High incomes and high value assets can make divorce particularly complicated. Deciding how those assets should be factored into a divorce settlement is rarely straightforward and the separating spouses may have very different ideas about what is “fair".
Given high property values in the UK, as well as other assets such as pensions and business interests, an increasing number of couples have very substantial assets that need to be considered during divorce.
Exactly what constitutes a ‘high net worth’ divorce is not strictly defined, although the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) considers someone to be of high net worth if they earn in excess of £300,000 per year and/or have assets valued over £3million.
For divorcing couples with high incomes and high value assets, it is particularly important to consult a specialist high net worth divorce solicitor to ensure you reach a fair financial settlement that meets your needs.
Common types of assets that may need to be considered in high net worth divorce include:
- High value property
- Business assets
- Financial wealth
- Physical assets like cars, boats, and jewellery
How is property wealth managed in a high net worth divorce?
In a high net worth divorce, you may own a significant amount of land and property, including your family home, second homes, holiday houses, rental properties and commercial property.
During a divorce, these assets will need to be considered during the division of assets, even if only one of you purchased the property originally. Because of this, property wealth can be the cause of major disputes when it comes to dividing your assets.
Having wealth in property is completely unique to each situation and will require an experienced divorce solicitor to help you protect your property assets and reach a fair settlement.
High value businesses during a divorce settlement
In the event that you or your spouse own a high value business, its value will need to be considered during division of assets. How this will be dealt with will depend on the situation, but a common approach is for one person to be given a larger share of a different asset, like property, allowing the other to keep control of the business. This also stops the business from having divided ownership.
To do this, it’s important that the value of the business is clearly established. A specialist high net worth solicitor can help you to effectively evaluate the business assets to ensure that this process is fair for both parties involved.
High net worth pensions
In a high net worth divorce, there are often very substantial pension assets to reckon with. There are three different ways to divide pensions in divorce:
Pension sharing is when a pension is split immediately, with part of the pension pot transferred from one spouse’s pension to a pension set up for the sole benefit of the other. This cuts financial ties between the separating couples and means each person has the power to do whatever they wish with their share of the pension.
If a spouse wished to keep all, or a larger part of their pension, they may offset it against other assets. This means that they can keep their pension in exchange for giving their ex-partner a larger part of a different asset (or example, property or financial wealth).
A pension attachment order can be used to redirect some or all of the pension benefit to the other party. This will occur when the pension is paid. Pension earmarking is rarely used as it involves the separating couple remaining financially connected in the long term.
This includes assets such as cash, bank and savings accounts, and equity funds. They will be treated the same way as other assets, with the default legal position being that each spouse will be entitled to a share of the assets.
However, what the actual division of finances ends up looking like will depend on factors including whether the assets were accumulated prior to the marriage or during it, each person’s reasonable needs and each person’s total contribution to the marriage (including non-financial contributions such as child care).
Trusts can be complicated to deal with during divorce, especially if they are family trusts where one spouse is a beneficiary but not the sole beneficiary. Exactly how trusts will be treated will depend on the circumstances, so it is important to get specialist advice on this matter.
Assets such as cars and jewellery can often have a substantial value so should not be ignored when thinking about the division of assets during divorce. It is often the case that one of the separating spouses will have more of an emotional attachment to these assets than the other which can make these assets more challenging to deal with.
A divorce lawyer experienced in high net worth divorce will be able to give clear advice on how these assets are likely to be treated in the division of finances. They can also advise on your options for making sure these assets are treated fairly while navigating the emotional side of any decisions that must be made.
What will be considered when dividing assets in high net worth divorce?
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
If you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, this may help to make division of assets more straightforward. However, it is important to remember that these agreements are not legally binding in England or Wales. If you do need to rely on a court to decide how your assets should be divided, it could decide something different to what is set out in a prenup or postnup.
That said, if the court considers that the prenup is fair and that it was properly prepared, it is more likely it will uphold the agreement.
For a court to consider a prenup or postnup, the following must apply:
- Both spouses honestly disclosed all assets when the agreement was made
- Each party had independent legal advice before signing
- The agreement does not disproportionately favour one party
- Neither person was pressured to sign the agreement
- There have been no major changes of circumstances, such as children being born, which have not been accounted for in the agreement
Assets owned before marriage
Any assets that were owned before a marriage may be considered non-matrimonial property, which could affect whether they are included in the division of finances.
How this applies to a divorce can be very complicated and will depend entirely on the unique circumstances at play. You should therefore seek bespoke legal advice on this, rather than simply assuming assets acquired before your marriage are “safe”.
If you have children, their needs should come first when splitting your finances. A court will always prioritise the needs of children, so you should keep this in mind if you are attempting to negotiate a settlement.
Your divorce settlement will need to consider the full needs of your children, including factors like fees for private schools and maintaining the child’s quality of life. Provision for one-off costs, such as school trips should also be included.
It’s important to seek the assistance of a legal specialist when making decisions regarding child maintenance to ensure that your child is being properly supported.
Non-financial contributions to the marriage
It is often the case that one spouse will have made a more significant non-financial contribution to the marriage that the other, especially if the couple has children. The time and effort spent on child care, maintaining the home and other non-financial contributions will need to be considered when working out the division of finances.
It is important to get expert advice on this at an early stage to avoid misunderstandings about what does and does not count as a contribution to the marriage for the purposes of reaching a settlement.
How to divide finances in a high net worth divorce
The support of a divorce solicitor with specific experienced dealing with high net worth divorce cases is important when it comes to answering these questions. They can help to protect your assets and achieve the right division of finances for you and your loved ones.
If you are keen to avoid court proceedings, there are various methods that can be used to agree a settlement, including constructive negotiation, mediation, collaborative law and private financial dispute resolution. An experienced family lawyer can help to make these approaches productive, while ensuring you get the best available settlement.
Where a collaborative approach is not possible or appropriate, you may need to apply to a family court to decide how your assets should be divided. In this instance, the right legal support is essential to make sure your case is constructed and presented effectively, with all of the necessary supporting evidence.
Depending on the situation and the approach you take, each spouse can have their own solicitor or you can both be represented by the same solicitor, which can save time and costs.
Speak to our high net worth divorce solicitors in Bristol, Bath and Bradford-on-Avon
At Sharp Family Law, we understand how important it is to get the right division of finances during divorce, especially when there are high value assets involved. Our team can provide clear, practical guidance to help you get the best possible division of finances in the right way for your circumstances.
We have offices in Bath, Bristol and Bradford-on-Avon. Our clients can expect constructive, clear and friendly assistance from our family law and divorce solicitors who will give you all the support you may need.
If you need legal assistance with high net worth divorce or any other matters related to divorce and separation, email us at email@example.com. Or you can call your local office: