Below is a guide to help those going through a divorce in Georgia that is for a case involving high net assets or individuals with a high net worth.
Nearly every divorce is complicated, but none more so than a divorce involving one or more people with a high net worth. It’s not just the fact that the marital assets can add up to hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars – it’s the fact that these assets can be difficult to identify or evaluate properly which can make these cases longer and often more contentious than most divorce cases.
Adding to this complication is that the nature of these items can vary wildly. Some are tangible items like stock options; inheritances; assets held in trust; or various savings, investment and retirement accounts. As these assets have a clear real-world worth, they are easier to valuate. Some assets, however, are more difficult to quantify, such as intellectual property, business interests, artwork and high-value items such as boats and jewelry.
Evaluating these more intangible assets adds an exceptional degree of difficulty to these divorce cases. And Georgia divorce law is very clear that all marital assets and holdings must be assigned a clear dollar value as part of divorce proceedings. While it may seem a simple matter to assign a dollar value to an asset, there are a myriad of complications that can arise, including taxation on carried interest, equity, future returns, difference in accounting methods whether cash or accrual, and even personal goodwill.
It is obviously a highly complicated procedure, but there are ways to ensure a high-net-worth divorce goes as smoothly as possible.
The first order of business in a case like this is to file a temporary order. These can be used to either force a spouse to pay debts or attorney’s fees, or to prevent them from selling or depreciating the value of assets, protecting your interests. As your attorneys, helping you attain these temporary protections will be job one.
We will also assist in investigating any attempts to hide assets. Beyond representing a serious breach of trust, deliberately concealing assets during divorce proceedings is illegal. Illegal, but not uncommon. Whether it’s a spouse withdrawing money from a joint account; failing to report income or assets; falsifying tax returns to declare fewer assets; or delaying payment of stock options or bonuses, there are any number of ways a dishonest spouse can avoid sharing assets.
Before any negotiations can begin toward an equitable agreement, it’s vital to ensure that every asset is accounted for to its fullest. As such, it’s important to discuss any suspicions you might have with your attorney. Should it come down to it, it is possible to track these activities by hiring a forensic accountant.
An additional consideration before formal proceedings begin is sealing records from the public. Under Georgia law, records of divorce proceedings are generally public information. As such, a divorce can put you in a position where business associates, neighbors or family members can have access to every detail. If this is a concern, you can petition the court to seal records, but be warned that the court will require a compelling reason. It’s ultimately at the judge’s discretion, but they are far more likely to approve sealing records in cases where there is provable harm.
The next step is to come to an agreement on shared assets before appearing before a judge, or take steps to ensure that the divorce is finalized outside of court.
As a means of coming to a timely and amicable settlement, mediation is a powerful tool in a divorce, especially for those with high-value assets. In fact, as a means to reduce back-ups in the court system, Georgia law requires mediation for any couple who cannot come to terms on asset agreements on their own. Generally speaking, coming together with a third party to resolve conflicts before court proceedings can save time and money. These savings in terms of attorney fees may be of negligible value to those of greater means, but the true value lies in mediation’s ability to quickly secure protections of vital assets.
Similar to mediation, and equally useful, is arbitration. Essentially, the two processes are the same but with a few key differences. For one, the third-party arbiter’s decisions are legally binding, whereas a mediator’s job is to help a couple come to a decision before it goes to court. For another, the arbitration is far more confidential, allowing the particulars of your divorce to remain out of a courtroom and away from the public record.
Our attorneys are well versed in the highly complex world of family law and know exactly how to navigate the vagaries that come with it. As these cases can be so multifaceted, we charge a custom retainer fee based on the amount of work that we estimate it will take to successfully resolve your family law matter. This approach allows you to only pay for what you need and nothing more.
It all starts with the initial consultation, designed to give you peace of mind and invaluable insight into your rights and protections. The initial consultation fee of $425 gives you one hour with Mr. Claiborne and a paralegal where we will drill down to the specifics of your case, collect evidence, take exhaustive notes on your case and begin devising our initial strategy.
After that consultation, you are under no obligation or commitment to work with us and we will happily refer you to other firms or agencies that might better suit your needs. But you will at least have been given a wealth of knowledge that can help you make better informed decisions and breathe easier knowing that there are many options available to you.