The division of property is one of the more intense stages of the divorce process, and this holds especially true in a high net worth marriage, as the properties themselves tend to be of high value. Disputes over ownership with such a variety of valuable assets and properties are sometimes settled outside of court, but, as seen in the very publicized Jeff-MacKenzie Bezos divorce, these settlements can be worth billions depending on the total net value at hand.
In most high net worth divorces, at least one, but sometimes both of the spouses will have personal assets that are not considered marital property. Assets like an inheritance of a home, or an account you owned prior to the marriage are deemed as “separate property”, and will not be available for distribution. This is a prime example of why having a prenuptial agreement is so valuable, because it clearly and unequivocally states what properties are off-limits and not available for distribution in the event of a divorce.
When discussing properties in a high net worth divorce, it implies that there are more than just residences and cars involved. Investment portfolios, fine jewelry and art, real estate holdings, and firms and businesses are all common assets in a high net worth divorce. But how do you divide a portfolio? By its total returns, or dividing up the shares from the different companies in the portfolio?
The answer is that these assets will have to be valuated in order to determine the total value, before splitting it in the interest of fair distribution, with potential alimony and child support in mind. For estate properties, financial consultants and experts can help with appraisals and valuation of the home, and a forensic accountant can be retained to help as well.
In the state of New York, any divorce, of any net worth, goes through this form of equitable distribution process:
- Identify all assets;
- State whether an asset is from before the marriage and not deemed divisible (Separate), or if the asset was acquired or utilized during the marriage, and therefore is potentially divisible (marital), or a combination of both;
- Finalize a valuation for each of the prospective assets; and
- Distribute marital assets based on an equal and fair basis.
Ultimately, the process of property distribution doesn’t fundamentally change due to high net worth – it is the volume and extensive value of the assets that are deemed marital properties that cause the complexity in this stage of the divorce.