Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

High-asset divorces: Taking action can help preserve your rights

Most divorces hinge on a few specific issues: who gets to keep the house, how much alimony has to be paid and for how long, what the kids' visitation schedule will look like.

High-asset divorces can be nothing like that. Instead, high-asset divorces can involve trying to untangle a complex web of financial entities, including those created specifically to try to shield one of the spouses from having to share the wealth in the event of a divorce.

In many cases, offshore accounts, fictitious business entities, foreign "investments," and a mish-mash of trusts can keep you from even knowing how much your spouse is exactly worth.

For example, take the case of the Finnish businessman who lived and operated some of his businesses out of Florida—until he decided to divorce his wife. Then he promptly sued her for divorce in Canada, but not until he managed to secretly tuck away the majority of the marital wealth into offshore trusts that he claimed he no longer owned—even forging his wife's signature to do so.

That case illustrates how important it can be to take note of a spouse's financial activity if you suspect that a divorce is on the horizon. You also want to take action:

—Gather copies of as many financial documents as you can, especially tax returns. Look for documents that have names of companies that you don't recognize on them, letters from banks you don't remember having accounts with, and documents that indicate that there might be a safety deposit box or two tucked away in either a domestic or foreign bank.

—Get appraisals of high-end valuables. The appraisals serve two purposes: they provide a valuation that the courts can use to determine their value as assets and they prove that they existed if they somehow come up "missing" later in the divorce.

—Get an attorney who is familiar with the problems of a high-asset divorce and make sure that you turn over all of the documentation you gather to him or her as soon as you get it. You may think that you have evidence carefully tucked away, but your spouse probably thought the same thing. Giving potential evidence of marital wealth to your attorney assures that it doesn't disappear.

The sooner you begin to collect documents that can help prove the marital wealth that you have, the easier it will be to establish a fair settlement.

Source: FindLaw, "Complex Divorce Cases," accessed Dec. 30, 2016

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