses might have a business, valuable collections, extensive real estate holdings, investments, and more. High-net-worth divorce cases can become especially complicated when one of the spouses has a significantly higher net worth than the other spouse.

The issues involved in a high-asset divorce can often be more complicated than the issues other couples might face in divorce cases. Each aspect of dividing assets can be more complex and require more time. Identifying all of the assets, valuing them, and determining which are separate and which are marital assets can require the help of experts and involve additional time and expense requirements.

Assets Involved in a High-Asset Divorce

A high-asset divorce might involve many types of assets, including the following:

  • Stocks and bonds
  • Multiple bank accounts
  • Real estate
  • Business assets
  • Holdings in other countries
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Stock options
  • Art collections
  • Retirement accounts
  • Luxury assets (cars, yachts, etc.)
  • Trust accounts
  • Family inheritances

The complex asset portfolios that might be involved in high-net-worth divorce cases can present added challenges.

Common Challenges of a High-Asset Divorce

The following are some of the common challenges that might be involved in a high-net-worth divorce:

  • One spouse attempting to hide or conceal assets
  • Inventorying and valuing all assets, including those held in other countries
  • Evaluating the value of the marital estate
  • Valuing business and real estate holdings
  • Determining how to divide a business
  • Navigating complex tax issues
  • Validating or objecting to a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement
  • Determining the appropriate amount of child support
  • Determining alimony duration and amounts
  • Dividing debts and liabilities
  • Protection of the business's and individual's reputation
  • Determining the value of valuable collections and figuring out how to divide them

Unique Issues

When a divorce is particularly contentious, some unique issues might be involved.

Concealment of Assets

In some cases, one spouse will attempt to conceal or hide assets to try to prevent the other spouse from receiving their fair share. If you believe your spouse might be hiding assets, your attorney will likely need to work with a forensic accountant to track down everything. Concealing assets can lead to substantial penalties and liability, including the potential for contempt charges and jail time.

Asset Valuations

Luxury items, businesses, real estate, and priceless collections must be properly valued to ensure a fair division. Because of this, your attorney might need to hire several different valuation experts to understand the value of your marital property.

Child and Spousal Support

While New Jersey has child support guidelines that are typically used to determine how much child support should be paid, the guidelines don't include amounts for divorcing couples with a high net worth. Because of this, it will be necessary to step outside of the guidelines to determine the appropriate amount of child support. You'll need to consider things such as private school tuition, college savings, and the lifestyle your children have enjoyed before your split.

If either you or your spouse earns significantly more than the other, whichever one of you earns less might face a dramatic impact on their standard of living. Because of this, alimony might be an issue.

Equitable Distribution

New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means the assets in a divorce will be divided equitably. This does not mean that your assets will be divided equally but instead in a way that the court deems fair.

Determining Marital Vs. Separate Property

A major issue you might face is trying to determine which assets are marital property and which are separate. Marital assets include the assets that you and your spouse acquired during your marriage, including such things as the increase in value of a business, real estate, investments, etc. However, separate assets include those assets one spouse owned before the marriage as well as inheritances and gifts.

Separate property will not be divided in a divorce. Instead, the spouse who owns the separate property will retain it. In some cases, separate property can become so commingled with marital assets that it loses its separate nature and must be divided, which can be a significant source of contention.

Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements

If you and your spouse signed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, the agreement could make the asset division simpler. However, you or your spouse could challenge the agreement if it is unfair or fails to meet the requirements under New Jersey law. To be valid, a prenuptial agreement can't include unconscionable or illegal provisions.

Both spouses must have been represented by separate legal counsel, and no duress or coercion should have been involved. If one spouse failed to disclose their finances to the other spouse before entering into a prenuptial agreement, used coercive tactics, or included illegal provisions in the agreement, it could be deemed invalid and disregarded by the court.

How to Prepare for a High-Asset Divorce

If you and your spouse have accumulated significant wealth during your marriage, or there is a large disparity between your net worth and that of your spouse, it's important to prepare before you file for divorce. Take the following steps to protect yourself before you file:

  1. Meet with a financial adviser who doesn't know or work with your spouse to understand how your divorce will affect you.
  2. Make photocopies of all deeds and titles for the assets you and your spouse own.
  3. Get the most recent copies of your investment account, bank account, retirement account, life insurance, and other account statements.
  4. Get copies of your most recent three years of income tax returns, including personal and business tax returns if applicable.
  5. Create an inventory of all of the assets you and your spouse own, including their location.
  6. Take photographs of all assets to document what they are and their condition.
  7. Make a list of which assets are the separate property of you or your spouse and which should be included in the marital estate.
  8. Open a separate bank account in your name only.
  9. Change the beneficiaries on your accounts and life insurance policies.
  10. Consult an attorney at Ziegler Law Group, LLC and bring all of the documents you have gathered to your appointment.

Never attempt to hide assets. Doing so could get you in trouble and is also unethical.

Talk to a High Asset Divorce Attorney

When you are preparing to get a divorce and have a high net worth, it's important to find a skilled New Jersey high asset divorce lawyer. A divorce lawyer in New Jersey with substantial experience representing high-net-worth clients should have in-depth knowledge of the particular issues that might arise. Contact Ziegler Law Group, LLC today to schedule a confidential consultation by calling us at (973) 533-1100.

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