High-Asset Divorce Attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida
Divorce in Florida begins with the assumption that all marital assets should be split 50/50 but ultimately aims for an “equitable distribution,” which can mean one spouse ends up with more than the other.
When a couple divorcing has high assets – real property, investments, retirement accounts, businesses they own – then an equitable distribution, can become even more complicated. Sometimes even valuing the assets can prove challenging.
If you’re considering or have already begun the process of divorce in or around St. Petersburg, Florida, and high assets are involved, contact my firm, Garth R. Goodman, PA, for legal assistance. For three decades as a family law and divorce attorney, I have been helping Floridians resolve issues involved in divorce and move on to the next stage in their lives. I will review your assets and other considerations with you to help you chart the appropriate path forward.
I proudly serve clients in the greater Pinellas County area, including Largo, Seminole, Gulfport, and Kenneth City, Florida. Reach out today for an initial consultation if you are thinking of divorce, have been served by your spouse, or are just embarking on the process.
Equitable Division in a High-Asset Divorce
Florida Statutes, Title VI, Section 61.075 states that “in distributing the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors...”
The Section then goes on to list several factors that may weigh in departing from an equal distribution, including but not limited to:
The contributions of each spouse to the marriage
The financial circumstances of each spouse
The duration of the marriage
Any interruption in the careers or educational opportunities of either spouse
The contribution of one spouse to the other for educational or career pursuits
The possibility of one spouse retaining the marital home if dependent children are involved
An unequal distribution can occur if, for instance, a spouse intentionally dissipated a marital asset when the marriage was in an irreconcilable breakdown. If proven, the waste (amount) will be assigned to the spouse who committed the waste, even if that amount no longer exists.
The court would consider the above and other relevant factors in distributing assets, but that would only occur if you go through a contested divorce –- in other words, hash everything out in front of a judge. You can also resolve these issues on your own and present your divorce agreement for approval by the court. The judge would likely approve the plan unless it is too one-sided.
In a high-asset divorce, however, it may be much harder to agree on the proper distribution of assets. There may also be hidden assets, which might require the services of a forensic accountant to uncover. If one or both spouses own businesses, that also presents complications. Alimony and child support may also come into the picture.
We can discuss all these issues during your initial consultation and then begin mapping out a strategy to arrive at a just distribution of assets.
Issues in a High-Asset Divorce
In addition to what was just mentioned above, one of the main concerns in a high-asset divorce is the “date of valuation.” In other words, at what point are you going to base the valuation of all your marital assets; before filing for divorce, at the time of filing, or later when you go to trial?
As in any divorce, there is always the issue of separate property versus marital property. Separate property is generally considered anything one spouse acquired before marriage or received as a gift or inheritance while married.
Everything else acquire during marriage with money earned while married is considered marital property. Separate property can become “commingled,” letting the other spouse gain at least partial interest in it as part of the overall marital property equation.
For instance, if you own a rental property, and your spouse helps you pay for upkeep or otherwise chips in through management duties, that spouse can become entitled to marital property rights.
High-asset divorces can be complex. Other assets that need to be considered and valued include any investments, art or other collections, intellectual property, and of course retirement accounts. The money accumulated during the marriage for one’s individual 401(k) or other retirement plan counts toward marital property and thus would be counted toward the marital property.
Retirement accounts, such as a 401k or IRA, can be divided by equitable distribution. Some retirement plans can be divided by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which basically is a court order directing the plan administrator to roll over the other spouse’s share into their own retirement account without any tax consequence to the owner spouse.
When dividing the marital portion of a retirement account, you must first “tax effect” the account based on the effective tax rate of the individual receiving the marital portion of the retirement account.
Taxes can also come into the picture. You can avoid taxes if you roll over your retirement savings correctly, but the sale or transfer of other assets can trigger tax liabilities.
Using a Forensic Accountant
In high-asset divorces, the services of a forensic accountant often prove invaluable, especially when trying to locate any hidden assets. Signs of possible hidden assets include closed bank accounts, transferring assets into other people’s names, underreporting taxes, and deferring promotions or bonuses until after the divorce.
If there is a business or businesses involved, this brings up many more decisions that need to be made. For instance, are you planning to sell your business, keep it jointly, keep it to yourself, or pay your spouse half of its valuation from other assets?
In cases of the self-employer/owner, they may pay themselves a wage as if they are a regular W2 employee but may also have “passive income,” which is basically related to capital growth and is taxable. Passive income must not be overlooked when considering support obligations such as alimony.
In addition, sometimes a self-employed person has “personal goodwill” in a business as opposed to “professional goodwill.” Basically, if someone hires the owner because of their reputation, that is “personal goodwill,” which is a non-marital asset.
If you’re planning to sell a business and share the proceeds with your spouse, it is essential to contact a well-read attorney for clear legal direction.
High-Asset Divorce Attorney Serving St. Petersburg, Florida
Every divorce presents challenges, but in a high-asset divorce, every issue is more complex. If you’re considering or have already initiated a high-asset divorce, I have the resources and knowledge to help you. I can discuss your situation and resolve any issues, including distribution of assets, alimony, child support, business valuation or sale, potential taxes, and more. If you’re in St. Petersburg, or Pinellas County, Florida, contact my firm, Garth R. Goodman, PA, for legal advice.