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In family law circles, it is a general rule of thumb that the more assets involved in a divorce, the more complicated the procedure will be. This is because high-net-worth cases usually involve many different forms of assets. The legal protections and entanglements surrounding such assets are difficult to divide when couples decide to go their separate ways.
If you and your spouse own considerable assets and decide to proceed with a divorce, it is essential to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer about your case. At The Valley Law Group, our skilled divorce attorneys have decades of experience navigating high-net-worth divorce. A Phoenix high-net-worth divorce lawyer on our team can help you address this complex division of assets and ensure you retain the property you deserve.
What Is a High-Asset Divorce?
In Arizona, a high-asset divorce involves the dissolution of the marriage of a couple holding assets worth more than $1 million. Additionally, if the assets total over $5 million, the divorce is considered a very high-net-worth divorce. Assets totaling between $100,000 and $1 million are considered sub-high-net-worth.
Whether due to the value itself, complex assets involving businesses and inheritances, or disagreements between spouses, high-asset divorce can become more complicated than most divorces in the state. For this reason, having legal representation by your side is crucial in high-asset divorces. Read on to learn more about what to expect from the division of considerable assets in Arizona.
How Are Assets Divided in Arizona?
Arizona is considered a community property state. This means that property, assets, and debts acquired during the course of a couple’s marriage are considered marital, or community, property. Community property is owned equally by both spouses, and this pertains to all assets and debts accumulated during the marriage, with few exceptions. Thus, assets and debts are also divided equally during a divorce.
Most assets are fairly simple to divide when a couple seeks divorce. However, some assets are more complicated to separate efficiently, including many that are often involved in a high-asset divorce.
A divorce involving high net worth may also include factors such as:
- Shared interest in businesses, including market share, bonds, board memberships, etc.
- Private and/or shared business ownership
- Joint ownership of real estate, secondary residences, or investment properties
- High-value collections of rare (and often, difficult to replace or objectively value) art, jewelry, antiques, etc.
- Taxable investment accounts
- Retirement and long-term investment accounts
- Real estate holdings
- Stock options
Assets such as stocks, pensions, or other complex financial assets are difficult to divide without assistance. Other assets typically require expert appraisers to determine their worth. In addition, unscrupulous spouses may attempt to hide certain assets to prevent division. That’s why it is so critical to secure representation from a high-asset divorce attorney who can evaluate your situation and ensure the best outcome possible. Hiding assets is much more common in high-net-worth divorce cases, and it’s crucial for a lawyer to help you uncover these assets to prevent unfair division.
Assets are separated differently in divorce proceedings, and it’s important to know how Arizona divides certain assets.
Trusts are often used to protect assets, particularly for high-net-worth couples. However, if any amount of money was placed into a trust during the marriage, the trust may be considered a marital asset during the divorce process. It can be difficult to determine how and when the money was placed into a trust, but a lawyer can help you evaluate your trust and use this information to assist with your case.
Couples with high net worth may have ownership stakes in at least one business. The business may be a sole proprietorship or may exist as a partnership or corporation. In most cases, both jointly-owned businesses and individual stakes in a business are considered community property. However, businesses owned before a marriage or business stakes purchased with separate assets like inheritances may be approached differently.
The business must be evaluated, often by a CPA or forensic accountant, to determine its value, ownership, and community property rights. If the business is community property, the couple may decide it makes sense to remove a spouse so the other can continue ownership. Otherwise, the couple can sell the stake and split the proceeds. Still others choose to continue operating a jointly-owned business after the divorce.
Real Estate Holdings
Real estate above and beyond the marital home is a common asset high-net-worth individuals choose to invest in. During a divorce, this real estate may need to be exchanged or sold to ensure the property is divided properly. Legal assistance is crucial to help couples determine the market value of the real estate holding and construct a plan to either sell the property and split the proceeds or require one spouse to sell their portion of the property to the other.
Exceptions to Arizona Community Property Laws
Assets obtained during the marriage must be divided equally when a couple chooses to divorce. However, there are exceptions to this requirement that involve either exempt assets or assets divided according to a prenuptial agreement.
Any assets the court recognizes as gifts, even if one spouse received the asset during the marriage, are exempt from division. This rule also applies to inheritances one spouse acquired during the marriage. In general, inheritances and gifts given to one spouse are considered separate property and are exempt from the division of community property.
If a couple wishes to avoid the standard property during divorce proceedings, they can do so by drafting and signing a prenuptial agreement that outlines their wishes for this process. A prenuptial agreement must be signed by both spouses of their own free will before the marriage becomes legal, and the terms of the agreement must be fair for both sides. Many couples with a high net worth choose to sign a prenuptial agreement to protect their assets in the event of a divorce.
Child and Spousal Support in High-Net-Worth Divorce
Divorce is an emotionally challenging time for everyone involved, especially for high-asset couples who have grown accustomed to a particular standard of living or couples who have children. There may be additional complications with regard to parenting decision-making and spousal maintenance if there is a large disparity between the income or earning potential of the parties.
Child support in Arizona is calculated by assessing both spouses’ incomes, as well as the particulars of their parenting agreement. The spouse without the bulk of the parenting time will usually be required to pay child support to the spouse with primary custody, especially if they have a higher income. Both parents are expected to contribute equally to the expenses of raising the child.
A high-net-worth divorce attorney can help you ensure the court accurately determines your and your ex-spouse’s incomes and parenting time to secure a fair child support payment. An attorney can also help you request modifications to the standard calculation or a standing child support order if your financial circumstances have changed and it would benefit the best interests of the child.
Also referred to as alimony, spousal maintenance is quite common in high-asset divorces. In many cases, one spouse earns significantly more income than the other, or they may have separate assets not eligible for division. Sometimes, the lower-earning spouse has sacrificed a career to raise children or support the higher-earning spouse in their career, and some spouses are unable to re-enter the workforce due to disability or age. Spousal maintenance can be used temporarily to help the lower-earning partner attain financial stability after the divorce, permanently to enable an unemployable spouse to continue living comfortably, or for a moderate amount of time to enable the other spouse to maintain a similar lifestyle.
Why Hire a High-Net-Worth Divorce Attorney?
Dissolving a high-net-worth marriage comes with a host of additional complications, a complex division of property, and other unique considerations not shared by the average divorce. As a result, it is especially essential to hire a skilled high-net-worth divorce attorney to help you navigate this journey.
The advantages of working with a high-asset divorce attorney include the following:
Accurate Legal Documents
Divorce cases typically involve a large amount of paperwork, particularly high-net-worth divorces. Your lawyer can provide guidance to ensure all documents are completed correctly and filed on time paperwork. This can prevent any delays in your case and allow you to focus on the other tasks of ending your marriage.
Knowledge and Expertise
High-asset divorce lawyers have a wealth of experience in this area of legal practice and have assisted many clients throughout their tenure. Divorce can be confusing to navigate on your own, especially those with the additional intricacies caused by significant assets. Hiring a high-asset lawyer can help you ensure your concerns are addressed, and your rights are protected.
High-net-worth divorce attorneys regularly work with expert witnesses like forensic accountants, brokers, appraisers, and other individuals who can help you accurately determine the value of your assets. These witnesses, in tandem with an experienced attorney, can help you ensure your ex-spouse is not hiding assets, falsifying valuations, or otherwise acting unscrupulously to hamper the property division process. Your attorney and their expert witnesses can help you ensure you secure a fair and equitable divorce settlement.
Divorce proceedings can result in an emotionally-charged conflict, which can make navigating the various steps with your ex-spouse nearly impossible on your own. A lawyer can recommend mediation or other types of conflict resolution, which can resolve any conflict between spouses outside the courtroom. Avoiding litigation as much as possible can help keep your high-asset divorce running smoothly and efficiently.
More Positive Outcomes
Securing legal representation skilled in high-asset divorce can help you ensure you reach the best possible outcome. No matter which unique factors are in play, including alimony, the complex division of assets, child support, and more, an attorney is essential to achieve a fair settlement. That’s why the skilled high-asset divorce attorneys at The Valley Law Group are ready to help you begin your high-asset divorce case.
High-Asset Divorce FAQs
High-net-worth couples often have many questions regarding their divorce matters. Here are the most common.
The Valley Law Group: Your Phoenix High-Net-Worth Divorce Lawyers
We understand how complicated and overwhelming divorce can be, especially if you own considerable assets and wish to ensure an equitable distribution of your community property. That’s why it is so essential to work with an expert high-asset divorce lawyer who can evaluate your situation and build a strong case for a fair outcome. If you live in or near Phoenix, Arizona, and need to secure legal representation for your high-asset divorce, we can help.
Here at The Valley Law Group, our lawyers are highly skilled in understanding the many factors surrounding divorce for high-net-worth individuals and families. We work diligently to uncover and properly evaluate all joint holdings of a couple, and we tenaciously fight for our clients to get their fair share during and after a divorce.
Contact us for a consultation regarding your unique case.
Learn More About AZ Divorce Law
- Retirement Division (QDRO)
- Property & Debt Division
- Order Enforcement
- Spousal Maintenance
- Legal Separation
- Collaborative Divorce