High Net Worth Divorce
At Josiah-Lake Gardiner, our lawyers have considerable experience in acting for high-net-worth individuals to safeguard their wealth during the divorce process. This usually includes businesses, properties, pensions and trusts, in multiple jurisdictions. With our resources and experience, we will provide unrivalled legal representation to gain the best outcome for you.
To book an initial consultation with our high net worth divorce solicitors, simply call 020 3709 8975 or complete our online enquiry form.
Introduction/What qualifies as a High Net Worth Divorce (or Dissolution) Case?
Oftentimes, cases involving wealthy clients (including high earners and those with substantial capital assets) are, for want of a better description, termed ‘high net worth’ divorce (or dissolution) cases. In many cases, one or both of the parties will have come into the marriage or civil partnership has amassed substantial wealth through work, gifts or inheritance. There are equally as many cases where the family wealth has largely been built up during the marriage.
For wealthy couples getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership, the nature and extent of their wealth can add a layer of complexity. Couples that have substantial holdings through investments, properties and business ventures and those with high-paying occupations can easily have millions at stake in their divorce/dissolution and it is critical that each party has expert independent legal advice from an experienced high net worth divorce (or dissolution) solicitor in order to protect his or her financial interests as much as possible.
Not only will the client potentially need advice on issues, such as spousal and child maintenance, school fees and lifestyle choices, they will also need to understand and advance options for settlement in respect of properties, pensions, trusts, business assets, personal assets, offshore assets and inherited wealth. There may also need to be conversations about possible freezing injunctions (including those with a worldwide effect) where there is a concern that assets may be placed out of the court’s reach in order to defeat a part’s legitimate claims for sharing/financial provision.
Our Expertise in Handling High Net Worth Cases
All of the lawyers at Josiah-Lake Gardiner have experience not only of dealing with divorce and dissolution cases where the assets are more modest, but also those involving very substantial assets, including inherited wealth, ownership of or interest in business assets, off shore assets, trusts, property and stock portfolios and pensions. Our experience of dealing with high net worth cases, including reported cases, makes us well placed to advise and assist you.
I’m Looking to protect my wealth? Can you Help?
After proceedings for divorce or dissolution have commenced, the opportunities for legally ‘protecting’ wealth are more limited in that full and complete transparency is required – all assets must be fully disclosed. An out of court settlement can be reached with your spouse/civil partner on advantageous terms which may go some way to protecting perhaps pre-acquired wealth. Equally, a trial judge may well make a final order, the result of which has been to ‘ring fence’ pre-acquired wealth for one party where the remaining family assets are sufficient to meet the needs of the other party and any children for whom they have primary care.
A pre-marital/prenuptial or pre-civil partnership registration agreement (otherwise referred to colloquially as a prenup!) is a formal written agreement between two partners entered into prior to their marriage or civil partnership. It typically sets out what has been agreed between a couple should happen with regard to the ownership of financial assets and property in the event of the breakdown of their marriage/civil partnership. If marrying or entering into a civil partnership for a second (or third) time or later in life, you may have acquired wealth and assets which you would want to protect or preserve for children from an earlier marriage or for family members, it could well make sense to enter into a prenuptial agreement to protect and preserve what is being brought into the marriage.
Prenups are not legally binding in the UK (as yet). Since the case of Radmacher v Granatino  UKSC 42, prenups are now afforded heavier evidential weight by the courts although they remain just still one of a number of factors that the Court will take into account when determining a financial split on divorce or dissolution.
What has shifted though is that the burden now rests with the party wishing to get out of the prenup to show to the Court why it would be unfair to hold them to its terms. As a result, it is better than not to have a prenup in place as evidence of a shared intention as to how the assets should be split on divorce/dissolution and the terms of any ongoing financial support from one to the other and for any child or children. Further, during the subsistence of the marriage or civil partnership, a post-nup could be entered into to provide the same certainty as with a prenup and its terms would be considered in the same way.
How Can I Protect My Business?
Businesses are very much classed as an asset of the marriage/civil partnership and how the business will be treated on divorce/dissolution depends on a variety of factors. If you are separating and you or your partner owns a business, then it is important to seek advice from solicitors who specialise in this area. It is important for your solicitor to fully understand the nature of your business.
Each business is different and to understand the impact a divorce/dissolution may have, it is essential that there is a good understanding of how the business works. It is the vehicle from which the family’s income is derived? If so, does it make sense for the business to be sold? Should it be treated as a capital asset or as an income producing vehicle? If one party is to keep the business, how should the other be ‘compensated’?
The starting point with any financial negotiations is an exchange of full and complete financial disclosure. This may well mean that a formal valuation of the business must be carried out. Your business accounts will not normally be sufficient. It is common for a valuation to be conducted by a single joint expert to help keep costs to a minimum. The business valuation is crucial not only in establishing the overall wealth of the business but also to address issues such as tax liabilities if your business were to be sold. Once the value is established, the next consideration is what your spouse/civil partner’s interest is and how it should be realised.
If the business has assets, these could potentially be sold to pay a lump sum to your spouse/civil partner to enable you to retain the business, as long as those assets are not material to the functioning of the business ie if the business rents out properties, would it be possible to transfer some of them to your spouse/civil partner and the business still operate? If the business is income rich and capital poor and produces an income that supports the family, an order could be made for maintenance payments to be paid to your spouse/civil partner or for there to be a lump sum payment in this regard.
It might also possible to settle your spouse/civil partner’s interest in the business from non-business assets, such as awarding them a larger share of the sale proceeds of/the equity in the family home to reflect their interest in the business. It is only in cases where there is no other option available, that a business will be sold in order to provide a financial settlement.
I’m Looking to Gain My ‘Fair Share'
‘Fairness’ is in the eye of the beholder! What one party considers fair would not necessarily be regarded by the other as fair or potentially what a court would order. If an agreement cannot be reached out of court, the decision making is then in the hands of the court.
The judge dealing with the matter and who will have the final decision on how the assets are divided will in most cases strive to decide what the fairest way to divide the assets is, but arrangements regarding the children (in terms of their housing) have the highest priority.
The way in which a family’s assets are divided on divorce is complex and a whole range of factors are taken into account as follows:
(a) The income, earning capacity (including any increase in such capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a spouse/civil partner to take steps to acquire), property and other financial resources which each spouse/civil partner has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
(b) The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each spouse/civil partner has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
(c) The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage/civil partnership;
(d) The age of each spouse/civil partner and the duration of the marriage/civil partnership (including relevant seamless pre-marriage/registration cohabitation);
(e) Any physical or mental disability of either of the spouses/civil partners;
(f) The contributions which each spouse/civil partner has made or is likely to make in the foreseeable future to the welfare of the family including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family;
(g) The conduct of each spouse/civil partner if in the opinion of the court it would be inequitable to disregard such (note though that this does not mean behaviour such as adultery and would need to be of a financial nature);
(h) The value of any benefit (including pension benefits) which the spouse/civil partner will lose the chance to acquiring by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage or civil partnership.
Mediation for High Net Worth Individuals
If the intention of the separating couple is to resolve matters quickly and amicably, they may initially attempt to agree matters directly, but the more complex their finances the less likely they would be able to resolve matters themselves. Mediation can assist some couples to resolve financial issues with the assistance of a neutral third party independent mediator who is not permitted to offer legal advice to either party, but it would still be preferable for the parties to have their own solicitors in the background to assist them.
If the parties are dealing with finances, the solicitor will be able to assist a party with the disclosure and review of documents. He or she can offer advice on the law and the approach likely to be taken by the court if the matter were to be determined by a judge, rather than by agreement. Settlement options can be explored with the solicitor and proposals formulated to then advance in mediation. Sometimes, the solicitors for each party can be invited to attend a mediation session with their clients.
If mediation is not successful or is not something that the parties are willing to consider, there are further options for the spouses/civil partners to consider with regard to resolving matters out of court including the collaborative law process and direct face to face negotiating between the spouses/civil partners and their lawyers at round table meetings.
Arrangements for Children
When a relationship breaks down, the key issues to be decided in connection with the children are with whom they will primarily live and how much time (if any) they will spend with the other parent.
A child arrangements order (made pursuant to section 8 of the Children Act 1989) means an order directing with whom a child is to live (a child arrangements ‘lives with’ order) and with whom a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact (a child arrangements ‘spends time with’ order). Thus, whilst a ‘lives with’ order confirms with whom a child is to live, a ‘spends time with’ order deals with whom the child is to see or otherwise have contact. Such order could be either direct (face to face contact whether on a visiting or staying/overnight basis) or indirect (by letter, telephone, email, text, Skype, FaceTime etc).
In the vast majority of cases, the arrangements for the children can be agreed without any involvement of solicitors, but, where the parents cannot agree with whom the children should live, they may need advice and assistance from specialist family lawyers. Child maintenance is now dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service save that by consent child maintenance can be set out in an order of the court. This does not though prevent the paying party or indeed the receiving party from applying to the CMS after one year from the date of the order to have it carry out a formal assessment of the level of maintenance that should be paid and this assessment will have the effect of overriding and discharging the order of the court.
What You Can Expect from Josiah-Lake Gardiner
We, at Josiah-Lake Gardiner, will guide you through the process required to enable you to secure a financial settlement, whether by agreement or further to a court order. Our experienced team of solicitors will always endeavour to minimise the emotional distress of relationship breakdown on all members of the family, with particular emphasis on assisting clients to minimise as much as it is possible to do the emotional impact on any children of the family.
It may be that you and your partner will, with our help, be able to secure an out of court agreement, but if you do have to go to court, our expert team will be by your side to guide, advise and assist you at every stage. In this regard, we have been named one of the UK’s leading Family Law firms by the independent legal guide The Legal 500 for a number of years. For more information, you should make an appointment with one of our expert solicitors to discuss your particular circumstances