The breakdown of a relationship is an emotionally-charged time that often dredges up numerous complexities. High net worth divorce cases include the usual sticking points of children and living arrangements, while including additional factors like business division, trusts, properties, investments, and international elements. Therefore, if you have significant wealth and are going through divorce proceedings, it’s vital that you safeguard your best interests by enlisting the help of an experienced solicitor.
Let’s take a look at the complex topic of divorces involving notable wealth, before considering the characteristics you should be looking for in a specialist high net worth divorce lawyer.
What is a High Net Worth Divorce?
High net worth divorce involves significant assets that exceed what is needed to take care of every parties’ needs. Assets often include: extensive property portfolios, business interests, investments, inherited wealth, offshore assets, pension funds, childrens’ trusts, and more. All of these assets may be included in the eventual settlement, with an overall valuation that may run into the millions of pounds.
High net worth divorce cases are often complicated by long-standing family wealth structures that were formed around succession and tax planning — rather than potential separation or divorce. If you are concerned about the future of your inherited wealth and/or any other assets, it’s important to take advice from a specialist team of solicitors as soon as possible.
The Main Considerations of High Net Worth Divorce
Many of the primary considerations of a high net worth divorce are the same as any other form of relationship breakdown. It’s possible that your initial priority will be child arrangements, before encompassing the following important factors:
Business assets: The division of a spouse’s privately owned company is often one of the most complicated issues. Although the courts prefer to ensure the financial future of the company, this is by no means guaranteed
Properties: International property portfolios are a common feature in high net worth divorce. There are often complex international tax considerations. Determining a mutually-satisfactory settlement will be required
Jurisdiction: It’s common for high net worth divorces to have an international element, so jurisdiction will need to be established. Each country will have its own laws so it’s important to decide where the case should be heard.
Pension schemes: High net worth divorce cases often involve complex pension schemes that have been designed with tax efficiency in mind. A pension expert may be needed to clarify the workings of the scheme and to consider a fair way to split it
Investments and trusts: These cases commonly include investments, shares, and both on and offshore trusts. Offshore trusts are often more complex due to the changes in international jurisdiction
Ultimately, establishing the value of all of these assets will be key to reducing timescales and reaching a less stressful resolution.
Common Challenges in High Net Worth Divorce Cases
Transparency is important when working through a high net worth divorce. Although it might be tempting in cases of significant wealth to try to hide or transfer assets, this approach would be a mistake. If discovered by forensic accountants, any attempt to cover up wealth is likely to be poorly received and harshly penalised by the courts. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most common challenges in this type of case.
Matrimonial vs Non-Matrimonial Assets
Matrimonial assets are generally any assets that were procured during the marriage or civil partnership. Therefore, the question of what constitutes matrimonial and non-matrimonial assets will need to be cleared up during the early stages of divorce proceedings. These assets often include property, pensions, and savings. It is largely irrelevant who bought the assets, as anything purchased during the marriage is widely seen as being jointly owned.
If any features of your wealth were accrued before marriage, it’s much more likely that it can be argued that they can be ring fenced in your favour as part of a high net worth divorce settlement. However this is by no means a hard and fast principle and the discretion of the matrimonial courts can invade non matrimonial property if there is a need to do so to ensure fairness is achieved. Arguments are often sustained about what should and should not be viewed as being outside of the pot for consideration. Enlisting an experienced lawyer is always the best way forward.
Business Valuation and Division
The division of a privately owned company is often one of the most complex factors in a case involving significant wealth. Establishing the valuation of a company can often be complicated by on and off-shore accounts as well as complex tax structures and remuneration schemes. Ultimately, if your business is classed as a marital asset, it can be included in a settlement.
While the courts are unlikely to demand that a business is sold to settle proceedings, it can and does happen. However, other avenues are likely to be explored first, such as buying out your former spouse’s shares or offsetting the value of the business against other marital assets, like the family home.
To read more about limited companies and divorce proceedings, you can find our blog on the subject here.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Although they’re not legally-binding in the UK, there’s a common tendency for the courts to uphold both pre and postnuptial agreements. However, the validity of this type of agreement is likely to be determined by how fair they are to both parties. To establish fairness the courts will want to ensure that:
Both parties received independent legal advice before signing the agreement
There was complete transparency regarding disclosure of assets
The relationship hasn’t fundamentally changed in the meantime. For example, there aren’t additional children or dependents
Neither spouse was subjected to undue pressure to sign the agreement
Division of assets is fair and equal
The agreement was entered into in a timely manner
If all of these terms are met, it’s highly likely that the terms of the agreement will be given significant weight by the court if the couple go on to divorce.
Trusts in High Net Worth Divorce Settlements
Negotiating high net worth divorce settlements usually involves dealing with assets which are tied up in trusts. Indeed, a significant amount of wealth is typically stored in this manner. The success of either party in attacking or defending their interest in a trust is often crucial to the case’s outcome.
As you might expect, sorting out trusts in high net worth divorce cases can be particularly challenging when only one party has a financial interest in them. In this situation, the spouses will need to prove the trust is either a financial resource which should be taken into account during the settlement, or it is a nuptial element which is capable of variation.
Obtaining full disclosure of trusts in high net worth divorce cases can also be extremely difficult. This is especially true if it’s located offshore.
Full Disclosure of Assets
When it comes to high net worth divorce cases, the temptation may be there to try and hide assets from the other party — thereby gaining a financial advantage. This obviously goes against the requirement of a full and frank disclosure.
There are many ways in which assets can be hidden, such as in corporate and trust structures and even giving money over to friends for safe-keeping. If either party suspects the other of avoiding full disclosure, they can apply to the courts to have emergency remedies to be made. Another option would be to consult a specialist forensic accountant.
We would never recommend hiding assets during a high net worth divorce, or any divorce for that matter, as the potential consequences of this action can be serious. To find out more, please check out our blog on the subject.
Child Support Arrangements
Given the value of assets involved in high net worth divorce cases, arranging child support can be complicated. This is because the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) only calculates up to a maximum income of £156,000 per year.
Since most high net worth individuals earn more than this threshold, it is often left up to the courts to decide how child support will be worked out. You can read our dedicated blog on the subject for more details.
High Net Worth Divorce Pensions
Aside from the family home, pensions are often the most valuable assets in high net worth divorce cases. Often individuals fail to take into account their lifetime allowance for pensions, which could mean they face large tax liabilities when these funds crystallise. It’s therefore important to seek specialist advice at your earliest opportunity.
When dividing a high net worth pension, there are a number of methods available. These are:
Offsetting: In this scenario, the owner of the pension will keep it in full and instead give their spouse a larger share of other assets
Sharing: Transferring a sum of money from one person’s pension pot to the other’s
Attachment Orders: Redirecting all or part of the pensions’s benefits to the other party when the payment is made
Is a Lawyer Needed to Reach High Net Worth Divorce Settlements?
Although legal representation is not mandatory for any divorce, it is essential when considerable wealth and assets are at stake. Even in more amicable separations, it is important to understand your options and what you can expect from each stage in the process. An expert high net worth divorce lawyer will offer advice and recommendations that are tailored to your unique circumstances — putting your best interests at the heart of their strategy from beginning to end.
Furthermore, the right solicitor will prioritise an open, constructive dialogue with your former spouse. Mediation — and other forms of alternative dispute resolution — are often preferable to going to court, as it shows a willingness to settle the divorce. This often results in a quicker, less stressful resolution for both parties. However, in the event that a constructive approach isn’t practical, you will benefit from having the support of a high net worth divorce solicitor who puts your interests first and will fight your corner if necessary.
Lowry Legal — The High Net Worth Divorce Specialists
If significant wealth is a factor in your divorce, you’ll need specialist advice from an experienced, full-service legal firm. Lowry Legal has an exemplary track record in negotiating high net worth divorce settlements and offers a bespoke service which takes your unique circumstances into account.
We’re proud to provide holistic legal advice working alongside other experts to take care of all eventualities — such as tax matters, mediation, and accountancy. From start to finish, we work tirelessly to deliver your desired results and bring the matter to a swift conclusion. Whenever you need our support, you can rely on us.
Our combination of experience and tenacity in high net worth divorce cases have often proved vital in securing a positive resolution, protecting our clients’ interests, and helping them prepare for the future. To speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers, contact us today, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.