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The High-Net-Worth Divorce

The lawyer you hire can affect your case.

All divorces, no matter the value of a couple’s net worth, are difficult—both emotionally and financially. For couples with limited or clearly defined assets, deciding what’s yours, mine, and ours in a divorce isn’t as complicated as assigning the assets of couples with a high-net worth or those who have complex property or a business to divide.

“Whether or not a couple has high net-worth, when it comes to divorce, all couples face similar issues and have to go through the same steps to a certain degree,” says Jim Mueller, and a family law attorney with Verner Brumley Mueller Parker PC. “However, divorce becomes more complicated if there is an obvious distinction between the moneyed and non-moneyed spouse in terms of how everything is divided. The primary goal is to not lose the wealth you’ve spent your lifetime accumulating by fighting over everything. The fees for lawyers, forensic accountants, and CPAs can add up quickly and, before you know it, there’s not much left to divide.”

When couples with a high net-worth decide to divorce, determining the value of their assets (and who owns which asset) is something that is best left to family lawyers with extensive experience in complex divorces.

When couples with a high net-worth decide to divorce, determining the value of their assets (and who owns which asset) is something that is best left to family lawyers with extensive experience in complex divorces. For instance, says Mueller, $500,000 in a savings account is different in value from $500,000 in a 401K. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck type of divorce,” he says. “By this, I mean that it often takes a team of experts in various fields to determine the value of each asset or the value of a business. With the impending new tax laws in divorce that affect alimony, there will be even more of a need to hire a firm with complex and high-net-worth divorce experience.”

If you are considering a divorce and think you likely fall into the category of “high net-worth” or “complex divorce,” Mueller suggests considering the following tips.

Seek counsel of an attorney early in the process.

“Even if you haven’t talked to your spouse about the divorce, but feel it is highly probable, seek an attorney who can help you now with advice on gathering information about your bank accounts and assets. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. In other words, know where your money is.”

Make sense of prenuptial agreements, trusts, deeds, and estate matters.

“Eventually, we will have to deal with this. There are so many pieces to an estate, so find out what you can about it early. Of course, when a couple marries all they plan on is bliss, but that doesn’t always last. You have slept a lot in 20 years, so it’s not easy to remember what was decided upon decades ago. Gather as many documents as you can.

Seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney with access to a variety of estate experts and a proven record in handling complex divorce cases.

When shopping for an attorney, above all seek board certification and check to see if he or she is a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers—an added certification that indicates the attorney’s peers recognize his or her expertise. Typically, well-established, larger family law firms will have a team of experts in a variety of financial, tax, and estate related fields to assist with asset identification and division during a complex divorce.

Connect with a lawyer at Verner Brumley Mueller Parker here.

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