With so much media attention focused on Brad and Angelina as they divorce, many observers conclude that the more money you have, the more contentious the divorce. While this can sometimes be true, it need not be the case. In fact, high asset divorces can be some of the simplest because of the relative ease of assuring each party has sufficient funds to maintain the given lifestyle. This recent article in the New York Times offers an interesting perspective.
It is highly likely that a wealthy couple will have a prenuptial agreement that will at least handle the division of the marital and separate property. So long as the agreement is deemed fully informed and not unconscionable, a big fight over property will not ensue – that is the value of having a prenuptial agreement.
It appears in the case of Brangelina, custody, not money, is the focus of the fight. Even if covered in a prenuptial agreement, custody factors can change over time and are ultimately left to the court to decide based on the best interests of the children. And custody battles going public impact the children that much more. If parents can learn anything from celebrity divorce, the children always lose if the battle becomes public, contentious and drawn out. Parents can have strong disagreements about custody but need not take it to the next level that puts the children in the spotlight.
One way high asset couples can simplify custody battles would be to agree to a neutral evaluation as to potential custody arrangements and also address any fitness concerns. After the evaluation, the evaluator will make recommendations and if the parties agree in advance to accept these recommendations or work within these parameters, it gives the parents more control and keeps the kids’ interests paramount.
In a similar way, parties can bypass big fights over money. While it may seem simple to split up the interest in all marital property, the reality of the division on daily living may require some innovation. For example, if one spouse is the principal earner and the other spouse receives a great deal of non-liquid assets, how is that other spouse supposed to pay for monthly expenses? Either a redistribution of assets that includes something more liquid or that pays a dividend equal to a monthly expense stipend could be a solution. Or the higher earning spouse might consider short term maintenance in exchange for a certain asset. The reality is that at this level of wealth, the ability to become creative is enhanced – and so should the ability to amicably resolve differences.
What can everyone learn from celebrity divorce? We all fight over the same stuff in divorce – dividing property, determining custody, arriving at support. Some of us have less options because we have less stuff, but sometimes those fewer options highlight issues at the margins making small dollar differences very important. High visibility divorce helps put the issues for everyone in perspective – we may not agree, but at least we are not doing that on camera! It also highlights how conflict really impacts divorce in a way most of us tend to ignore during the actual divorce process.
If you have questions about high asset divorce, contact us – we can help.