Expert Legal Tips for High Asset Divorce

Brad M. LaMorgese, Divorce
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Evidence and Documents Following Court Order
Protecting Business Assets Mutual Restraining Order
Property Division Family Law Attorney
Outline Objectives Fight the Good Fight
Taxes & Fringe Benefits Litigation Roadmap


Gather divorce evidence and documents as early as possible

This may be the most important part of a divorce. Knowledge of the facts is power in a divorce proceeding. Having key documents at hand makes the process more efficient for the attorney — translation: lower cost. This also educates the attorney quickly about the size and nature of an estate and any child-related claims. This rule may be even more important for the busy executive because of time efficiency.  Here are five things you should do before filing for a divorce.

Executives in high asset divorce should follow court orders

This simple act will set the case up for success. Conversely, failure to follow the court’s orders can be a “case killer.” Courts frown on obstructive and malicious behavior. This means that a spouse should timely pay child support, follow injunctions, and various other orders of the court. An executive may not be used to following orders, but it can be disastrous to flout the judge.

If you own a business and get divorced in Texas, understand how to protect your assets

A bad valuation can jeopardize the executive’s interest in the company. So, it is important to hire competent counsel — and forensic experts — to begin the valuation process. Though an executive’s staff can be helpful in this process, the experts should have experience in court proceedings. Ideally, the attorney should educate the executive about the entire property division process and the principles that underlie the division of assets in Texas.

Set up a mutual restraining order

Many spouses feel powerless to prevent the other spouse from engaging in harmful activities during a divorce. Injunctions are standard in divorce proceedings and they should absolutely be utilized to prevent excessive spending or wasting assets, prevent harassment, prevent a spouse from hiding the children, and set up expectations during the divorce. Many counties now have “standing” injunctive orders that immediately apply when a divorce is filed.

Seek expertise in property division management

Many times, a spouse will contemplate divorce for many years. That same spouse often works hard to protect property from creditors. But perhaps the biggest potential liability to a person’s separate property estate is mismanagement of the spouse’s separate property (and his or her spouse becomes a de facto creditor). This mismanagement can turn a lucrative non-divisible separate estate into a divisible community property estate. A good family attorney and forensic accountant can give invaluable advice to cut off this problem.

Hire a local board-certified family law attorney

A busy executive needs an excellent, experienced family law attorney. If the executive has a particularly large estate with arguments over separate or community property (or the value of the property), then more serious thought should go into hiring a good family attorney with a reputation for a hard work ethic and great results. The same is true for a nasty custody battle. If you would not hire a cheap brain surgeon, then do not hire a cheap divorce lawyer.

Listen to smart legal advice and be extremely clear about your objectives

Any person going through a stressful divorce will find it hard to communicate. In divorce, we really should begin with the end in mind. With an ultimate goal in mind, the competent attorney can clarify if the goal is reasonable, the chances of success, the amount of work and fees it will take to achieve the goal, and the probable result if the case went to a trial.

Fight the good fight, not the dumb fight

This is along the lines of Tip 7. Is the ultimate goal a reasonable goal with any chance of success? A good lawyer should give candid advice on the probability of success. When possible, a cost-benefit approach will help this appraisal. Conversely, always giving in to unreasonable demands is a terrible idea in a divorce. Appeasing the unreasonable spouse is like feeding rats – they will always come back for more. Sometimes the bare-knuckles courtroom brawl is the best way to solve this problem.

Understand how divorce affects taxes and fringe benefits

It used to be that known tax consequences could not be taken into consideration when dividing assets in a divorce. Fortunately, the Texas Legislature recently changed that rule, and tax consequences are relevant. For instance, $1 million in cash is not the same as $1 million in a 401k. Thus, they are no longer treated equally in a property division because of the tax consequences.

Set up a litigation roadmap to success

Every executive should have a solid strategic plan. In many ways, a divorce can have so many aspects that trying to manage it is like trying to manage a company. The good litigation plan will set clear goals. The litigation plan should address short-term goals (for example – who gets to live in the house, how much money can I spend, etc), final goals (for example – preserving separate property, primary custody of kids, child support, etc.), and a post-divorce litigation plan, if relevant (for example – how custody can later be changed, enforcing the divorce decree property division, etc.).