High Net Worth Divorce in California
Divorce in California often means dividing significant assets between the spouses. At Wine Country Family Law, P.C. we serve clients in Sonoma and Mendocino County when they are going through this difficult time. Whether you and your spouse share a valuable home, run a business together, or have other important assets, reach out to see how our firm can help. We have experience representing clients in high net worth divorces and know what it takes to protect what is most valuable to you. We listen to our clients’ needs and provide down-to-earth legal advice and representation. Call our office and set up your consultation to speak with our experienced and compassionate legal team today.
Getting a divorce in California can be expensive, especially if you do it incorrectly. There are numerous points throughout your divorce where you stand to lose your assets to your ex-spouse. The divorce process in California generally follows these steps:
Establishing Grounds and Filing for Divorce
In California, a married couple does not need to prove that one of them was “at fault” for the breakdown of the marriage. If either spouse alleges that the spouses have irreconcilable differences, they may file for divorce. Though California is a no-fault state, this does not mean that marital misconduct should be totally disregarded. There are other ways that marital misconduct can impact the outcome of a divorce. For example, if a spouse was having an affair that wasted marital assets, this is an instance where the court may consider the affair when making final decisions about how to divide the couple’s property. Consider speaking with a California high net worth divorce attorney to determine if any additional factors may impact your property division.
Once the divorce papers are drafted, the attorney will file them with the court and ensure the other spouse is properly served according to California laws.
Answering the Divorce Papers
After the divorce is filed and served, the other spouse must answer the divorce. They can choose to accept their spouse’s requests , or they can contest the requests. In high-asset divorces, as we often see in our Northern California clients, the spouse is likely to contest the divorce requests. While we at Wine Country Family Law, P.C. always prefer to settle divorces out of court through private negotiations or mediations, sometimes the spouses simply cannot agree. If the spouse chooses to contest the requests in the divorce, we stand by our clients through the entire case and fight on their behalf to protect their hard-earned property.
Required Disclosures and Discovery
Divorcing spouses are required to make certain disclosures regarding their assets, debts, income, and expenses. During required disclosures, the parties must turn over requested information about their marriage, their finances, and anything else that is relevant to the case. Oftentimes, required disclosures means disclosing very personal and private information, such as bank statements, credit card statements, phone records, texts, emails, photos, and much more. This part of the process is important because it requires both parties to put all of their assets on the table, which is a critical part of ensuring a fair asset division.
If the spouses want to delve deeper beyond the required disclosures or if one spouse believes the other is not fully disclosing, then the divorce case may proceed into the discovery stage. Discovery includes further requests for production of documents, interrogatories, or even depositions. The Judicial Council has set forth some standard interrogatories to be used during a divorce known as the “Form Interrogatories – Family Law.” Our high net worth divorce attorneys are experienced in the required disclosures and discovery process and can help protect you from having to turn over irrelevant information.
California is a community property state, so any property you or your spouse bought during the marriage is almost certainly going to be considered joint property, with only a few narrow exceptions. Many of our clients own a significant amount of property with their spouse, such as real estate or a successful business. While community assets are typically divided equally between divorcing spouses in California, this does not mean that you are bound to lose half of everything you own. An experienced high net worth divorce attorney can work with you to determine what is community property and what is actually separate property that belongs only to you.
How Do I Protect My Assets During a Divorce?
The best way to protect your assets in a divorce is to know your assets and know the law. Everyone going through a divorce, but especially parties with high paid jobs such as medical professionals, winery executives, and high-tech industry leaders, need to be wary of the asset division aspect of divorce. First, make sure that you have an accurate inventory of everything you own, from real estate, business interests, cash, stocks, cars, personal property, and everything in between. Next, it is critical to properly value them.
As discussed, California courts must divide community property equally between divorcing spouse unless the spouses agree otherwise., This means you want to establish as much separate property as possible. Anything you received as a gift or inheritance during your marriage, for example, can be categorized as separate property. This means that your spouse should not be entitled to any of it. Similarly, any assets that you acquired prior to marriage will be considered separate property. However, if you commingled your separate property in jointly owned accounts, or if your spouse spent money or effort improving upon your separate property, the court may consider it community property and try to divide it equally. After receiving detailed information regarding your property, your lawyer will help you categorize your property and maximize the amount of your assets deemed “separate.”
One of the best ways to protect your property in a high-asset California divorce is to handle it by agreement. When a court makes a decision about how to divide property, you may be left feeling cheated or surprised at the outcome. If you want to preserve your rights to certain assets in your divorce, we can work with you to draft a settlement agreement and negotiate with your spouse to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.
How Do I Determine the Value of My Assets in a Divorce?
To determine the value of your assets, you may need to hire a professional appraiser, accountant, or actuary. This person’s job is to estimate the value of your assets, especially real estate or businesses. The valuation of your assets will be of critical importance during the property division stage of the divorce proceedings, so make sure they accurately reflect the value of your assets.
What If My Spouse Is Hiding Assets?
We often see our clients become skeptical about the value of their spouse’s assets. During a divorce, people tend to become defensive about how much they own because they are afraid, they will have to split it with their soon-to-be ex-spouse. If you believe your spouse is hiding assets, this is where the discovery phase of the divorce can be vital. Your attorney may demand or subpoena your spouse’s detailed financial records, documentation regarding real estate transactions, bank statements, and other evidence of your spouse’s assets. People often try to defend against these discovery requests by arguing that they are irrelevant, that they are too burdensome to provide, or that they are private or privileged. Our attorneys know how to defeat these discovery responses and help our clients get to the bottom of the matter. When a spouse hides assets during a divorce, it can deeply disadvantage the other spouse when it comes time to equally divide up the couple’s property.
Trust a California High-Asset Divorce Attorney
Divorce is a strenuous process and coping with the prospect of losing your property on top of it all only adds stress. However, our experienced Sonoma and Mendocino County family law team have completed many high-asset divorces, and we know the typical tactics to expect from an ex-spouse who is trying to hide their property from you. If you have any questions about property division in California, high-asset divorces in particular, or California divorces in general, do not hesitate to reach out. Contact Wine Country Family Law, P.C. to set up a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.