Holidays and your High Net Worth Divorce

If you are in a marriage where your assets exceed your basic needs it can be complex to agree on a fair financial settlement. And an important, aspect of the conversation is lifestyle – including holidays. In Holidays and your High Net Worth Divorce, we’ll look at everything you need to think about when considering your holiday budget in your high net worth divorce. 

What does ‘fair’ mean in the legal system?

There’s not a hard and fast rule about what constitutes fairness under the judicial system in England and Wales. Instead, the courts, and solicitors will take a case by case approach. But there are some legal principles they follow. 

When it comes to dividing your assets the court takes into account the Section 25 factors (from Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973). These include (amongst others):

  • Income and earning capacity, property and other financial resources that each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
  • The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities, which each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage.

You can read more about the full list of Section 25 factors and the concept of fairness here on my blog.

Your Lifestyle during the marriage

As you can see, there is a lot of scope in the system to allow for high net worth situations. Just because you are divorcing you do not need to drastically lower your lifestyle expectations. Especially if there are the assets to provide for them. 

I hope this is reassuring. If you are leaving a high net worth marriage, particularly if you were not the main wealth generator, you may feel that you should reduce your expectations going forward. This is not necessarily the case. 

Every divorce is different, and your solicitors will negotiate to get the best deal for you. But approach these negotiations with your head held high – you are entitled to maintain the standard of living you enjoyed previously if the wealth in your marriage allows for it. 

Your self-worth is important here. If you have a holiday home or more than one and you would like to keep it, take advice. It might be possible. You do not need to apologise for being you.

What can you ask for?

If you were not getting divorced (and we weren’t in a global pandemic!) what would you annual holiday expectations be? Were you accustomed to regular international travel? Skiing holidays? Spending the summer months on a sun-drenched island? Spend a few moments remembering the past – this is an important benchmark. 

Your solicitor is likely to ask you for a holiday budget. This is the time to consider all of the holiday expenses you would incur. You don’t need to minimise your costs at this stage. Work through methodically, factoring in transport, food, accommodation, and entertainment costs.

Cady Pearce, family solicitor at Kingsley Napley, understands that trying to recreate this part of your life for your legal team can be difficult and might feel overwhelming. She suggests that “If you are not sure where to begin, start by looking through your personal or family photos. These can give you a good timeline for where you went, who was there and what you did. These are all details that can help your solicitor, and potentially a court, understand your lifestyle and why your needs are what you say they are”.

Some of my clients tell me they feel guilty or greedy by putting forward a figure that accurately represents their holiday budget. But remember the Section 25 factors. The courts expect you to take into account the standard of living you enjoying during the marriage. 

So, be honest. Don’t inflate your costs, and don’t invent new lavish expenditures to try and play the system. Just set out what you would expect in terms of holidays, based on your marital lifestyle. And you are absolutely entitled to set out what those costs were. 

Include children’s expenses

The courts prioritise the safety and wellbeing of children. So pay extra attention to their needs when considering your holiday budget. And, remember, holiday budgets don’t just need to include travel costs. 

Do your children have hobbies or interests that they will want to pursue? Perhaps they have spent time learning to ride, act or ski during school holidays. Perhaps they are used to attending holiday residentials. Make sure these costs appear in your budget too. And remember that costs are likely to increase as the children get older. 

Are you likely to get what you ask for?

There are two main ways to agree a high net worth settlement:

  1. With the help of specialist solicitors
  2. With the help of specialist solicitors through the courts

Because of the complexity of high net worth cases I don’t advise that you try and negotiate without some specialist support (more on that later).

Let’s take these two routes in turn. 

If you have a non-combative relationship with your soon-to-be-ex, it’s possible that your respective legal representatives can come to an agreement without involving the courts. You could use trained mediators to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is a route that many high net worth couples overlook, as it’s often portrayed as a way to save money in cases where finances are tight.

 

Should you mediate?

But mediation has many benefits for high net worth cases too, when used in tandem with a specialist legal team.  Working with a mediator means you will have someone speaking non-legal language to help both of you consider your options and come to an agreement. So you retain a sense of control and autonomy over your decision-making. 

It also helps keep the heat down in your relationship as you separate – and whatever your financial circumstances, you will feel an emotional fallout from your divorce. 

Finally, mediation has the advantage of greater privacy. High net worth court cases can attract media attention. Working with a mediator keeps you out of the spotlight.

Mediation isn’t likely to be suitable for you however if you are in either a high-conflict situation or you don’t understand the financial structure of your family. The financial structure of your family is likely to be complex – it’s not just about the amount of wealth you have, it’s about how it’s held and the tax implications of dismantling it. So don’t dismiss mediation or hybrid-mediation out of hand, but be realistic about how it can help you.

High conflict personalities often try to persuade their less financially astute partners to mediation as a way of controlling their own agenda and getting a settlement agreed without full and detailed disclosure so beware!  You can find out more about how to divorce in a high conflict situation here.

If you do end up going through the courts you know that your legal team will fight for your best interests. But there is no guarantee over how a judge will rule. And while it is possible to appeal, that adds more time, expense and heartache to an already difficult process. 

Work with the specialists

High net worth divorces are much more complicated than standard divorces. Simply because there is more to untangle, and there may well be international aspects to your assets and lifestyle. You may need help researching and calculating your financial assets and expected living costs too. 

So make sure you engage people who specialise in high net worth cases. That goes for your legal representation, your financial advice, and your emotional support. 

I have worked with many women leaving high net worth marriages over the past five years. I know the issues you face, emotionally, legally, and financially. It can be difficult to know who to trust. I can be the trusted confidante you need when trust is thin on the ground. 

If you need someone to help with your decision-making, whether it’s around the decision to leave, or what’s fair when it comes to setting out your financial needs, I can be that person for you. 

You can book a private and confidential meeting with me here. 

About Emma

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

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