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Tony R. Bertolino

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Multi-Million Dollar Divorces Bring a Unique and Complex Set of Issues
by Tony R. Bertolino   

Last edited: Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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Marriages between high-profile and wealthy couples are not just unions of love and the foundation of families, but also complex business partnerships. With all of the money at stake, there are divorce attorneys who specialize in the dissolution of high-dollar marriages. If you find yourself in the position of needing legal representation in the face of an ending marriage and the financial consequences of the split are significant, it is imperative that you find an attorney who displays great comfort with discussions of investment portfolios, vacation homes, and antique heirlooms.

When you think of high-profile divorce cases at which millions of dollars are at stake, perhaps your first inclination is to think of the celebrities who find themselves in a court room somewhere near the movie and music studios that employ them. Certainly, these contentious battles receive the most media coverage, as recent divorces involving Madonna, Paul McCartney and Mel Gibson demonstrate. We come to learn about every asset of these famous men and women, down to the nickels and dimes, as well as every alleged indiscretion that may have led to the couple staring one another down in a courtroom. However, the dissolution of wealthy marriages does not just occur in Hollywood or the pages of tabloids. The reality is that divorces with large financial stakes are playing out all the time in every state, just usually without the glare of the paparazzi’s lens. Right here in Texas, dividing assets that are worth upwards of seven or eight figures is not unusual. Family law attorneys who wish to handle such cases must be almost as experienced in finance, accounting, and tax structures as they are in the matters of child support and marriage contracts.

Did you know that the current economic recession has actually played a role in increasing the number of wealthy couples who are filing for divorce? While overall, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, divorces tend to decline with an economic downtown, those with a tremendous amount of assets do not follow the trend. Instead, the number of inquiries to divorce attorneys from potential clients with a great deal of wealth increased by forty percent over the past year. During a recession, you can expect that a couple’s assets will decrease in value, from the family home to the high-risk investments to the 401(k) account. By making the decision to split when values are low, individuals will be obligated to provide less to a spouse in a resolution. If a marriage was already shaky or wholly dependent on the good times of a thriving economy to make the union bearable through material gains , a recession is going to make such partnerships all the more susceptible to the addition of a divorce lawyer or two into the relationship.

Divorce is never an easy process for a couple of navigate. These proceedings usually come with heightened and mixed emotions, an intense sense of grief and, if there are children involved, concern over what is best in terms of visitation and financial support. However, there is an additional set of complex issues that come into play with the two people who are separating are worth millions of dollars. If you are in this situation, you need to make sure that you are working with a family law attorney who specializes in such cases. Just think about all of the financial consequences that come from the dissolution of such a union. Property such as investment portfolios, time shares, art collections, equity in businesses, compensation packages, and other assets that are unique to the wealthy members of our population all can become points of contention for two people who both offer legitimate claims to their worth. The level of negotiation goes way beyond which person gets the newer car and how many nights the kids will stay at each house. These high-stakes divorce cases become complex business deals similar to the dissolution of a corporation. In Texas, these assets tend to take the form of oil and gas investments, securities, corporate ownerships, and large amounts of physical property. Texas has no shortage of men and women who have made fortunes off our state’s natural resources and impressive human capital, and they want to hold onto the fruits of their labor.

In addition to the property that is known and shared by both partners in a marriage, attorneys who are handling the divorce of a wealthy client also must consider the possibility that the other spouse is intentionally hiding some assets in order to lower the final amount of a settlement. When necessary, forensic experts in accounting, banking, business management, and other specialized fields may be retained to ensure that all investments are located and protected. If you believe that your estranged husband or wife may be hiding some sources of income, you need to make sure that you are hiring a lawyer with the professional resources and knowledge to know where to look to find hidden assets like offshore bank accounts, deferred compensation, tax shelters and other sources of income that must be included as community property.

When negotiating divorce settlements in Texas, attorneys must work under the fact that we are a “community property” state. This means that most property acquired during the marriage will be subject to an equitable division in a divorce settlement or trial. Even if one spouse was the sole source of income and therefore provided the money for the homes, cars, investments, etc., both partners have equal claim on these assets when a separation occurs. While a judge always will start with the assumption of a 50/50 split, various factors, such as the fault in the break-up of the marriage and the value of the assets of property, may shift the final decision.

In addition to the splitting of assets, a wealthy couple often faces the question of spousal support or alimony. When both members of a partnership become accustomed to a particular standard of living, battles may be fought if the ability to maintain the same existence is threatened. What expectations should one spouse have for financial support if he or she did not provide the primary source of income during the marriage? In Texas, spousal support is not an assumed component of the divorce settlement. Instead, a judge will examine factors such as the employment and education skills of the spouse, the duration of the marriage, the physical and emotional condition of the spouse, the need to care for children in the home, and possible marital misconduct. The decision can be made to provide either temporary spousal support or more long-term assistance. When dealing with couples who are used to budgeting with millions of dollars at their disposal, awards of spousal support can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars every month.

It is often said that everything is done bigger in Texas, from our food to our sports to our love of the outdoors. The same idea often holds true concerning the divorces that take place between some of the most wealthy and high-profile residents of our state. These marriages are not just unions of love and the foundation of families, but also complex business partnerships. With all of the money at stake, there are divorce attorneys who specialize in the dissolution of high-dollar marriages. If you find yourself in the position of needing legal representation in the face of an ending marriage and the financial consequences of the split are significant, it is imperative that you find an attorney who displays great comfort with discussions of investment portfolios, vacation homes, and antique heirlooms. If these conversations do not occur with ease, move on until you find an attorney who provides you the needed confidence that a difficult time in your life will be made as easy as possible.

Web Site: Bertolino LLP



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