The divorce process is rarely easy, combining complex legalities with the fraught emotions of ending a marriage and dividing a family. Even women with few joint assets face many distressing aspects of divorce, such as finding new living arrangements for themselves or their spouse and determining a workable schedule for shared custody.
All divorces present challenges, but in states like California which requires spouses to equally divide their marital assets, a woman facing a high-asset divorce in California has a lot on the line. For those who’ve worked hard and accumulated assets both before and during the marriage, facing the consequences of dividing those high-value assets as well as items, heirlooms, and properties of sentimental value is daunting. Other women may find themselves facing divorce after years away from the workforce because they’ve focused on the critical task of raising children and providing a comfortable home. In a high-value divorce situation, women who’ve put their own careers on the back burner to raise children or to support a spouse’s career may feel they’re at a significant disadvantage in a high-net-worth divorce in California.
Understanding Separate Vs. Community Property in High-Asset Divorces
In community property divorce states like California, the law considers spouses as establishing a “community” of two when they marry. Any assets they owned separately before the marriage remain their separate property, but once they’re married, any further assets accumulated by either spouse belong to the marital pool.
Marriage is not only a love match, it’s also a legal contract that spouses willingly enter into upon signing the marriage certificate. Like all contracts, breaking the marital contract comes with consequences including the equal division of assets belonging to the marital community, even those in one spouse’s name only. Separate property including accounts, real estate, personal items, and family heirlooms owned by one spouse before the marriage, inherited by them, or gifted to them during the marriage remains their property, unavailable for division. However, there are caveats to this rule. For example, if a woman’s spouse owned property before the marriage but she spends her personal funds and/or time and talent improving the property, she has a valid claim on a share of the increased value of the property. This is known as commingling assets during marriage. Another example occurs when one spouse gives another access to a bank or investment account. This gives both spouses a claim on the account even if it began as one spouse’s separate property before the marriage.
In high-net-worth divorces, it’s critical for women to obtain skilled, experienced legal counsel with access to financial specialists to protect their interests during the separation of marital assets to ensure they don’t lose a portion of properties that are rightfully their separate property and to make certain they claim their fair portion of marital assets that the courts might otherwise miss.
Navigating a High Net-Worth Divorce For Women
Whether a woman earns and accumulates many assets herself before and during the marriage or she’s played a more supportive role for her family, successfully navigating a divorce with high-asset value or complex properties and accounts requires the following:
- Full financial disclosures from both spouses
- A thorough assessment of the value of all assets
- Forensic accounting specialists to ensure that a spouse isn’t hiding assets
- An examination of the impact of any existing prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements
- Careful calculation of any child support and/or spousal maintenance support (alimony) owed from one spouse to the other
- Diligent consideration of sources used to purchase specific assets
No one should go it alone in a California divorce, but seeking the most experienced attorney in high-net-worth divorces in your area is essential when a great deal is at stake.
Common Assets to Consider in a High Net-Worth Divorce for Women
Divorcing spouses with high net worths may have valuables, heirlooms, and real estate properties to consider during the equal distribution of their assets. Common assets in high-net-worth divorces include:
- Real estate property including the family home, vacation properties, and rental properties
- Stocks, bonds, and other investment accounts
- Retirement accounts and pensions
- Artwork, antiques, and collectibles
- Cars, RVs, and boats
- Household appliances
- Intellectual property
As soon as it becomes clear that divorce is the inevitable end of a marriage, it’s essential for women to protect themselves by seeking the best possible divorce attorneys and divorce financial experts to protect themselves and their future.