High Net Worth Divorce and Dissolution

Family Law Representation for San Francisco Bay Area Residents

The complexities of divorce are often compounded when a married couple has significant assets to divide. Both spouses may be aware of the potential economic losses associated with divorce, or they may be concerned about how and whether assets with uncertain value can be divided fairly. Spouses often have clashing ideas about how much particular assets are worth, particularly the worth of intangible assets or those that may have a different future value, such as stock options, intellectual property, or business goodwill. It may be useful to retain sophisticated divorce attorneys if you are facing this situation in San Francisco or elsewhere in the Bay Area. At Lerner Poole, we have compassion, experience, and a strong understanding of the tax consequences of reimbursement and property division.

Complex Marital Estates in California

High net worth divorces often involve complex property division and expert valuations of assets such as businesses, investments, real estate, intangible property like stock options or intellectual property, and personal property with a high value. A couple's standard of living during the marriage is often a critical issue that affects spousal support as well as child support.

Since California is a community property state, all assets, including intangible assets, that are acquired during the marriage and held jointly are generally presumed to be community property that will be divided evenly upon divorce. This presumption can be rebutted through written agreements and deeds that expressly state otherwise. For example, many companies in the Bay Area compensate their employees with property that vests on a future date. Therefore, the portions of retirement benefits, pension benefits, or stock options that were earned while working during the marriage will be considered community property.

In Northern California, there is also a significant population of entrepreneurs whose closely held businesses were built during a marriage. In addition to the physical assets of the business, its goodwill may be considered community property. Goodwill is intangible property that is the value of a business or professional practice that is in excess of the value of its physical assets, net proceeds, spousal labor, and fair return on the combined physical assets.

Goodwill can include repeat customers, effective advertising, systems and controls developed in the business, location, and workforce skill and training. It can be evaluated using a market value approach or an excess earnings approach. The market value method examines what a buyer would pay for the business. California courts favor the excess earnings approach when evaluating the goodwill of a professional practice, which is extremely complicated.

Usually, after the value of a business is determined, the spouse who runs it can buy out the other spouse's interest in the enterprise so that the spouse receives the value but does not retain an interest in the business.

The court may deviate from the child support guidelines when calculating support in high net worth cases. Moreover, the spousal support that must be paid in this type of divorce is partly dependent on the court's evaluation of the couple’s lifestyle during the marriage. When the marital lifestyle was luxurious, the other spouse may require significant spousal support until he or she is self-sufficient.

Contact a San Mateo County Attorney to Discuss a Family Law Matter

At Lerner Poole, our lawyers are Certified Family Law Specialists who have accumulated over 50 years of combined experience. We have handled many family law matters, including child custody, child support, and property division, for clients in communities throughout the Bay Area, including the San Mateo County communities of Redwood City, Burlingame, and Menlo Park. Our lawyers can work with knowledgeable experts like appraisers and forensic accountants to trace and determine the extent of your high-value assets. Attorney Stacey Poole has a master's degree in tax, which can be particularly helpful when considering the consequences of property division and reimbursement. Contact us at 415-391-6000 or via our online form to schedule an appointment to explore your options.