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Potential Issues in High Net Worth Divorces

Potential Issues in High Net Worth Divorces

By M. Scott Gordon

Divorce is a difficult experience regardless of how long a couple has been together or how many assets they have between them. However, high net worth divorces can lead to unique issues, especially when discussing tax issues and support, in tandem with asset division. Equity is the watchword, and it can be more difficult to achieve equity when there is a wider pool of marital property than usual.

What Qualifies as “High Net Worth”?

A divorce generally falls under the heading of “high net worth” when several large assets are at issue during proceedings. The most common assets at stake in these types of divorces can include:

  • High levels of income;
  • A family home free of debt;
  • Vacation homes and/or investment real estate;
  • Pensions and IRAs or other retirement accounts; and
  • Luxury items such as recreational vehicles, antiques or collections.

Because these assets generally have high monetary value, and because there are laws that strictly govern their conveyance (especially regarding classes such as real property), it can very often take a professional to assess what is legally possible and what is not. It can even become more difficult if the assets of a divorcing couple include business interests that may not end even if the couple ceases to be a couple.

Potential Issues

Illinois, unlike many other states, is an equitable property state. This means that all property is equitably divided between the spouses – but this is not always as easy as it seems. It is extremely common for spouses (and lawyers) to disagree on whether something constitutes marital or non-marital property. One might think this was straightforward – property acquired during the marriage is marital property, at least in theory – but there are enough exceptions where reasonable minds may sometimes disagree. The most common exception is a gift or inheritance to one spouse; that asset remains solely their property (if retained solely in their name), even if acquired during their marriage.

Another possible issue when negotiating a high net worth divorce agreement is the question of asset hiding. While it does happen at a fairly steady clip – a National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) study in 2011 reported that about three in ten Americans were routinely untruthful with their spouse or partner about financial matters – it is nonetheless improper. It is a breach of the rules of civil procedure to knowingly lie on divorce asset disclosure forms. In Illinois, asset hiding is punishable by fines and/or jail time in serious matters. The principle of equability is taken very seriously by the courts, as well as the principle that both spouses should be left financially stable after a divorce.

Seek Qualified Legal Assistance
Disagreements over property division can, on occasion, render an entire divorce agreement subject to lengthy discussions and outright battles. The assistance of a competent legal professional can help smooth out the process and eliminate any lingering confusion over the complex rules of asset distribution. The Chicago high net worth divorce attorneys at M. Scott Gordon & Associates have years of experience in these cases, and are ready, willing and able to share their knowledge with you. Contact our offices in Chicago or Skokie to discuss your options. We serve the entire Chicago land area.