A high-net-worth divorce can unfortunately mean a very high legal bill for both parties, and a very long delay between the time a case is filed and when it is resolved. More money can not only mean there are more issues to “fight” about, but it can fuel the adversarial process as there is more cash on hand to pay attorneys.
Of course, no one wants to spend their money on high attorneys fees, and rightly so, nor is a lengthy court battle conducive to your mental health or your family relations. What follows are several tips from a high net worth family lawyer to prepare for your high net worth divorce.
Consult with an Attorney Before Filing Paperwork (or Potentially Prior to Discussing with Your Spouse)
If you are in a high-net-worth divorce, or about to pursue one, it is highly advisable to work with an attorney. Not every divorce case requires attorneys, but when significant financial issues are at stake, it is generally worth working with a professional legal representative who can advise and represent you on what might be the most consequential financial event of your life.
Some individuals will file a petition for divorce before speaking with an attorney, but typically it is best to retain legal guidance before you do so, as even the initial filing documents can have significant implications for your divorce, and there may be further steps to take and discussions you want to have with a legal professional prior to filing the petition. Furthermore, it may well be advisable to consult with an attorney before telling your spouse you are seeking a divorce, in order to get a comprehensive overview of the process as well as any important steps to take to protect yourself prior to communicating with your spouse.
Find an Attorney Who Has Your Best Interests in Mind
A high-net-worth divorce, particularly in California, can unfortunately be quite expensive and time-consuming for both parties, especially if there is conflict and hostility between the divorcing spouses. It is not uncommon for the combined legal expenses of a high-net-worth divorce in California to reach into six-figure territory.
Thus, choosing your attorney may well be one of the most significant financial decisions of your divorce, and indeed of your life. Unfortunately, there are attorneys who, through greed or lack of skill, can cause divorce cases to spin out of control, delaying legal and emotional resolution for you while running up the bill.
It is important to find an attorney who will have your best interests – and not their own – in mind, specifically one who can best assess how to help you reach your goals without unnecessarily increasing stress and fees. It’s completely appropriate to talk to several lawyers before settling on one. When doing so, ask yourself whether it appears that the attorney is understanding your goals and concerns and providing you with realistic and coherent guidance, and not just telling you what you want to hear in order to bring you on as a client.
Collect Financial Records and Other Important Documents Early On
Outside of any child custody issues, the most significant issues to be determined in your divorce will likely be matters relating to the distribution of community and separate property as well as spousal support. These are both issues which will require documents from both parties, such as: tax returns; W2s, 1099s, and other income statements; checking and savings account statements; brokerage account statements; 401(k), IRA, pension plan and other retirement fund statements and plan documents; deeds; titles; insurance plan documents; trust and other estate planning documents; safety deposit box documents, and so on.
Ideally, in a divorce both parties will work together in a transparent and open manner to share these documents. But that is not always the case, and a significant amount of expense can be incurred by engaging in ongoing discovery efforts and even court hearings to obtain these documents from an uncooperative spouse. And even then, the necessary documents might never see the light of day.
Thus, it is helpful to do everything you can to (legally) obtain such financial information and documents (as well as non-financial documents such as educational records) while you still have access to them, and tensions have not heated. Your attorney can provide you with guidance on the specifics of this process as it relates to your individual scenario.
Avoid Bringing Emotional Conflicts into the Legal Process
Divorce nearly always involves emotional pain, and often involves emotional conflict between the parties. And depictions of divorce in movies and television primarily focus on such emotional conflict given the nature of the storytelling medium.
But trying to “win” your emotional war with your spouse via the divorce process is a recipe for a long, messy, stressful, and expensive process that can leave you even more emotionally wounded without providing you with whatever emotional “win” you were looking for.
Instead, focus on the specific financial and child-focused goals for your divorce and allow your attorney to guide you towards those goals in a clear and relatively calm manner, while working to process your emotions through more conducive means such as therapy and spending time with wise and caring friends.
Be Open-Minded to Alternative Dispute Resolution
One of the best ways to resolve a divorce is through the mediation process, where the parties work together with a neutral third party to come up with an agreement that works for them outside of court. Similarly attorneys can work collaboratively to negotiate a similar agreement without running to court over every dispute.
Although you may feel betrayed and otherwise wronged by your spouse, do not assume that the only way to finish a divorce with him or her is to go to court. Litigated divorce cases, especially those that are only resolved at trial, are generally far more expensive and stressful than mediated and/or negotiated cases. And, despite the animosity that may exist between you and your spouse, skilled attorneys and mediators can do wonders to resolve even extremely high-conflict cases without going to court.
Get Answers to Your Questions From a High Net Worth Westlake Village Family Law Attorney and Mediator
The Zonder Family Law Group in Westlake Village, California focuses on providing legal and mediation services to parties in high net worth divorces. If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.