Considerations for divorcing Utah spouses with high net worth

Property division must be equitable under the law.

When people with considerable assets divorce, dividing their property, assets and debt between them can present unique challenges. Important steps must be taken to conduct a thorough inventory and classification of all assets, a proper valuation and an equitable division.

Agreement or trial

As with all issues in divorce, property division can be determined by agreement through careful negotiation, usually facilitated by the two party's divorce lawyers. If the spouses cannot reach agreement, the judge in the divorce proceeding will divide the property, money and debt according to Utah law.

While an agreed-upon property division may not be easy in a wealthy family, if the parties can come to agreement each will have input and some control over the outcome. Fighting it out in court can be time consuming, less private and expensive, but sometimes becomes the only option. Either way, it is important to retain a seasoned family lawyer to advocate for your best interest.

It is not uncommon in a marriage of means for the couple to have entered into a prenuptial or postmarital agreement. If such an agreement is valid, it may predetermine issues of property and debt division as contracted between the parties.

Inventory and classification

Taking a comprehensive inventory of all of the property and assets in a wealthy family can be a huge endeavor. Because of their wealth, the spouses are likely to own certain kinds of property that most families do not possess. For example, complex assets may be involved like wide-ranging real estate and business holdings, sophisticated investments, unique collectable property, high-value retirement accounts and more.

It is extremely important to determine whether a spouse has already or may begin to hide or destroy assets or money to keep them out of the divorce equation. If this is a concern, be sure to discuss it with your lawyer so that proper steps can be taken such as extensive discovery and use of forensic accountants.

Once identified, property is classified as either separate or marital. Separate property is generally:

  • Owned by one party before marriage
  • Inherited by one spouse
  • Received from a third party as a gift by one spouse

A spouse's separate property normally continues to be owned by him or her after the marriage, while marital property is subject to equitable division in divorce. Equitable does not necessarily mean a 50-50 split of property and money, but rather is based in fairness considering all the circumstances of the family.

It should be noted that separate property could become marital if the two are intermingled in some way. This can become a major legal issue.

Valuation

When sophisticated assets are involved, an equitable division is not possible unless each is properly evaluated. This may require the involvement of specialized experts like financial planners, real estate brokers, appraisers, tax advisors and others. The kinds of property that may be involved include:

  • Residential real estate, commercial real estate, vacation homes, investment property, agricultural property, interests in minerals, oil and gas
  • Antiques, art, collectable objects, vehicles, horses, livestock, aircraft, yachts
  • Professional practices, interests in partnerships, corporate shares, executive perks, bonuses, commissions
  • Retirement accounts, stock options, securities, bonds
  • Intellectual property like trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade secrets
  • Trust assets

Professionals and other people of means should seek legal advice and representation by a Utah attorney with specific experience in these significant cases. The lawyers of Kristopher K. Greenwood & Associates, LC, with offices in Ogden, Park City and Lehi, represent spouses in divorce throughout Utah and have the knowledge and experience to handle high net worth divorces.