Dos & Don’ts for Navigating the Emotional Toll of High-Net-Worth Divorce

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Divorce is rarely easy and high-net-worth divorce, in particular, is often filled with complexities and challenges.  The greater the money and assets at stake, the higher the likelihood of problems arising.  Additionally, mistakes made during the divorce process tend to be costly and may result in long-term consequences.

In our articles, “5 Mistakes to Avoid in a High-Asset Divorce” and “What a High-Asset Divorce Attorney Can Do for Your Case,” we discussed some of the common pitfalls in high-net-worth divorce cases and how your family attorney can help you avoid them.  Here are some additional dos and don’ts to help you navigate the emotional toll of a high-asset divorce.

Don’t: Be controlled by fear

Feeling fearful, scared, and confused is a natural part of going through a divorce.  Even if you are the one initiating the split, you may experience many periods of doubt and anxiety.

Divorce impacts every aspect of one’s life – from your finances to your family structure, your living situation to your social circle.  At Zonder Family Law Group, we believe that divorce is experienced in four dimensions – the legal, the financial, the emotional, and the spiritual.  It is normal to feel fear when so much of your life feels upended.

While the feeling of fear is to be expected, it is important not to get stuck in it.  You don’t want to let your fear cause you to make impulsive, emotional decisions which won’t serve your best interests.  Similarly, you shouldn’t let fear paralyze you into inaction.  Take it slowly, but endeavor to keep moving through your fear.

Don’t: Make decisions based on your feelings

Most of us are at least somewhat pain avoidant, meaning we tend to avoid situations which will bring us discomfort and distress.  Since the divorce process almost always involves at least a moderate amount of discomfort, there is a natural tendency to “just get it over with.”

While dragging out a divorce is usually in no one’s best interest – either emotionally or financially – it is important not to make significant, long-term decisions out of a desire to end the pain.  Likewise, being overly aggressive due to anger or a desire to retaliate usually results in a high toll on your finances, family, and emotional well-being.

When going through a divorce, you will experience a lot of different feelings – grief, worry, and guilt are just a few of them.  Allow yourself to experience your emotions as they come but acknowledge them for what they are – feelings which will ebb and flow over time.  Avoid being reactionary.

Do: Organize your finances early on in your divorce

The financial aspects of divorce often take a large toll on our emotions.  Many who go through a high-asset divorce fear either losing “everything” or having to “give it all away.”  The fear of ending up destitute is real, even where significant assets are involved.

To make matters more complicated, there is typically one spouse who takes a more active role in handling the finances, also known as the “in-spouse.”  The in-spouse may have even gone so far as to intentionally keep the “out-spouse” away from all financial matters during the marriage.

To the best of your knowledge and ability, begin organizing your finances as early in the divorce process as possible.  Start by gathering all your bank, investment, and credit card account statements.  Make copies of tax returns for the last 5 years, estate plans, and any pre- or post-nuptial agreement.  Create a list of your assets – those owned both separately and jointly – and include all real estate and business holdings.

Under California family law, each party in a divorce is required to complete financial disclosure forms, known as the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure.  These forms include a Schedule of Assets and Debts and a Declaration of Income and Expense.  Organizing your finances will help greatly in completing these forms.

In high-net-worth divorces, it is usually beneficial to engage the use of financial professionals such as forensic accountants and Certified Divorce Financial Analysts® when assessing the financial aspects of your case. However, the more information you can provide to your divorce team, the more you can potentially save in time and cost.

Do: Have an idea of what you would like to happen in your divorce – but stay flexible

What it is you are looking to reasonably achieve?  What are your desired outcomes?  Is child custody your most important issue?  Or is it retaining the marital home or a family business?  Perhaps it is spousal support?

Setting realistic and reasonable goals – with the aide and guidance of your high-net-worth family law attorney – is a key part of the divorce process.  For each goal, it is important to have a “why.”  The “why” is the motivation behind your goals.  “It is important for me to keep the marital home because I do not want the children to experience further disruption by moving,” is an example of a “why.”

Watch for “whys” based on anger or retaliation – “I don’t want her to have the home because that is where she had her affair,” for example.  When our motivation comes from a negative emotion, it will usually not lead to a positive long-term outcome.

Your “whys” should also help you rank your goals and allow for flexibility as you negotiate your settlement.  Most divorce agreements which are created through a mediated, collaborative, or cooperative process (i.e., not left up to a judge to decide) are reached through what is called “horse trading” – “I’ll give up X if you give up Y.”  Compromise is best achieved when both parties feel as though their most important needs are being met.  Setting goals while allowing for compromise will hopefully help you achieve an outcome that is satisfactory to both of you.

Do: Retain a great divorce team

When choosing a family law attorney, make sure he or she has extensive experience in working with high-net-worth cases.  Your lawyer should guide you through the legal aspects of your case and serve as point-person on your divorce team – which may include financial professionals and real estate and/or business experts.

Mental health professionals, such as divorce coaches and therapists, are also highly valuable with navigating the emotional aspects of a divorce.  Talking to your family law attorney should not replace talking to a qualified mental health expert.

Once your divorce team is assembled, utilize their skills and guidance.  Don’t make decisions without consulting them first.  Your team can help you avoid costly mistakes.

Do: Believe that life will be good again after divorce

While a divorce may seem overwhelming and scary at the outset, many find it is a chance for growth and fulfillment.  While it is difficult and challenging, it is also an opportunity to find a deeper sense of satisfaction and a greater sense of purpose in life.

Most people who have gone through divorce report an increase in their happiness and overall satisfaction with life two years post-divorce.  Eventually, life will be good again – and possibly better than it ever was.

Contact a High-Net-Worth Family Law Attorney Today

If you would like to learn how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties, contact the Zonder Family Law Group today.  Don’t wait to start the next chapter of your life.

Our attorneys are licensed in the State of California. We do not handle any matter outside of California. Testimonials or case results do not guarantee you will get the same or similar result. None of the information, testimonials, case results, or information is a guarantee, warranty, prediction, or assurance regarding the results that may be obtained in your case. Every case is dependent on its own facts.  These materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.