New York Divorce Lawyer Handling High Net Worth Divorces
As a New York high net worth divorce lawyer, I have more than 35 years of experience handling divorces involving substantial assets and high-profile divorce cases. My clients know that I will use discretion and fight for them. They also know that I bring my experience to bear. They appreciate the counsel I provide. I know how to work with the media and how important it is to keep the client's case out of the media.
Only the wealthiest divorcing couples can afford to maintain the same standard of living for two households after a divorce that they were able to enjoy in one household. The cost over the short term and the long term of the divorce itself and any divorce litigation should be carefully analyzed.
Important Factors for High Net Worth Divorce Cases
First things first. One benefit of my experience that you will receive is an educated prediction about what it should cost to achieve your goal. Let's define your goal in its simplest terms: the most advantageous arrangement and maximum time with your children.
Nobody should have their hand in your pocket. I strongly believe that the first task in the high-asset divorce case is to make sure that nobody -- not the lawyers, not the experts and not the courts -- squanders your money. Just because you or your spouse has a comfortable lifestyle does not mean that either of you should pay $500 for a simple cup of coffee. Nor should you pay more than is reasonably appropriate to the tasks at hand in your divorce case. You and your spouse should not be pulled off a financial cliff like lemmings because the family got lost in the uncertainty and tension of the moment. As your divorce lawyer, I will not forget that at the end of the day the money that you and your spouse spend on the divorce lawyers and related experts will not be available for your children's college, your daughter's wedding and your retirement.
Yes it is complicated, but it's often not that complicated. As the client you are entitled to get a sense of comfort and confidence. No matter how wealthy you are, you and your spouse do not need to reinvent the wheel, or let your divorce lawyer pretend that a special wheel had to be invented to suit your case. As the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu observed, the clever fighter is one who not only wins, but one who excels in winning with ease. If your divorce lawyer cannot satisfactorily explain the financial concepts to you, then you should ask yourself if that divorce lawyer has mastered them sufficiently.
Perhaps the most important document in the divorce process is the sworn matrimonial net worth statement. It is like those old television commercials in which the actor in the Fedora warned: "don't leave home without it". It has to be filed no matter how much money you have. It has to be sworn to under penalty of perjury, no matter how many skeletons there are in your closet. And it has to be certified as not false by your divorce attorney. If you or your spouse cannot file the sworn matrimonial net worth statement, you should settle your divorce case immediately.
My law office is a state-of-the-art-boutique. Because I have been a divorce lawyer for 35 years, I have created most of my own legal forms; and I create new ones every month to individually serve my clients. We also maintain the required legal forms as well as the marketed software to generate and modify the forms.
One of the first things the sworn matrimonial net worth statement tells me is how this family lived. As a divorce lawyer with 35 years of experience, I already have an educated estimate about the client's monthly household budget items such as food, mortgage and clothing. That enables my educated eye to zoom into a glaring exaggeration in the adversary's budget like a heat-seeking missile.
One of the most important things that the matrimonial net worth statement tells me is what the client needs and what the client can afford to pay. Is the salary fixed, or is there a discretionary bonus? Why are the credit card expenses so high? Is the family living above its means or within its means? How will the cash flow projections be impacted when there are two separate households? All important considerations that should be resolved before you sit down at the negotiations table.
It's your first divorce. Not mine. I fully expect the moneyed spouse to try to hide resources or minimize values. I also expect the non-moneyed spouse to be suspicious and fearful. In the medical profession there is a useful process known as the differential diagnosis, in which various hypotheses are ruled out. We will assemble whatever team of investigators and forensic experts is reasonably required. Each member of the team should be knowledgeable and savvy. While no two cases are identical, New York is a big town, in many ways it's a small town. Most of the experts I will recommend in your divorce case are regularly appointed by the courts in other cases, and I have worked with virtually all of them for decades. Many of us are on a first name basis. So I will look in the right direction and advocate in the most cogent way.
Your divorce lawyer should also be thorough in obtaining and reviewing financial documents. For the divorce lawyer it's the visual equivalent of eating 20 pounds of sawdust, and liking it. I have found many a needle in the haystack of bank records and credit card statements. The real estate assets can be a very fertile ground to pursue an advantageous settlement. Like Catch 22, the banks and other lenders are frequently more eager to loan money to the people who appear to need it the least. That phenomenon has been known to tempt real estate investors to make sworn statements on their loan applications that come back to bite them in embarrassing places when they are getting a divorce. In one case, the spouse had not provided the bank with the same tax return that had been filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Here too, experience counts.
In the courtroom, or the boardroom, I will also bring to the table my experience in reading financial statements, obtaining useful expert reports, and cross examining financial experts. One challenge is to correctly identify and value the assets and cash flow. That requires an understanding of New York divorce law, forensic accounting and tax law. For example, New York is the only jurisdiction that identifies enhanced earning ability -- such as the license to practice medicine -- as an asset in addition to contributing to the earnings stream. Advocacy is then required to connect, or limit the connection, of that asset to the distribution of the marital estate.
The distinction between "separate property" and "marital property" is an important one. Let's say that your spouse has inherited a family business and then spent 20 years working there. What is the business worth and what is your share? The advocacy required to resolve that issue in your favor requires a mastery of the capitalization rates, valuation methods and New York law. Your divorce lawyer should be able to explain to you the "build-up method" and when to use it as opposed to the excess earnings method of valuation. Here again, experience counts.
An important asset in every marital estate is the marital residence. There is an old New York City joke about the tourist who asks a New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall. The New Yorker replies: "Practice, Practice. Practice." In real estate there is an adage about the three components of real property valuation: "Location. Location. Location." It's not entirely that simple. But your divorce lawyer should be sufficiently conversant in the principles of real property valuation to dissect, and if necessary, to figuratively shred the real estate expert's report.
Corporate executives frequently have employee stock options, which are granted before they vest and might be exercised after the divorce action was commenced. The forensic economic experts often use the Black Scholes method to value these assets. The valuation of the unexercised stock option in the divorce case can be a complicated process. Part of the value may be separate property, and the part of the value that is marital property may not have a sufficient nexus to the marital partnership.
Retirement assets are often a major component of the marital estate. Often it's not rocket science to obtain the information required to decide how to carve up the retirement assets. But this is your case and your life. Your divorce lawyer should think of it like sky diving: There's no margin for error if the parachute doesn't open. Your divorce lawyer needs to know first where to look, and then what documents to obtain. Important strategic decisions then need to be made. Divorce lawyers sometimes mistakenly equate post-tax asset values with retirement asset values, which is like comparing apples to oranges. Or the divorce lawyer might not think to look closely enough at that the tax basis of the retirement assets is, because retirement horizon may be very far off. But taxes, like death, are a certainty, even for retirement assets. Great care and attention should be paid at all times.
Finally, but not least in importance the cost of maintaining two households, especially when considering issues of child support and spousal support, can be exponentially more financially burdensome than the cost of a single-family household.
Contact a Manhattan Divorce Property Attorney
To schedule a free initial consultation, either call my New York office or contact me online.