Five Financial Considerations In Your High Net Worth Divorce
High Net Worth divorce cases often bring with them a range of complex financial jurisdictional issues. That’s why, when you are in a high net worth situation, it’s critical to get a specialist legal and financial team in place, fast. This is true whether you are considered the main wealth generator or not.
Is my divorce a high net worth situation?
It may sound bizarre, but you may not know whether you fall into the high net worth (HNW) or ultra-high net worth (UHNW) category. This could be because you haven’t considered the point, you don’t know what your assets are worth, or you don’t know what the definition is.
You might expect the definition to be straightforward but it’s not. Here in the UK, HMRC redefined the concept of high net worth in 2016 to encompass anyone with assets of more than £10 million (it had been £20 million). The Financial Conduct Authority has two definitions – an investor whose income is more than £100,000 or they hold net assets (excluding their own residence or pension) of more than £250,000. Or if they are a high net worth mortgage customer, those with income of more than £300,000 per year or net assets of no less than £3 million. Ultimately, whatever the definition, when you are in a high net worth or ultra-high net worth divorce, it’s going to be complex.
In Five Financial Considerations In Your High Net Worth Divorce we will cover five of the main financial issues to consider for your high net worth divorce.
Start with a divorce plan
I always advise my clients to get a divorce plan in place, and this is even more important in high net worth cases. A divorce plan sets out your personal and financial goals for divorce. In high net worth divorces it’s often important to act quickly to ensure assets are protected. This is why I advise you to get a divorce plan in place before you tell your spouse you’re leaving.
Leaving a high net worth marriage is a significant step. Your happiness and fulfilment are worth more than any marital asset. But you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to financial exploitation by declaring your intentions before you are ready to act.
A divorce plan is informed by your financial situation – so it’s important to get early specialist financial advice. But, more importantly, it’s informed by you. Your desires and needs. I can work with you to untangle the ‘you’ you want to be from the ‘you’ you’ve become in marriage, and we can work together to get a plan in place. Having worked closely with women in high net worth situations for over five years, I’m well versed in the emotional, financial and legal complexities of these cases.
Start with your divorce plan. Even if it changes it will stand you in good stead during the months and years ahead. It will give you the confidence to stand your ground and help you decide what to fight for, if your arguments are contested.
Where to file for high net worth divorce
Couples in high net worth marriages usually have business and personal interests across the globe. It may be that you or your spouse are resident in another country, part-time or full-time. Or you may have business interests internationally.
In these cases, it’s important to consider which jurisdiction is likely to give you the best outcome. The costs, length and type of financial orders usually made will vary from country to country. In high net worth cases the England and Wales jurisdiction is often seen as the best place to divorce, with a reputation for achieving fair financial results. Acting quickly with a specialist team to file your divorce can help seat your case within the jurisdiction likely to best meet your needs.
Disclosing high net worth assets
High net worth divorces necessarily involve more, and more significant, assets than a standard divorce. It is not uncommon for assets to be hidden in these cases. Hiding assets may be as simple as your ex-spouse transferring sums from a disclosed account to an undisclosed one. Or funds may be hidden within a complex web of international trust and business structures.
It’s important to get help to ensure all marital and non-marital assets are available for consideration. This can be especially complex when money is tied up in overseas trusts, and the trustees refuse access. It’s possible to compel the trustees to disclose financial information through applying to the local jurisdiction for a court order – but this can be time-consuming. If your legal team can make a compelling case that assets have been hidden by your ex-spouse, they can ask the judge to rule in your favour. Seek advice.
A high net worth legal team will include specialists in forensic financial searches. You may also need to engage specialist asset tracers, such as Harod Associates, who work with state of the art proprietary cyber technology to trace both onshore and offshore assets. It is worth tracing assets before leaving or filing for divorce, as this ensures your spouse has fewer opportunities to hide or dispose of assets in response.
Valuing high net worth assets
Asset valuation, especially the value of a business, is often a key point of contention during high net worth cases. Valuation isn’t an exact science, and needs to be carried out by a specialist to inform the judge’s decision. Valuations are often given across a range – and the range can be significant. If your spouse is the business owner, and intends to retain the business beyond the marriage, they will likely argue for the lower-end of the valuation to be used in financial settlements, for example.
The accrual of a business’s value before or after marriage may also be significant. For example, the business may have existed at a lower value prior to marriage and its value increased significantly during the marriage. This will all have an impact on the financial remedy.
If your ex-spouse was the main wealth generator, they may apply for ‘special consideration’ to move away from the rule of equality on division of assets. They may make a claim that it was their particular contribution that generated the wealth, and so assets should be divided in their favour.
In recent cases, such as XW v XH (2019) this special consideration was not granted, on the grounds that a special contribution had not been made out. The wife had made what Baker J had described as an ‘incalculable’ contribution to the care of the family and their severely disabled children. Notwithstanding the latent potential of the business at the time of marriage, this did still not evidence that the husband’s contribution justified a departure from equality. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware that your ex-spouse’s legal team may mount cases such as this, and you may need to resist these applications.
Don’t do it alone
Working with a team of financial and legal specialists is essential for managing your high net worth divorce. But it can be a lonely and draining task. That’s where I come in. With over five years of experience supporting women through high net worth cases, I understand the many financial and legal issues at hand.
I also understand how essential it is not to lose yourself and your sanity to financial combat. Working with me will help you ground yourself. So you can make smart choices. So you can keep step with proceedings as they unfold. And so you remember your own worth – always.
To see how I can help you navigate these complex waters, book in a call here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com